Monday, 3 September 2012

Not so sweet Charity

Like most people, I take the calculated risk.. though I don't see myself as a gambler in any significant way. Occasionally I am tempted to "invest" in the national lottery, but usually when the jackpot prize reaches such a high total that the realistic chance of winning is least likely! 
Postcard with a cynical view of the
purpose of lottery income
A few weeks ago I made such an investment, and having missed the prize drawn on TV, logged onto the national lottery website to confirm that I hadn't won anything.
The homepage was densely decorated with images of Olympic and paralympic athletes, similar to those that have appeared on the recent issues of gold medal winner stamps, alongside claims that the national lottery had provided the funding that has supported British athletes to reach personal goals and national glory.  It led me to think how these athletes were funded before the lottery was launched on 19th November 1994? For many, as is still the case, it was sponsorship. For some it was sports charities and for many there was nothing!

GB's first charity overprint
For many countries, a charity surcharge on postage stamps has funded support for a wide range of national "good causes" and relieved underprivelege and disadvantage. Switzerland, as a good example, have produced these semi postal stamps for close to a 100 years as "pro juventute" and "pro patria" issues and their use is widely supported by the general public who use them on regular mail. In contrast, Great Britain did not issue a semi postal stamp until as late as 1975 and it failed miserably at the first attempt. It is commonly found on first day covers, but rarely on other items. Stamp collectors protested that it was nothing more than a "Philatelic Tax". Another attempt was made with the 1989 Christmas stamps asking a surcharge of just one penny on postage rates from 15 to 37pence, but still the public chose not to support it and the Royal Mail abandoned the project pointing out it was not economical to collect the surcharge and pass it on to the charities.

So, I presume there must be a traditional and cultural aspect to charity, and overstepping the rules and boundaries clearly unsettle the public. Street collections, telethons and subscriptions are fine for the UK. Service surcharges are not! The national lottery though, does not easily fit the sentiment of charity . I don't think people consider that in placing a stake they are making a donation to charity. It's a gamble with a view to becoming wealthy and the benefit to others is secondary to this.

Another "philatelic" form of fund raising is the obligatory postal tax. With this system all mail send during a specific period requires the addition of a postal tax stamp. I am most familiar with this on mail from Yugoslavia, and is a practise continued by some of the states that have acceded from it. The tax is normally the equates to a third of the regular postage rate and usually applies only to domestic mail. Obligatory stamps have been used to support the Red Cross / Crescent, children's charities, Olympic teams, cultural and sporting events and national disasters. I would think that introducing this system to the UK would probably cause a huge rebellion!

Yugoslavia stationery card franked with definitive stamps and an obligatory tax stamp
to fund the Olympic team for Barcelona '92. The franking is 60"old dinars" and the tax stamp
2 "new dinars" (10 old = 1 new) - roughly an additional 33%
I've just discovered that the Smithsonian National Postal Museum in the USA have purchased the childhood stamp collection of John Lennon, reputedly at a cost of $35,000. It consists of an old "Mercury Album" sparsely filled with stamps of insignificant interest and value. My collection would sell for much less but would entertain for months. Such is the added value of celebrity! You can see the album at:
The British Postal Museum and Archive hold the teenage collection of Freddie Mercury (former lead singer with "Queen"). Like every true rock band, the collection regularly goes on tour. A look at just a few pages would suggest Freddie was a much more advanced collector than his Beatles counterpart.

"...It's a kinda magic!..."



  1. Hello!

    I nominated you for the Liebster award!

    Please claim it from my blog:


  2. Dear Anglez! (or Pete). I am VWoolf and you were wrighting me about direct swap. I'm not able to send messages on Postcrossing. com yet, so I'm writing you here=) Here is my email:, would you be so kind to wright me?)