The Brown University Library is celebrating the holiday season with an exhibit of Christmas Seals, installed in three cases in the Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection Gallery at the John Hay Library. The exhibit will be on display through January 2015.
The U.S. Christmas Seal, whose first issue was designed by Emily Bissell (1861-1948), a Red Cross volunteer, was intended to save a small tuberculosis sanatorium on the Brandywine River near Wilmington, DE. Her cousin, Dr. Joseph Wales, was one of the staff physicians at the “Brandywine Shack,” an open-air tuberculosis sanatorium, and he asked for her help. The goal was to raise $300 through the sale of a special Christmas stamp that could be purchased for a penny at the local post office in Wilmington and attached to regular mail. Her inspiration for the fundraiser came from an article by journalist and social worker Jacob Reis, who write about the successful sale of Christmas Seals in Denmark in 1904.
Bissell was a member of the Delaware Chapter of the American Red Cross and received permission from the national organization to use the Red Cross emblem in her design, to which she added a wreath of holly and a “Merry Christmas” greeting. To finance the printing of the 1907 Christmas Seal, she borrowed $40 from a friend and arranged for credit from the Theodore Leonhardt and Son printing company of Philadelphia to print 50,000 stamps. The Christmas Seals were placed in small envelopes imprinted:
25 Christmas Stamps one penny apiece issued
by the Delaware Red Cross to stamp out the
Put this stamp with message bright
on every Christmas letter;
help the tuberculosis fight,
and make the New Year better.
These stamps do not carry
any kind of mail
but any kind of mail will
On December 7, 1907, the first Christmas Seals were offered for sale at a table in the Wilmington Post Office and Emily Bissell herself purchased the first seal sold. However, overall sales were slow until the editor of the Philadelphia newspaper, the North American, became convinced of the importance of the fundraising campaign. He authorized columnist Leigh Mitchell Hodges to begin a series of daily articles under the heading, “Stamp Out Tuberculosis.” The rest of the 50,000 seals quickly sold and a new printing of 250,000 was ordered. Because it was late in the season, the second printing added the words, “Happy New Year.” By the end of the holidays, all 300,000 seals had been sold, raising $3,000 – ten times Emily Bissell’s original modest goal.
The Christmas Seals are part of the John Hay Library’s extensive collections of stamps, which includes the Knight Collection, the Peltz and Morriss Collections of Special Delivery Stamps, the George S. Champlin Memorial Stamp Collection of International Issues, the Robert T. Galkin Collection of First Day Covers, and the Irene Heneghan Stamp Collection. Click here for more information about Special Collections at Brown, including the stamp collections.
Dates: November 19, 2014 – January 31, 2015
Location: Anne S. K. Brown Gallery, John Hay Library, 20 Prospect Street, Providence