Signs of authority
As a newcomer to the medical establishment in 1841, the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain wanted to stress its strong foundations and the competence and reliability of its members. Along with a stringent scheme for education and examinations, its 1841 diploma design was used widely to convey authority, appearing on exam certificates, the Pharmaceutical Journal and as the basis of its coat of arms, granted in 1844.
The society may have been new, but the coat of arms went to every effort to stress the ancient roots of the profession. The central shield is supported by two medical giants: Avicenna is shown using the Staff of Asclepius to point at a wreath of medicinal plants, while Galen holds a hand balance. The central medallion and figures stand on a pedestal showing an alchemist in a laboratory flanked by chemical and pharmaceutical equipment. A pestle and mortar sit atop the whole design. The traditional figures, medicinal plants such as foxglove, poppy and senna, and an alchemist at work reflect pharmacy’s long history.
In spite of more recent proposals to move away from this 1840s design, the society today still maintains a simplified version of the original coat of arms as its logo, featuring the dove of peace, aloe to represent plant-based medicine, a snake-entwined staff, and distillation apparatus, surmounted by a pestle and mortar, with a balance at the centre. Its historical foundations remain important even in the scientific age.
With the internet, the battle against quackery has moved to the virtual arena. British and European online pharmacies display an official logo to demonstrate their legitimacy, as design continues to play a part in establishing authority and reliability.