World's First Charity Stamps Raise Money for Soldiers' Relief During Civil War Part 2


By Alexander Haimann, Collections Specialist

Continued From Friday November 6, 2009, Sanitary Fairs Blog Post

The first Sanitary Fair held to raise funds for supplies and care for Union soldiers took place in Lowell, Massachusetts on February 24, 1863. Following this relatively small fair in Lowell hundreds of Sanitary Fairs were held throughout the United States during the remainder of the Civil War. Interestingly, only eight of these Fairs produced adhesive charity stamps to sell to visitors.

Brooklyn Sanitary Fair

One such charity stamp selling fair was the Brooklyn and Long Island Fair held February 22 though March 8, 1864. When the fair closed, over $300,000.00 had been raised for soldiers’ relief. The fair’s post office represented $830.55 of that total by selling a number of two different stamps produced for sale at that fair.

Refer to caption
Left—Brooklyn Fair stamp, Right—Metropolitan Fair stamp

A few weeks after the Brooklyn and Long Island Fair closed, another large Sanitary Fair opened nearby, the New York Metropolitan Fair. This fair was initially scheduled to take place at the same time as the Brooklyn and Long Island Fair, but it was postponed in order to construct new buildings to hold the ever-expanding bourse areas. The Metropolitan Fair was one of the best attended Sanitary Fairs held during the Civil War and raised $1,340,000.00. Most likely the stamps produced for this fair were not ready on time, so the fair’s post office only sold $13.80 worth of charity stamps.

Refer to caption
Floor plan of the Metropolitan Fair—Notice the Post Office on the far right side.

By the end of the Civil War, the United States Sanitary Commission and its thousands of volunteers provided millions of Union soldiers medical care, comfort and invaluable supplies. Many of the Commission's efforts are mirrored today by thousands of charity and volunteer organizations, presently providing similar comforts to American men and women serving in uniform all over the world.

View more Civil War related NPM resources:

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.