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Not just face value: European charity stamps

by Nicky Gardner


Micro-donations to charity have been a feature of European postage stamps for over a century. Letter-writers have supported athletes, orphans and unemployed intellectuals - as well as clothing naked Swedish soldiers - by buying charity stamps.

Postage stamps often speak volumes about a nation and its history. Stamps are little cultural markers. We have been looking at how countries in Europe take very different approaches to raising money for charities through the sale of postage stamps. The first European postal administration ever to have a surcharged charity stamp was Russia, which in 1905 issued a special three kopek stamp that was sold in post offices at twice the face value. The extra three kopeks went to a fund to support children orphaned by the Russo-Japanese war. Such stamps are often called semi-postals, and many European countries have issued hundreds of them, along the way benefitting all manner of charities. Belgium, Germany and Switzerland issue large numbers of such premium priced stamps, and evidently they sell well. Each stamp sale secures a micro-donation for a specified cause. Yet in some other European countries, the notion of the charity stamp or semi-postal is completely unknown.

Romanian letter writers had a chance to donate to charity as early as 1906, when the country launched a semi-postal to aid the work of the national welfare fund. The stamps bore a verse taken from St Paul's Letter to the Romans: "Glory, honour and peace to all who do good." This doubtless meant that all who bought the stamps had a nice warm and rosy glow. Purchasers could feel assured that they were contributing to their own salvation as well as the welfare fund.

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