World's First Charity Stamps Raise Money for Soldiers' Relief During Civil War


By Alexander Haimann, Collections Specialist

Friday November 9, 2009, Sanitary Fairs Blog Post, Part 2

On June 13, 1861, two months to the day after Federal troops surrender Fort Sumter to Confederate forces, President Abraham Lincoln established the U.S. Sanitary Commission to be responsible for the health and welfare of Union soldiers throughout the period of conflict with the succeeding states.

The Sanitary Commission was divided into three departments.

The Department of Preventative Services was responsible for ensuring Union soldiers had supplies of food and medicine, and that troop hospitals and camps maintained sanitary conditions. The Department of General Relief focused on supplying food, clothing, blankets, hospital equipment, bedding and writing supplies. Depictions of these two departments in action below:

Sanitary Commission field supplycrop
In the Parlor

The third department, Special Relief, dealt with soldiers that were separated from their units, administered aide to wounded soldiers and organized special Soldiers Homes for their care.

On the Battle Field
At the Bedside

From the start, this important new endeavor had one really big problem…Lincoln left the Sanitary Commission unfunded. This forced the Commission to seek material and financial donations from citizens. By 1863, the need for services provided by the Sanitary Commission was simply overwhelming and the Commission set up a new fundraising vehicle – The Sanitary Fairs. Primarily staffed by members of local women’s groups, these fairs sought out material donations of all types to sell to visitors. Several of the fairs produced adhesive stamps in their continuing effort to raise funds by any means possible. These were the first adhesive charity stamps produced in the world.

See the second installment of this Blog post

This special NPM Blog Post would not have been possible without philatelist and postal historian Marty Graff's careful assistance and encyclopedic knowledge of the U.S. Sanitary Commission and related Sanitary Fair adhesive stamps.

Alex Haimann

About the Author
Alexander T. Haimann, Collections Specialist & Web Projects Developer at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, collects and writes primarily about the stamps and postal history of the U.S. during the first one hundred years of stamp production (1847-1947). Additionally, he develops internet based education projects and exhibits for the National Postal Museum. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the American Stamp Dealers Association, the Chair of the American Philatelic Society’s Young Philatelic Leaders Fellowship and the publicist for the United State Philatelic Classics Society. His national and international society memberships include the American Philatelic Society, United States Stamp Society, Collectors Club of New York and the Royal Philatelic Society London.