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Schering Mortar & Pestle Series

by James P. Bartholomew, RPh.

     Of the many symbols of pharmacy, the mortar & pestle is one of the most recognized and widely used.  Back in the earlier days, the mortar & pestle was one of the pharmacists most valuable tools to crush and grind crude herbs and chemicals into useful preparations for their patients.  As time went on and large drug manufacturers began to commercially produce medications, the need for the pharmacist to compound medications became less.  As a result, the need for the mortar & pestle diminished and it took on a different role, which became more of a decorative piece that you could find on the pharmacy counter.  This may have prompted some drug manufactures to use the mortar & pestle as one of the many ways to advertise their name and their products.  The mortar & pestle is still used today, but less frequently, except for few specialty pharmacies which still do quite a bit of compounding.

     One of the more notable companies that have used the mortar & pestle to advertise their company is the Schering Corporation based in Kennelworth, New Jersey.  First, here is a brief history regarding Schering Corporation.  Ernst Schering established a pharmacy, the "Green Pharmacy," in Chausseestrasse, in the north of Berlin, Germany in 1851.  He was involved with not only the production of medicine but chemical products used in other industries such as perfume, textile, leather processing, soap and fireworks.  On October 23, 1871, Schering AG was established as a public limited company and the Green Pharmacy was disincorporated into private possession.  The Schering Corporation was established in the United States in 1928 as a subsidiary of Schering AG.  However, during World War II, the U.S. government confiscated the assets of German companies located in the United States including Schering Corporation.  In 1952, the U.S. Government sold Schering Corporation at auction to an investment group who eventually sold shares of common stock to the public.  In 1971, Schering Corporation consolidated with Plough Inc. to form Schering-Plough Corporation.  However, each of these companies still operates separately.  It is also important to note that Schering AG and Schering Corporation have been operating independently from each other since World War II and maintain their own separate identities.

     In 1963, the OTC (over the counter) division of the Schering Corporation, started to promote one of their OTC medications, Coricidin, by giving away a mortar & pestle to pharmacists who purchased a display from Schering.  The display was the "Cold Relief Center Display" which contained Coricidin and later other products like Afrin.  A mortar & pestle was placed in each display as thanks for purchasing the display from Schering.  Each year Schering would have a different design and shape for each mortar & pestle.  The type of design or theme for each mortar & pestle was dependent on whomever was in charge of the project for that year or whichever division was responsible and was going to foot the bill to have the mortar & pestles produced.  Themes were generally sought for in pharmacy journals, books, or other memorabilia and usually centered on commemoration of an important person or special event that contributed to pharmacy.  There have been some exceptions, which include the 1976, 1986, 1992, and 2000 versions that have non-pharmacy themes.

     Since 1963, Schering Corporation has released one different mortar & pestle for each year except 2003, 2004, and 2007 (see list at the end of article).  The last M&P was released in 2009.  In general, each mortar & pestle is 4 to 5 inches tall and made out of an unknown metal alloy, possibly zinc related.  In addition, each came with its own box and a pamphlet explaining what the mortar & pestle commemorated.  There have been exceptions and line extensions to each year's mortar & pestle.  For example, between 1966 and 1970, each of the mortar & pestles were also reproduced in a ceramic version.  The mortar was ceramic and the pestle made out of wood, except for the 1970 versionís pestle which was ceramic.  In addition, the 1965 & 1966 versions were recreated as ceramic "mugs" made by McCoy pottery.  The cup was the mortar and the handle was the pestle.  These mugs came in several colors including green, red/brown, yellow, salmon, and blue. I believe that McCoy produced all these ceramic versions.  The 1968 version seemed to be a very popular year because that year's mortar & pestle was also reproduced as a transistor radio and two different sets of ceramic salt & pepper shakers.  I am not exactly sure which year, but one of the 1960's versions was rumored to be made out of solid gold.  Only two were made and one is believed to still be with the company while the other was given as an award to a pharmacist who happened to reside in New Jersey.  This pharmacist has since passed away and it is rumored that the widow had offered to sell it back to the company.  However, it is not known if Schering bought it back.  Between 1975 and 1979, miniature versions were made that averaged in height of about 2 3/4 inches tall and, of course, looked exactly like their larger counterparts and were made of the same metal alloys.  The idea was to give the miniature versions away with the smaller cold displays sold to pharmacists.  However, due to the "lack of interest" by pharmacists, this idea was discontinued after 5 years because of the popularity of the larger mortar & pestles.  The 1990 version was only made in ceramic with a wooden pestle and not the metal alloys like the others.  Finally, the 2008 edition was only made in ceramic with the pestle being made out of the same material and not out of wood as previous ceramic editions.  In addition, there are other "go-withs" that are associated with the Schering line of mortar & pestles which included cufflink & tie clasp sets, drinking glasses, plaques, sun catchers, a note pad and pen set, key chains, and book ends.  It is important to note that Schering also produced a mortar & pestle for each year's pharmacy graduating class from the late 1960's until 1993.  There have been three different designs over the years and each mortar & pestle commemorated the year of the student's graduation.  Although these mortar & pestles are similar and made out of the same metal alloys, they are not part of the original series.

     At this time, I need to pause and give some background as to how I have come across some of this information.  Most information has come from my personal experience along with a very helpful gentleman from Schering Corporation named Mike.  Mike had started with Schering in 1970 and although he has not been with the company since the inception of the mortar & pestle series, he has the most knowledge of anyone with the company at this time.  He became involved with the OTC division in 1975 and left that division in the late 1980's.

     Between 1993 and 1995, the OTC division decided that it was going to discontinue the mortar & pestle series.  It is speculated that this decision was made because of the expense and the fact no one wanted to do it anymore.  However, Mike, who now was with the RX division, and other colleagues did not want to allow this to happen, especially after all of these years.  Therefore, the RX division took over the project and Mike was involved again.  Because the RX division was involved, it was decided that a prescription drug, Claritin, would be promoted.  The thought was that there was no reason for the RX division to promote an OTC product.  As a result of the transition from the OTC division to the RX division, production of each year's mortar & pestle had fallen behind and they had been trying to play catch-up ever since.  Because the catch-up game had been going on for quite some time, as a result, when the 41st edition was released, it was unintentionally dated 2005 not 2003 as expected.  Because the 41st edition is dated 2005, Schering was not going back in time to try to match an edition to 2003 & 2004.  In 2007, the 42nd edition of the M&P series was released associated with the year 2006.  In 2008, the 43rd edition of the series was released, however, this time there is no year associated with this edition.  It is my belief that Schering will no longer be concerned with what year the next edition comes out.  Going forward, it looks as if Schering will be labeling their M&P's as the numbered edition to be next (ex. 44th edition is next).  Recently, the designs and themes of each mortar & pestle are actually developed by an outside firm and then Mike runs these ideas past pharmacists that work at Schering.  Currently and for the last 20 years, ABCO Diecasters, a company headquartered in Newark, NJ, produces the mortar & pestles.

     In general, it is not known as to why different things were done in each year.  Because many people have been involved over the years with the production of the mortar & pestle series, a lot of specifics are unknown.  For example, why or how McCoy was involved, why certain themes were chosen, why the 1990 version was not made out of metal, or for that matter, what kinds of metal were used.  Mike pretty much stated that although it may have looked like a plan had been set and that this project was organized, it really was not.  Whoever was in charge and money dictated what was done for each year a mortar & pestle was produced.  For example, back in the "heyday," Schering produced 8 to 10,000 units per year and the cost to produce each mortar & pestle was about $5.00 a unit.  Recently, about 3,000 units per year are being produced because the costs have risen to about $22.00 a unit.  Although in 1997, Schering had some extra money and about 6,000 units were produced that year.

     In 2008, the 43rd edition was released.  The M&P is ceramic only with none being made in the traditional metal alloys as most of the other M&P's in the series.  The 43rd edition is made with a "very inexpensive ceramic-type of material."  This is why the M&P is not heavy in comparison with previous ceramic versions.  My source says that things are "changing in this regulated environment" which may explain why this M&P was made the way it was.  In general, most of the drug companies are self regulating themselves in regard to "give-aways" or promotional items.  This is causing the drug companies to reduce what they give away including pens and pads which are the most common promotional items.  In fact, some physician groups have made it their policy not to accept any more promotional items including pens and pads from drug companies.

     As of November 2009, Schering-Plough no longer exists with its merger with Merck.  Word on the street was that one last M&P was released before the merger.  That information was confirmed in early 2011 when I was contacted and sent pictures of the 44th and final edition of the Schering M&P series.  For the record, I have never owned this last M&P.  This last M&P is made of metal and has the words and design painted or screened on to the M&P unlike previous M&P's which have everything embossed on them.

     As a collector of these mortar & pestles, I have found that it is sometimes difficult to determine which pestle goes with which mortar, especially when you obtain a mortar & pestle without the box.  The problem lies in the fact that the two are not connected and may become separated.  I try to match up the pestles with the mortars by looking at the art work or pictures on each.  I, however, have made an observation that might help the Schering collector to match up the right pestle with the right mortar.  Obviously, there are some sets that are easily matched, but in some cases, it is not that easy.  I have observed that from 1963 to 1982, the pestle will have "CORICIDIN" on it; from 1983 to 1990, the pestle will have "SCHERING" on it; from 1991 to 1995, the pestle will have "SCHERING-PLOUGH" on it; from 1996 to 1999, the pestle will have "CLARITIN" on it; from 2000 to 2002, the pestle will have "SCHERING" on it; and the pestles for the year 2005, 2006, and 2009 have "SCHERING-PLOUGH" on it.  For 2008, there are no markings on the pestle.  As with everything else, there are some exceptions.  I have found that in the mid to late 70's some of the pestles say Garamycin on them instead of Coricidin.  These identical mortar & pestle sets were either advertising Coricidin or Garamycin but not both.  In addition, the 1982 pestle advertises Coricidin and Afrin.  I am confident that my mortar and pestles are matched correctly.  If anyone disagrees with my observations, please let me know.

     Below is the list of commemorative mortar & pestles put out by Schering thus far.  Click on the year to see pictures of that year's mortar & pestle, along with any other "go-withs" associated with that year.  If anyone has any more information or corrections, please contact me below.  Please note that I am always updating this web site as I learn more about what is available.  I will add more pictures to the appropriate year when necessary.

1 1963 Secundum Artem - "According to the Arts"
2 1964 Ebers Papyrus - Early Egyptian Prescriptions
3 1965 Galen - Foremost in Pharmacy and Medicine
4* 1966 Cosmas and Damian - Patron Saints of Pharmacy and Medicine
5* 1967 William Procter, Jr. - Father of U.S. Pharmacy
6* 1968 Maimonides - Father of Pharmacy
7* 1969 Louis Hebert - Herbalist Extraordinaire
8* 1970 U.S. Pharmacopeia - 150th Anniversary
9 1971 John Morgan - Bellwether of Professional Change
10 1972 First American Pharmacy
11 1973 Pedanios Dioscorides - First Formularist
12 1974 Joseph Remington - Educational Leader
13** 1975 American Journal of Pharmacy - Window on the Professional
14** 1976 Bicentennial - Pharmacy Celebrates
15** 1977 Louis DuFilho - First American Licensed Pharmacist
16** 1978 Edict of 1240 - Frederick II of Germany - Pharmacy in its own right
17** 1979 Honoring Pharmacy Fraternities
18 1980 Daniel B. Smith - First President of APhA
19 1981 Bowl of Hygeia - Symbol of Pharmacy
20 1982 Society of Apothecaries - A Break with Tradition
21 1983 Lititz Pharmacopoeia - First U.S. Military Pharmacopoeia
22 1984 Stanislas Limousin - Influential Inventor
23 1985 Sister Xavier Hebert - First Woman Pharmacist
24 1986 Liberty Mortar and Pestle
25 1987 Andrew Craigie - First U.S. Apothecary General
26 1988 Paracelius - Chemistry from Alchemy
27 1989 Lambda Kappa Sigma
28*** 1990 American Pharmaceutical Association (APhA)
29 1991 NARD - National Association of Retail Druggists
30 1992 Christopher Columbus
31 1993 Pharmacy Stamp
32 1994 Thomas Percivall - The Ethics of Medicine
33 1995 USP - 175th Anniversary
34 1996 175 Years of Pharmacy Education
35 1997 Pharmacy - Most Trusted Profession
36 1998 Mary Putnam - First Woman Pharmacist with a Degree in Pharmacy
37 1999 Honoring Pharmacists in the Combined Forces
38 2000 Millennium Edition
39 2001 U.S. Colleges of Pharmacy
40 2002 NACDS - National Association of Chain Drug Stores
**** 2003 No M&P Released for This Year
**** 2004 No M&P Released for This Year
41 2005 Pharmacists & Pharmacy Technicians - Serving The Patient
42 2006 NCPA - National Community Pharmacists Association
**** 2007 No M&P Released for This Year
43*** 2008 NPhA - A Tribute to National Pharmaceutical Association and NPhA's Founder - Dr. Chauncey Ira Cooper
44 2009 In Recognition - National Association of Boards of Pharmacy

*        Also Made in Ceramic
**      Miniature Versions Produced
***    Made Only in Ceramic
****  M&P Never Released

Graduating M&P's 1968, 1981, and 1992 Graduating M&P - Not part of the Original Series

I have received several questions regarding the value of certain M&P's.  While there is no "Official Price Guide," I can only comment on the value of each M&P in general.  Basically, prices can vary depending on demand.  I use eBay to give me an idea on how prices are going.  A certain M&P could sell for $80 one week and not sell the next.  It really depends on who wants it and how bad they want it.  Of course, value will increase if the M&P is in good condition (no corrosion), if the M&P is a matched set (with the correct pestle), and if the original box and pamphlet are included.  With that being said, here is the general breakdown of values:

1963 to 1979 -- $20 - $25 give or take

1980 to 1989 -- $25 - $30 give or take

1990 to 1994 -- $35 - $40 give ot take

1995 -- $150 give or take (The hardest one to find)

1996 - present -- $50 +

Of course, these are rough estimates and only include the estimated value of the M&P (matched set) without the original box and pamphlet, not any go-withs (mugs, tie-tacks, miniatures, etc).  Exceptions do occur.  For example, a nice shiny 1968 M&P sold on eBay for over $150 at one time.  In addition, I had the hardest time finding a complete 1969 M&P in good condition.  I believe the value increases with the newer M&P's because less are available and most end up in the hands of younger pharmacists who won't be giving them up any time soon.  I hope this will answer most questions regarding value.


For the last couple of years, I have been selling off most of this collection that you see on this website.  I have sold the last M&P from my collection.  However, I will still maintain this website.
Now that I have sold the Schering M&P's, I have other apothecary and/or medical items that I am selling.  Click the FOR SALE link below to view what I have for sale.


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Web Site last updated December 27, 2012.
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