Show Globes


Show globes, colourful glass containers that are either self-standing or hang from a wall, have long been a symbol associated with pharmacies. Originating from the realms of medicine and chemistry they became standard issue for apothecaries across North America starting in 1789. Holding vibrantly coloured reflective liquids, they were typically displayed in a shop’s front window. Like an illuminated beckon, they advertised the services offered by the establishment. Pharmacists concocted the colours by mixing ingredients from their trade, thus demonstrating their prowess with a wide variety of chemicals. For example, here is the formula for creating a “Blood Red” colour as outlined in “The Era Formulary”, a catalogue popular with practioners in the 19th century:

Distilled water: 880 parts

Ammonia water: 76 parts

Nitric Acid: 32 parts

Cobalt Metal: 8 parts

Alum: 4 parts

Some drugstores went as far as to feature show globes with multiple chambers, allowing for an array of colours. Because reputable pharmacists were often forced to compete with unscrupulous competitors, who did not share the necessary credentials, they would display show globes to let the public know that they were indeed licensed professionals. Over time, the popularity of the globes declined as advancements in signage and lighting gave druggists more impactful options by which to market themselves.


Greyellowhite #27

Fred Herzog