A Contribution to Western Pennsylvania Pharmacy

A History of the Pittsburgh College of Pharmacy 1878-1958

Appendix V - Disjecta Membra

Document E

Unjust Taxation of Druggists

I notice in your issue of July that at a meeting of the Pennsylvania Pharmaceutical Association, held at Reading last month, Mr. J. H. Stein desired information in regard to the state law requiring druggists to pay a license for the sale of patent medicines, Mr. Lemberger stating that he was obliged to pay a tax of thirty dollars last year, and no doubt all the druggists throughout the country had to pay the same. On motion of Mr. Lemberger a committee was appointed to circulate a petition in the different counties for the repeal of the act.

I would state for the information of my brother druggists that one year ago the assessors taxed the patent medicine manufacturers of this city, one firm's taxes amounting to fifteen hundred dollars. They all combined, making up a pool of some ten or twelve hundred dollars, appealed the case to court, and found that there was no law in existence by which such a tax could be collected, and that the law of 1849 (see Pamphlet Laws of Pa. No. 575) had been repealed, and even if it had not been, the commonwealth could not collect from the apothecary, he being excepted. Besides all this, the law was considered unconstitutional. Yet, in spite of all this, the druggists of this city were taxed $6.50 each, the minimum amount, the tax grabbers thinking, no doubt, that all would pay so small an amount without opposition, and a great many did. Yet there were many others who felt the injustice, and took steps to test the matter before the courts. Most of us were sued before the various aldermen of the city, who were shown that the law had been repealed twenty years ago. But they paid no attention to the law, and rendered judgment against us. Our attorney has taken a writ of certiorari, and the matter will be again brought before the courts. The repeal can be found in the Pamphlet Laws of Pa., pages 468 and 469, dated April 22, 1858, and approved by Gov. William F. Packer.

W.H. Brill
Pittsburgh, Pa.
September 1878

The Stamp Duty on Patent and Other Medicines

For many druggists it has often been a troublesome question to decide whether a given article must be stamped or not, and it must be confessed that the law, as interpreted by different revenue officers, has been somewhat confusing and not always free from contradiction.

From an official document published last October, we copy the following summary given for the direction of revenue officers, generally. The law has not been changed but it is construed in a manner more readily intelligible, and in a spirit more liberal than formerly.

We may begin by stating that perfumeries and cosmetic articles are liable to the stamp-tax without conditions or exemptions. Regarding medicines proper the present directions are:

  1. "That all patent and proprietary medicines and medicinal preparations, and all such medicines, etc. for which any proprietary claim is made, real or pretended must be stamped when sold, offered, or exposed for sale."
  2. "That official and standard medicines, etc. prepared according to formulas published in authorized medical bookstore journals, put up and labelled simply with the name of the article and the name of the maker or compounder, are exempt from stamp-tax without the "formula and where found" being printed or referred to in any manner upon such label."
  3. "That official medicines, etc. put up in a style or manner similar to patent or proprietary medicines in general -- the same being in retail packages with labels attached stating diseases for which they are remedies, stating the dose, and giving directions for use -- are liable to stamp-tax, unless, in addition to such matter as indicated above, there shall be also printed, on the label, the formula and the reference to the standard medical book or journal where such formula is found, or a distinct announcement that the article in question is made or compounded according to a published formula, with a distinct reference to the standard authority where found, in the manner hereinbefore described. In this latter case such medicines, etc. so put are not liable to stamp-tax."
  4. "Unofficial medicines, or medicines, etc. made, prepared or compounded but not in accordance with formulas published in any standard dispensatory or pharmacopoeia, pharmaceutical journal, etc. are liable to stamp-tax unless the exact formula is printed upon the labels attached to such articles, and unless there is an absence of all claim to any proprietorship in the making or preparing of the same."

In relation to other articles that are not always used as medicines, the regulations say: "Attention is called to the fact, in illustration of what is said elsewhere, that cod-liver oil is not necessarily and always a medicinal article. It is only within a few years comparatively that the use of this oil in consumption and lung diseases has been recommended by physicians. Previous to that time cod-liver oil was, and even now is largely used for the purposes as fish oils in general. Bitters and plasters are among the articles enumerated as liable to stamp-tax, but bitters are not necessarily and always a medicinal article. The term "bitters" may be only another name for a spirituous liquor, and a plaster may be only a mechanical contrivance or device, or means by which surgeons and physicians protect wounds from gaping or sores from any or all extraneous matter or influences. These articles, and such as these, are not subject to the stamp-tax in the absence of any claim made upon the label, wrapper, hand bill, circular, or in other mode, adopted for advertising the article, that said article.is a medicated or a medicinal article, when it is not held out or recommended to the public as a remedy or a specific for any disease, diseases, or affections of the human or animal body.

The Druggists Circular and Chemical Gazette, December 1878, pp. 205-206.