The Red Cross stamp collection

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By | From the Collections

Basil O’Connor, first president of the American National Red Cross (1947) and noted campaigner against polio was also a stamp collector. The Library have just acquired his nine album collection of 1043 international Red Cross / Red Crescent themed stamps. It consists of stamps from Abyssinia to the Yemen, celebrating the rich history of the organisation and, in some cases, raising funds (via a small surcharge).

Basil O'Connor stamp album

A title page from one of Basil O’Connor’s stamp albums

The nine albums were sumptuously produced by New York printer Saul Lehman at the Georgian Press and are dated June 12 1964. According to the title page the collection was “compiled by Hazel Royall O’Connor” – his wife. Every volume is housed in a slip case and has a title stamped in gold on the cover. Another page lists the countries that issued Red Cross stamps.

The stamps themselves are inside small plastic pockets mounted onto specially designed pages bearing the Red Cross logo. Volume one contains a portrait of O’Connor, along with a brief summary of his Red Cross work and a list of decorations and honours received by him from Red Cross Societies between 1944 and 1950.

Basil O'Connor's stamp album

Page from one of the stamp albums for the year 1926.

The very first Red Cross stamp was issued by Portugal in 1898 (sadly not included here). The 1963 centenary of the Society is celebrated on stamps bearing a cross design used by numerous countries. Henri Dunant, the founder of the Red Cross, appears on many of the stamps as do other medical and health figures such as Florence Nightingale, Edith Cavell and Clara Barton. Other medical themes include: medical plants, nurses, ambulances, blood transfusions, war medical services, infant care, wounded people on stretchers and portraits of many monarchs reigning at the time of issuing.

O’Connor, a New York lawyer by profession, was made chairman of the central committee of the American National Red Cross by President Roosevelt in 1944 and subsequently first president of the American National Red Cross by President Truman in 1947. He was elected as chairman of the board of governors of the League of Red Cross Societies from 1945-1950.

Basil O'Connor

Portrait of Basil O’Connor by Alfred Jonniaux. From the first volume of one of his stamp collection, 1964.

With Roosevelt he set up the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation in 1927 (later known as The March of Dimes) to help those who had suffered from poliomyelitis. The Foundation also funded research into the disease, including Jonas Salk’s work on the vaccine. When Roosevelt (also a stamp collector) died in 1945, O’Connor was one of three trustees of his estate who sold the President’s stamp collection in 1946.

The Red Cross Stamp Collection complement the Wellcome Library’s stamp collection of around 3,500 postage stamps from all over the world, covering a wide variety of health and medical subjects. The stamps are available for research at the Wellcome Library in London.

Stephen Lowther

Stephen Lowther is a Cataloguing Librarian at the Wellcome Library.

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