coal tar derivatives

Sort of Design Friday. Louis Crucius Funny Bones.

Louis Crucius was a trained printer. He completed his apprenticeship in the late 1800’s and began a career working in the field, when in 1880 he changed careers completely and earned a degree as a pharmacist in 1882, and a doctor in 1890. While studying medicine in St Louis, Missouri he worked in a pharmacy and made humorous sketches that were placed in the window of the store. A collection of these drawings were published in 1893 entitled “Funny Bones”.

Louis Crucius gave away most of the drawings he made before his death from kidney cancer in 1898, but he did sell a number of them to the Antikamnia (‘opposed to pain’) Chemical Company which formed in St. Louis Missouri in 1890. Antikamnia produced what we’re called at the time “patent medicines” containing coal-tar derivatives known as acetanilid (antifebrin) combined with sodium bicarbonate, citric acid and caffeine, which worked much like aspirin as an anti-fever drug with pain relieving properties. Like many patent medicines of the time, it would later be shown that acetanilid contained not only toxic compounds, but was highly addictive. The addictive properties were probably enhanced by the fact that Antikamnia mixed in heavy doses of substances like codeine to enhance the pain relieving effects.

Antikamnia used 30 of Crucius drawings to create five years worth of calendars for the company between 1897 and 1901. The calendars were targeted at medical clientele in both the United States, and Europe with a fairly aggressive marketing campaign. Along with the calendars, Antikamnia produced a series of postcards using the same artwork.

What I find interesting here is the mashup of styles, imagery, and references that Crucius’ incorporates into his works. He seems to have been familiar with Mexican “Day of the Dead” artwork, and influenced by the common practice of photographing the dead at the turn of the century. Crucius’ drawings have a playful nature about them, but at the same time there is ever-present reality about human mortality that was so present before the age of modern medicine. At a time when illnesses we take as a minor inconvenience today could kill you, you have to think that these images would have had a greater level of impact on the viewer. I was fascinated by the level of detail that Crucius put into the clothing, composition and details, but I would bet to many people in 1900 that would have been overlooked. In 1900 you might have thought “Look, a clown that is a skeleton, or what is that baby skeleton holding?”

None the less this is a fascinating set of images from a little over 100 years ago. I really like the one entitled “The Doctor’s Enemy”. since it is essentially calling out the same kind of medicines that Antikamnia made.