Object of the Month: May 2021
Vaccination Certificate, 1828
In the spring of 2021, after a year and half with COVID-19, coronavirus vaccines promise protection against the disease to each of us, as well as the swift end to the pandemic and return to „normal“ times. Many of us have the certificates of one or both vaccine doses, others are still waiting for a document that will allow them to travel, go to restaurants, work out together or get a haircut without repeated tests.
The history of inoculation cards spans two centuries. Early 19 century vaccination certificates proved that the carrier is immune to smallpox and cannot endanger others. In the Austrian
monarchy, parents that did not vaccinate their children did not face monetary penalties, as they did in countries with compulsory vaccination. The duty to vaccinate became law only in the independent Czechoslovakia in 1919. Aspiring to stop recurring epidemics, which in the Czech Lands killed 17 000 children yearly as late as 1799-1800, the authorities did exert considerable pressure, both direct and indirect. Families with unvaccinated children had no access to poor relief, scholarships or places in state-sponsored schools. Children who did not undergo vaccination and died of the disease were buried without attendance of priests, relatives or guests. Names of smallpox victims and parents responsible for their deaths were read aloud during religious services. Baptisms or circumcisions were considered especially suitable times to exhort parents and distribute instructional leaflets.
Vaccine, provided free of charge and in guaranteed quality, gave further incentive to those who did not need material help from the state and remained unconvinced by statistics of saved lives. Certificates themselves encouraged vaccination as well. The text was set by an 1808 Court Chancellery decree: the document was to list the name, domicile and age of the child, the name of the father, the number of produced and healed pustules, the date and place of the operation and the name and signature of the doctor. Well-off parents were offered „diplomas“ adorned with etchings and printed on expensive paper. Luxury certificates could embellish the house and attested to the social status, enlightenment and education of the family.
The lithographed certificate celebrating Edward Jenner was issued by the Karlsbad surgeon Ignaz Michael (1800-1831) to Wilhelm Danzer (1827-1889), then one year old, on August 21, 1828. Dr. Michael died mere three years later of tuberculosis. Wilhelm Danzer grew to inherit, in 1868, his father Joseph’s general merchandise business in Karlsbad. On the left side of the document, a ribbon with the slogan „Gestalt, Gesundheit und geschütztes Leben“ (Appearance, Health and Protected Life) that had been used in 1803 also on the memorial medal of the Vaccination Commission in Prague. The vaccine did not only save lives: smallpox often caused blindness as well as disfigurement. Asclepius stands next and points a small boy to a flying ribbon held by two cherubs, offering „Honor and Thanks to Dr. Jenner.“ A cow, the animal that makes vaccination possible, stands further to the right, and behind it an altar at which a thankful mother kneels, holding a baby, while two older children dress it with flowers and wreaths. The imperial eagle, holding a sword, hovers over the scene and the eye of providence follows and protects everything from the background.
The lithographer, printer and bookbinder Joseph Franz Kaiser (1786-1859) opened his shop in Graz in 1810 and in addition to maps , landscape scenes and calendars supplied writing utensils, paper and a variety of documents and forms. His fancy, engraved vaccination certificates were sold across the monarchy, from northwestern Bohemia to Carinthia. Kaiser himself, his sons Eduard and Alexander, as well as other artists, designed the images. The scene on Wilhelm Danzer‘s document was laid out by the Grazer burgher Mathias Prathengeyer (1767-1830), a property owner, saving bank founder and a borough master, but no less an aspiring artist. In the 1820, Kayser sold the form on cheap hand paper for 2 Kreuzers of convention currency and for 4 Kreuzers on domestic velin, wove paper akin to parchment. Printed on imported Basel velin with gold border, the certificate cost as much as 12 Kreuzers.