These cow horns are purported to be from the very cow that Edward Jenner drew his cowpox sample from whilst investigating the prevention of small pox in the 18th Century. A note tucked inside the horns reads: ‘The horns from which the matter was first taken for vaccination. Signed:- Stephen Jenner’.
Analysis of the handwriting shows this note to be authentic. However, several other pairs of these horns exist in other museum collections and it is likely that most (if not all) are fraudulent. Perhaps Stephen Jenner was attempting to capitalize on his relative’s legacy! Jenner, a local doctor (from Gloucestershire), realised that milkmaids who caught cowpox from cows did not contract the deadly disease, smallpox. This was because their bodies had produced the right blood cells to fight off the infection. Before Jenner, smallpox killed a great many people in Britain and further afield, especially young children and babies. Jenner’s discovery means that doctors were now able to develop an immunisation process to fight the disease, which has become known as ‘vaccination’ (from the Latin word for cow). Smallpox has now been completely eradicated and the last naturally-occurring case was in 1977 in Somalia.
This item is on display at the George Marshall Medical Museum.