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Penn History

Medical lecture tickets from the 18th and 19th centuries have become available mainly through the death of the original owner or his/her heirs. Some tickets find a home in institutional repositories; others, along with old letters, files, scrapbooks, photographs, etc., end up in the hands of book and antique dealers. By far, the majority of lecture tickets in the University of Pennsylvania Archives and Record Center, established in 1945, came from the donation of alumni and their heirs.

In a rare find in 1906, Governor Samuel Pennypacker, ex-officio president of Penn’s board of trustees, discovered the earliest tickets, dating from the 1765 founding of the University’s medical school. These were in the private hands of Harrisburg attorney John Armstrong Herman, great-grandson of James Armstrong, MD (Penn; M1769) to whom the tickets were issued (9, 10, 11).1

In 1948 the estate of William Pepper, III, MD (Penn; M1897), dean of the School of Medicine from 1912 to 1945, made a large donation of materials pertaining to the history of the school to the University Archives.2 The memorabilia in Pepper’s collection included medical lecture tickets. In 1966 another infusion of medical lecture tickets came to the Archives as part of a larger transfer of historical materials from the old Medical Library, located in the rotunda of the John Morgan Building, home to the School of Medicine. This disbursement of the library’s historical collections came about as the new Biomedical Library was being constructed on Hamilton Walk, adjacent to the John Morgan Building.

The largest single donation of medical lecture tickets in the history of the University Archives came in 2012 when Daniel M. Albert, MD, MS (Penn; M1962) generously gave his collection of medical ephemera to the University of Pennsylvania Archives. That collection consisted of 340 medical lecture tickets and 103 related items (78 printed papers, 12 catalogues and booklets, five ledgers, four manuscript letters and four photographs). His donation diversified the University Archives’ collection, making it a national and international assemblage of medical lecture tickets.

For about half a century Albert scoured book fairs, flea markets, antique shows, as well as trade card and postcard shows for medical lecture tickets. Dealers who learned of his interest kept him informed of tickets that surfaced for sale. As a Penn medical alumnus and Harvard faculty member for nearly two decades, he particularly prized tickets from these schools, taking pleasure in seeing the signatures of famous physicians such as Penn’s John Syng Dorsey, MD and D. Hayes Agnew, MD, and Harvard’s Oliver Wendell Holmes, MD (24) and Henry Ingersoll Bowditch, MD (25). However, Albert rarely turned down any tickets offered for sale as each card represents a unique combination of medical student, faculty, curriculum, time and place.

Medical lecture tickets remained relatively inexpensive in the 1960s and ‘70s, but their cost has increased considerably, apparently due to their growing scarcity and a stable, albeit small market. Collectors and dealers highly value complete sets from an individual medical student (73) and cards in pristine condition as well as those from the pre-Civil War era or short-lived, small or little known medical schools. Fame of teacher or student and rarity are also considered in appraising the worth of lecture tickets. Unlike coins or old books, which have a relatively fixed value, the value of these lecture tickets rests in “the eye of the beholder,” reflecting the passion of the collector.

1. “Historical Matriculation Cards: Governor Pennypacker Finds Treasures for the University.” Old Penn. Vol. IV, No. 25. March 17, 1906.

2. Leonidas Dodson, Annual Report of the University Archivist to the President 1948.