THE HISTORY OF
By Nemy L. Rivera
IN THE BEGINNING, IN DENMARK …..
Issued by Denmark in 1904
The story of Christmas seals began in a post office
in Denmark one late Christmas night in 1903. A postal worker, Einar
Holboell, wading through a huge mass of outgoing mail, thought: if
people were willing to spend a little more to send their Christmas
greetings through the mail, considerable income could be derived,
which could very well be used for a worthy cause. This meant the
issuance of a special Christmas stamp or seal. Holboell’s superiors
enthusiastically endorsed the scheme and agreed that funds earned
could be used to build a hospital for children afflicted with
tuberculosis, then considered a fatal disease. Denmark’s King
Christian II approved the project and himself chose the seal design
which pictured his recently demised wife, Queen Louise.
Issued by Sweden in 1904
Two Scandinavian neighbors, Sweden and Iceland,
learned about the plan, and after consultations in Copenhagen,
decided to adopt the idea. Thus, Denmark, Sweden and Iceland
issued the world’s first Christmas seals in December 1904. The
Denmark seals were a tremendous success: more than 80% of the 2
million seals printed were sold! It is not generally known that the
Denmark 1904 seal were of two types: round perforated and with
News of the eminent results of the Denmark Christmas
“stamps” quickly spread out to other parts of the world. Argentina,
Italy and the Netherlands issued their own Christmas seals in 1905,
followed by Austria and Norway in 1906. The United States was not
unaware of these developments. A Danish-American writer reported
this in the press, and urged the US to follow this example in order
to raise funds to control tuberculosis which was exacting a high
toll of lives in the country.
FOR THE MEANTIME, IN THE UNITED STATES…..
At about that time, a destitute TB shack in
Delaware, USA, facing closure and needed just $300 to save it ,
appealed to a known social worker, Emily P. Bissell, for help.
Bissell recalled the story of the Danish seals and decided to
launch a Christmas seal drive to produce funds. When approached,
both the American Red Cross and the US Postal Service declined to
extend full support. Undaunted, Bissell herself drew the designs
for the first seals, and with borrowed money, ordered the printing
of the seals which she and some volunteers placed on public sale
early December 1907.
With proceeds dismally low, Bissell sought the help
of Philadelphia’s leading newspaper for publicity but was rebuffed.
Refusing to give up, Bissell talked with a senior reporter of the
newspaper and desperately explained the urgent need for the seals.
The reporter was electrified by her story and forthwith secured the
permission of the editor to write about the seals. Thus for three
weeks, powerful appeals for the seal and its noble purpose appeared
on the front page of the newspaper. National interest was stirred
and not too long after, $3,000 was raised, instead of just $300.
The American National Red Cross assumed issuance and
sale of Christmas seals in 1908, until 1920 when the National TB
Association took over. In 1973, its name was changed to “The
American Lung Association.
AND, IN THE PHILIPPINES …..
In the meanwhile, halfway around the world, the
Philippines was just recovering from the ravages of the Filipino-
American war and was adjusting to the new focus on education and
health under American rule. Shaken by an alarming disclosure about
the exceedingly high TB mortality in the country, a meeting of
concerned citizens and government officials decided to form the
Philippine Anti-Tuberculosis Society in August 1910. In October 20,
the Society approved the issuance of the Philippines’ first
Christmas seals, and 500,000 seals were produced by the Bureau of
In September 1917, the Society was appointed by the
US National Association as its representative for the sale of
Christmas seals in the Philippines. Thus, US Red Cross seals, and
later, NTA seals were “officially” sold and used in the Philippines
from 1917 up to the outbreak of the Pacific war in 1941.
In 1940 and 1941, Elizalde & Co., an old and
respected commercial company, issued its own private Christmas
seals, which were given away free to the public upon request.
Although non-TB, these seals are an important and integral part of
the family of Philippine Christmas seals.
About 1946, a crudely designed yellow seal appeared,
unannounced and hardly noticed. While the texts “The Philippine /
Tuberculosis Society” appeared on the seal’s face design, the
Society never acknowledged issuance of this maverick seal. This
seal, however, was listed in Green”s Catalog. The whole sheetlet of
this seal, of 3 x 2 seals on tete beche format, with gutters
between, is an extremely rare item.
In 1947, the Society decided to start regularly
issuing Christmas seals every year. The issues from 1947 to 1970,
were printed in the US and Japan. From 1973, seals were produced
exclusively by Philippine printers.
Over the years, TB Christmas, New Year or Health
seals have been issued by more than 100 countries worldwide. The
Socialist countries - China, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland,
Russia and others - phased out issuance of seals when their
political systems underwent a change. Some others, for varying
reasons likewise stopped issuing seals after a few years. A great
majority of countries, however, including some which turned
Socialist, like Yugoslavia, continued to issue these seals almost as