On 30th January, 2008, the Austrian Mint will issue the second gold coin in its new series “Celebrated Physicians of Austria”. This year’s coin is dedicated to Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, who in the mid-19th century correctly diagnosed the cause of childbed fever and through the promotion of disinfecting hands and instruments became the saviour of thousands of women and babies in childbirth.

Semmelweis was born in Budapest in 1818, but came to Vienna to study medicine in the renowned school of medicine established by Gerard van Swieten (2007’s coin) in the previous century. It was while working in the childbirth section of the Vienna General Hospital from 1847 onwards that Semmelweis made his observations on childbed fever and introduced the washing and disinfection of hands with a solution of chlorinated lime. The mortality rate in his ward reduced itself by half.

He argued his discoveries in a book called “The Aetiology, Concept and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever”, but his work was not received in all medical circles without controversy. It was not until after Semmelweis’s own death in 1865 that his theories received general recognition. Nonetheless thousands of mothers and their babies were to owe their lives to the ground-breaking work of the “Saviour of the Mothers”.

The new gold coin with a face value of 50 Euro has a portrait of the celebrated doctor himself together with the staff of Aesculapius, which is the logo for the entire series. The reverse has a bird’s eye view of the old General Hospital in Vienna, where Semmelweis was stationed in the childbirth clinic. An insert to the right shows a doctor and a student in the act of disinfecting their hands before examining a patient.

Struck in proof quality (reverse frosting) and in 986 fine gold to a maximum mintage of 50,000 pieces, each coin comes in an attractive box with a numbered certificate of authenticity. A wooden case for the complete series of four coins can be purchased separately.

Despite the present high gold prices, the new coin is attractively priced and is a worthy memorial to one of the great Austrian pioneers of modern medicine.