In the 1800’s, medical schools were much less formal than they are now. Medical colleges used a system of lecture cards or “tickets” to pay their faculty and doctors who taught in the schools. The doctors who taught the course would issue a ticket to the students for their respective lecture in return for a fee paid by the student. Students attended lectures on the subjects that interested them or which were in their specialty. Medical school graduates could attend the lectures to brush up on current knowledge, or hear a particular specialist or well-known physician.
The tickets were printed on a heavy stock paper so they would last. The student's signature was always on the front of the card. The faculty member’s name could either be on the front or the back of the card, or not on the card at all. Some of the cards were embellished with illustrations of the school, or some anatomical reference, like this one from the University of Pennsylvania, one of the oldest medical schools.
Students could buy sets of tickets for all of the lectures they would be attending over the course of the year – one ticket per subject – and then the next year, buy another set of tickets. Tickets were often issued in a special envelope or leather pouch. A full set is preferable to just one or two.
There’s quite a collectible market for lecture tickets, and depending on the age (pre-Civil War is best), school, lecturer and other variables, they can be quite valuable – as high as $170 per card.