Regular readers will know my passion for historical letters – family and friends certainly do.
So no apologies for returning to Dominic Winter, the Gloucester saleroom where highlights in recent times have included a letter by Scottish mathematician and physicist James Clerk Maxwell on induced magnetisation (£14,000), a CS Lewis letter on his series of Narnia books (£11,000), a manuscript poem by Robert Browning (£12,000) and an Elgar autograph music score (£8000).
So to Winter’s recent sale of an important unpublished letter by the ‘father’ of vaccines, Edward Jenner (1749-1823).
A vaccine for smallpox
In 1798, Dr Jenner published his study of the cause and effects of the disease now known as cowpox and how it could act as a vaccine for the smallpox virus.
Four years later, in 1802, Jenner wrote to fellow physician Dr John Glover Loy to thank him for his research vindicating his theory about his smallpox vaccine.
Jenner adds in the letter, “I know of no production on the vaccine subject which has afforded me more satisfaction, since it was first brought before the public, than yours.
“It … has effectually put a stop to the sneers of those little minded persons who think everything impossible which does not come within the narrow sphere of their own comprehension. I regret that your confirmation of the fact I had adduced, is not more generally known.”
Then, as now, there was a strong anti-vax lobby, but the development of the smallpox vaccine led to the eradication of the disease worldwide by 1980.
The three-page letter, signed ‘Edwd Jenner, Bond Street, 15 April 1802’, and sold by descendants of Dr Loy, made £7000.