Jones Rexall

Jones Rexall


Thousands of Rexall Drug Stores fronted Main Street in communities throughout the nation for eight decades of the 20th century. Most were locally owned, and all possessed an exclusive franchise for Rexall brand merchandise in their town or section of a city. Actively supporting Rexall Stores were the management and advertising departments, factories and distribution networks comprising the vast corporate body of United Drug Company and its successor, Rexall Drug Company. Followers of this Blog will see gradual publishing of histories, vintage photographs and memorabilia acquired during twenty-five years of research and collecting—glimpses of the Rexall phenomenon and personalities that drove its creation and success.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Jonteel – United Drug’s Bird-of-Paradise

The Literary Digest, July 1920.
An exotic Jonteel bird logo
dominates the back cover of this magazine.
In the fall of 1931, United Drug Company's general sales manager, George C. Frolich alerted his advertising department, “The toilet goods laboratory is developing new products and improving formulas of some of the older items. I want to get the best artists in America to design packages that will help Rexallites secure a million-dollar volume in 12 months!” Frolich was talking about Jonteel, a cosmetics line launched by United in 1917, followed by three years of intensive advertising in national magazines. Even in 1931 Jonteel remained a viable brand.

The Jonteel ad campaign was spurred by United's success in its first nationwide magazine blitz: a 2-page spread in the September 1915 issue of Collier's that firmly established the famous One-Cent Sale (see my Nov. 3, 2013 post). That promotion initiated a long history of popular semi-annual sales events, but just as importantly, it confirmed that pictorial magazine advertising was the best vehicle for embedding the Rexall trademark in the minds of consumers. Louis K. Liggett, president of United Drug Co., instinctively knew that when a marketing strategy worked, it was foolish not to work up a variation on the same theme.

Ladies’ Home Journal, December 1917. This opening Jonteel ad shows
actress Helene Chadwick enjoying the new “Odor of Twenty-six Flowers.”
To enlarge pictures: click>right click>View Image>and click again.
The 1917 magazine campaign was spearheaded by a full-page, 4-color ad in the December issue of Ladies’ Home Journal. Adopting the growing trend of employing motion picture personalities to endorse cosmetics, silent screen starlet Helene Chadwick was signed to represent Jonteel. Four different photographic poses of the actress were displayed in various formats over the next three years. The ads appeared in women’s periodicals like Vogue, Woman’s Home Companion, Good Housekeeping, Ladies’ Home Journal, and La Canadienne, a magazine published for French-language readers in Canada. Ladies’ Home Journal received $9,000 for the first ad, calculated to reach 1,750,000 homes.

Oval talcum tins, manufactured in 2.5 oz. and 5.5 oz.
 sizes by the Tin Decorating Co., Baltimore, MD.
Fledgling Jonteel products—Talc, Combination Cream and Face Powder had been released in test stores in June 1917, and by October were placed with 40% of the Rexall franchised druggists. The introductory line was presented as elegant yet economically priced, and perfumed with a new “$100,000 Odor of Twenty-six Flowers.”  $100,000 represented the amount expended for marketing research, trademarks, packaging and developing the Jonteel fragrance itself. As for the 26 flowers, ad copy reveals only that jasmine, patchouli, lavender, rose, bergamot, labdanum, orange, ylang-ylang, olibanum, vetivert, sandalwood and geranium were among the essences contributing to the complex Jonteel bouquet.

Showcase and counter displays of Jonteel products, April 1921.

Rexallites were urged to display Jonteel items “wherever the goods can make an irresistible appeal to that insatiable searcher for money-spending opportunities—Woman.” As with the One-Cent Sales, Jonteel advertising emphasized exclusive selling rights by The Rexall Stores; and during 1918-20 that meant 8000 agencies in the United States, Canada and Great Britain. Among them were some 200 company-owned Liggett’s Drug Stores scattered from New York City to Winnipeg (half of them former Riker & Hegeman stores acquired in a 1916 merger), and 30 franchised Owl Drug Co. stores on the Pacific Coast.

The “Lesser Bird-of-Paradise” (Paradisaea minor),
native of Papua New Guinea.
The name Jonteel was conceived in March 1916 by a copywriter working for United Drug’s advertising manager, Charles E. Murnan. Originally proposed as Caresse-Jonteel, the first word was dropped after discovering it was already being used by cosmetics manufacturer Pattie Park Luzier of Kansas City. To elevate Jonteel to a strong brand image, an exotic bird was perched atop the prominent letter “J.” Selected from sketches submitted by 50 different artists, the brightly feathered creature was painted in red, purple and green against a backdrop of midnight black—an avian fantasy derived from “bird-of-paradise” species like Paradisaea minor. Another advisory sent from the advertising department recommended that for best impact, the dark Jonteel packages should be displayed against a background of rich yellow satin.

Display of Jonteel products in an Owl Drug Co. store window, circa 1919.
One naturally wonders, why a bird? The success of Owl Drug Co. in selling proprietaries using avian themes may be a likely reason. The wise old owl himself was pictured on most over-the-counter product labels, including toiletries. The single word Bird was trademarked for Owl’s specialty line of rouge and face powder starting in 1911, and Red Feather was registered by Owl in 1912 for a general line of toilet goods. When United Drug Co. was dressing their new cosmetics line in 1916, Owl’s brand experience likely figured into deliberations. Ultimately, toiletries emblazoned with the colorful Jonteel migrated from Boston to Owl Drug Co. stores all over the West, rested briefly, then flew off the shelves into shopping baskets.

Besides the bird’s striking appearance, the word Jonteel was a masterstroke of faux French branding. The fanciful name was instantly associated with “genteel,” yet pronounced more like the French gentil—both words suggesting something tasteful and refined. In the early 20th century practically all high fashion originated in Paris. Art Nouveau styling combined with distinctively French floral perfumery set the bar for American manufacturers as they strived to emulate the language, fragrances and imagery crafted by Parisian perfumers such as Houbigant, Piver and Coty.

United Drug Co. perfumer George Hall displaying imported perfumery materials, 1912.
The first perfume products made at United’s factory in Boston were offered to Rexall agents in December 1906, based on floral extracts imported from France and Bulgaria. The following year a toilet goods department was organized as a subsidiary called United Perfume Co., and Liggett’s father-in-law, George W. Bence, was put in charge. By 1910, perfumer George Hall (1874-1921) was president and general manager, a position he held for the next seven years. Hall would have been directly involved in compounding the Jonteel fragrance and instrumental in developing the initial line of products—Talc Jonteel, Face Powder Jonteel, Combination Cream Jonteel, Cold Cream Jonteel, and Odor Jonteel. The quirky style of trailing the tradename Jonteel after each product title was another ploy to imbue the line with a sophisticated European quality. United Drug also chose to omit their corporate name from toilet goods packaging, opting instead for a fictitious “perfumer” label. During the first decade, most products were labeled Harmony of Boston. But in 1917 the Jonteel line was assigned Liggett’s/New York, designed to reflect United’s greatly expanded chain of Liggett’s Drug Stores in New York City and other metropolitan areas.

George Hall enjoyed a solid reputation with the perfume industry in France; and on March 23, 1914 was awarded the Ordre du Mérite Agricole, bestowed by the French Republic for his outstanding contribution to agriculture. In the fall of 1916, with deliveries from war-torn Europe dwindling to nil, Hall announced that stocks of raw materials on hand would be sufficient to secure the Jonteel launch. Then suddenly, at a most critical time, Hall was forced to retire from United Drug in July 1917 for health reasons. Fortunately, another qualified perfumer, Francis N. Langlois (1893–1985), was hired away from Frederick Stearns & Co. in Detroit to manage United’s perfume and toilet goods laboratories. By serendipity, or perhaps with some cunning, the new superindendent brought with him a valuable asset—his obviously French name. Langlois consented to using his surname on the firm’s toiletries in April 1918, and after much test marketing, his facsimile signature was filed as a U.S. trademark in December 1922. In practice, “Langlois/New York,” was applied to United’s new Cara Nome and Juneve cosmetic brands, while the established “Liggett’s/New York” label continued on Jonteel packaging until the line was entirely redesigned in the early 1930’s.

Costumed women demonstrating Jonteel products in a store window boudoir scene,
Axt Drug Co., Fort Madison, Iowa 1918.
Helene Chadwick applying Jonteel Combination Cream in the February 1919 Ladies’ Home Journal and May 1920 La Canadienne. Both ads claim the cream “Will Not Grow Hair.” The myth that certain oleaginous substances promote hair growth originated with men’s use of lanolin, mineral oil, and vegetable oils like almond, olive and castor to stimulate hair growth. To reassure female consumers, manufacturers placed disclaimers in their advertising and labeling.
By July 1918 Jonteel sales were running about $80,000 per month. Rexall druggists were encouraged to put “human interest” in their window displays, and the agent in Fort Madison, Iowa took the advice to the limit by recreating a fashionable lady’s boudoir in the store’s main show window. Two young women played the roles of a society dame and her maid, the latter assisting in application of various Jonteel preparations. Response to the “live theatre” production generated sales “far beyond expectation.” In August, full-page color ads for Jonteel were also appearing in Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, and Cosmopolitan. Expense for artwork and ad space in the December 1918 numbers alone totaled $25,000.

Jonteel Bath and Toilet Powder was produced in
Canada for distribution through Rexall Stores in that country.
F.N. Burt Company, a major fabricator of small boxes in Buffalo, NY
made the pasteboard containers for Jonteel
Cold Cream Face Powder, Rouge Compact, etc.
An unusual property of the Face Powder was its significant cold cream content. When rubbed on the skin, mineral oil in the cream was absorbed, leaving a film of powder firmly attached by the waxy ingredients to provide more permanence and protection from sun and wind. The manufacturing process was licensed under U.S. Patent No. 1332190, registered in February 1920 by La Meda Mfg. Co., a toilet goods firm in Chicago. In May 1922 United Drug promoted the cold cream feature to Rexallites as a selling point, but actual conversion of package titles to read "Cold Cream Face Powder" was delayed until the following spring. The cold cream and powder combination idea was not entirely new. Carl Weeks of Des Moines, Iowa pioneered the sale of Armand’s Cold Cream Powder beginning in 1918 and made it a popular seller for more than a decade.
Woman’s Home Companion, March 1919. The new powder and rouge “compacts” included a natural shade called Outdoor to match the complexion of open air enthusiasts. Helene Chadwick demonstrates a finger ring vanity case.
Information sent to Rexall agents in March 1920 outlined merits of the new silver-plated vanity case and how it should function as a “selling scheme” to secure future sales of Jonteel powder and rouge compacts.
Fine metal stamping is evident in this close-up of the octagonal vanity,
made by D. Evans & Company of North Attleboro, Mass.
The March 1919 Jonteel ads introduced an alternative to loose face powder—compressed discs or “compacts,” available in four shades. At the same time, three tints of rouge compacts were also offered. The compacts were individually packaged in round pasteboard cartons that were portable but not very durable. By mid-1919, however, wartime restriction on domestic use of metals was effectively relaxed, and later that year an 8-sided, silver-plated vanity case was produced to hold single Jonteel compacts. When the attractive vanity was revealed to Rexall druggists in the spring of 1920, they were directed to combine compact and vanity as a unit rather than sell the case empty. The strategy was to promote Jonteel compacts and secure repeat sales, not merely sell the vanity as an accessory.

The small, attractively embossed case was stamped “Sheffield Plate,” implying the ancient process of fusing sheet silver to copper, but the Jonteel vanities were actually machine stamped from brass and electroplated with a thin coating of silver. To learn more about these fascinating little boxes and their maker, D. Evans & Co. of North Attleboro, Mass., read Mike Hetherington’s blog post here.

Ladies’ Home Journal, December 1920. The 8-sided vanity bearing repoussé Jonteel bird and complete with finger ring, rouge or powder compact was offered in this Christmas ad for $1. Other products were assembled as gift sets ranging from $1.50 to $8. At the time, United Drug Co. claimed 10,000 Rexall agents in the English-speaking world.
Ladies’ Home Journal, February 1921. Miss Chadwick, in her final pose for the magazine campaign, recommends Combination Cream—a preparation used as a base for face powder and to treat chapped hands.
The oval jar was made of milk-white glass.
Compact cases represented a departure from the tradition of beauty aids being applied solely in the privacy of a woman’s home. Working, voting, post-war women were encouraged (particularly by Madison Avenue) to throw off old taboos and embrace independent attitudes, including the freedom to maintain personal appearance “on the go.” The finger-ring vanity was symbolic of such mobility—a conceptual image already presented in several 1918-19 Jonteel ads that show Miss Chadwick clad in evening wear, coyly yet expertly demonstrating the use of a finger ring vanity. After a run of 39 months, the inviting images of Helene Chadwick were retired. February 1921 was her last appearance for Jonteel; and the ad for March focused on the silver-plated vanity and the various shades of powder and rouge compacts, each embossed with the famous bird. Ironically, a bobbed-hair and bare-shouldered Chadwick resumed posing for magazine ads in 1924, selling Lablache cosmetics for Ben Levy Co. of Boston.
Woman’s Home Companion, May 1921. An artist’s painting replaced the photographic
poses of Helene Chadwick for the remainder of the 1921 magazine ad campaign.
Ladies’ Home Journal, December 1921. Both the silver-plated single and the
brass double vanity cases were offered in this Christmas “Gifts Jonteel” ad.
Less intricate than the repoussé silver-plated vanity, the stamped logo
 on the brass double case was nevertheless well executed.
Manufactured by E. Loesser Mills of Montclair, NJ.
Helene’s replacement was revealed in the May 1921 issue of Woman’s Home Companion—an artist’s rendition of a young woman exhibiting a glowing complexion in subdued light, applying Jonteel compact powder from a pasteboard box. The small text in the ad describes a “Double Vanity Case” to hold both powder and rouge compacts. A picture of the brass case finally appeared in the December 1921 Christmas ad: oblong-oval in shape, containing twin compacts, lambskin puffs and a wide mirror.
August Goertz & Co. of Newark, NJ filed a utility patent in September 1922 for this double compact case. Within a year United Drug had adopted the novel device. Insets show guilloché cover and interior of the Jonteel “Twin Vanity.”
Rouge compacts embossed with the Jonteel bird were
first supplied in metal single cases in the mid-1920’s.
The oblong double vanity was superceded in 1923 by a new style that was being quickly adopted by the toilet goods industry—a sizable (2½ inch dia.) round case containing large powder and rouge compacts and full-size mirror. The design chosen for both the Jonteel and Cara Nome lines was manufactured by August Goertz & Co. of Newark, NJ under their Patent No. 1558471. The pan holding the powder cake cleverly swung up-and-out on a yoke to reveal the rouge compact, and the entire internal assembly could be removed and replaced with a refill unit.
A completely modernized line of Jonteel products appeared in January 1933.
The packaging featured angular lines and tall glass containers.
Toilet Powder tins are known with both Liggett's/New York and Langlois/New York labels.
The square, pillow-shaped, nickel-plated Double Vanity.
A metal mirror swings on the case hinge pintle and separates the rouge and powder compartments—
a feature commonly seen on cases made by Hingeco Mfg. Co. of Providence, RI.
Slender metal cases with hinged covers were created to carry
single rouge and powder compacts. Manufactured
by Chase Brass & Copper Co., Waterbury, Conn.
 The stylish yet affordable Jonteel line persisted throughout the prosperous 1920’s even though growth and sales of United’s more opulent Cara Nome and Shari toiletries gained momentum during the decade. Since introduction in December 1917, over $25 million of Jonteel brand products had been sold—an average of $160,000 per month. In 1931, however, at the depth of the Depression, sales of all toiletries were in decline, and decision was made to redesign and expand the lower priced Jonteel line to fit the times. Vanity cases and other containers were modernized by package designer William Fink of New York City. The new look exhibited a blend of Art Deco and the emerging Moderne style which emphasized rounded corners, bright enamels, and verticality.
Body powders were packaged in enameled metal cans. The tall 5 oz. Talcum was added several months after the new line was launched in January 1933. Inset shows the Langlois/New York label adopted for the redesigned Jonteel line.
The rejuvenated line was launched in January 1933 and enjoyed three years of favorable response, especially from the urban middle class demographic. Besides some magazine advertising, United Drug contracted with Globe Film Enterprise in Hollywood, California to produce “Jonteel Talkies”—six motion picture clips that showed “beautiful living models using Jonteel Toilet Goods and talking about the qualities and beautifying results of Jonteel preparations.” Rexall agents ordering these short films to run in their local theaters could draft a fifteen-word commercial message to be flashed on the screen in the final seconds.
The majestic Jonteel bird was such a colorful, eye-catching logo it was featured on other
United Drug Co. merchandise ranging from boxed chocolates to hair nets.
In spite of these and other valiant efforts to keep the venerable bird flying, the lengthy and profitable Jonteel campaign had finally run its course. Company promotion of the brand ended with launch of the new Adrienne line of toiletries in the spring of 1936.

>>Special thanks to my good friend Michael Hetherington for his collaboration and good fellowship in tracking down history of the toilet goods industry. Mike has created a wonderful blog on the subject with special emphasis on compact cases. Enjoy his many Collecting Vintage Compacts posts here.  Also my sincere gratitude to C.J. “Jonteel” Vaughn for many years of support in the collection of information and artifacts related to United Drug Co.


  1. Having now written my blogpost, I am in a position to read yours. A wonderful and detailed contribution, as usual. I think mine will complement yours, though

  2. Hi,
    Thank you for sharing such an amazing and informative post. Really enjoyed reading it. :)



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