Of the fulfilled and unfulfilled wishes of a museum
Contentment and modesty may be virtues in one's private life – but for us museum people, they are not. Quite the opposite! Although our collection has evolved over its 16 years from the earliest beginnings to an inventory of around 2,200 objects, there are still unfulfilled wishes. One of our heart's desires is called 'frog'.
From the 1940s to the 1960s, the frog test was the standard pregnancy test used worldwide: the pharmacist would inject the morning urine of a potentially pregnant woman into a sexually mature female frog. If the frog spawns within 18 hours, then proof of pregnancy is provided. The procedure is faster when using male frogs: in the case of a positive result, they produce sperm within just a few hours. However, unlike the immunological tests (test strips) we use today, with this method, one needs to wait until several weeks after the missed period.
If one considers the birth rate during the period in question – for example 100,000–120,000 per year just in Austria – it is easy to imagine just how often the frog test was used. Voluntarily or involuntarily, as one can read in a report from Der Spiegel dated 5th December 1966: “Large businesses in Düsseldorf and Bocholt request that female job applicants ‘voluntarily’ undergo the frog test in order to establish whether or not they are pregnant.”
In that respect, we should still see a whole host of 'relics': referrals and results, order forms and delivery notes, mentions in letters and novels, informative signs from pharmacies and laboratories, logos, amulets, photos, fun postcards... Some of these things have already found their way to us, but still far too little. The contemporary testimonies of this historical and widespread method of confirming pregnancy will soon be lost if we do not preserve them.
The technical term for still ungranted wishes of this kindis "desiderata", chosen very aptly, as, after all, it is derived from "implored of the stars, sidera". Just now, another of our implored wishes has come true: a simple white-green cardboard box on which is printed 'Anovlar'.
Anovlar, the first birth control pill in Germany, was brought onto the market on 1st June 1961 by the pharmaceutical company Schering. Although it was only very reluctantly prescribed by doctors in the early years, it is symbolic of the long-awaited step towards effective contraception. Surprisingly, only very few examples of this historic first pack have survived until today. All the more delighted we were then when we discovered an original Anovlar packet in a parcel from a generous donor from Germany.
(However, we will have to disappoint enquiring exhibition designers: it will not be given on loan.)