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Semipostal stamps represent an unusual type of stamp. A semipostal stamp offers the option of contributing additional money to a charity or cause when purchasing the stamp. The name is quit fitting in that a “semipostal,” only part of the purchase price of the stamp pays for postage, the rest is donated to a designated fund.
Semipostals were first issued by one of the British Empire’s colonies in what is now Australia. In 1897, The United Kingdom was celebrating the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria, who had become queen 60 years earlier. New South Wales issued two stamps commemorating the jubilee.
These semipostals, also served a second important purpose. A large surtax was added to the cost of the stamps. The money that was collected was designated to pay for the construction of a facility to care for tuberculosis patients. The stamps served as a souvenir of the diamond jubilee and allowed purchasers to donate toward the home for tuberculosis patients.
The green and brown stamp was valid for one penny in postage, but cost the purchaser one shilling. The rose, blue, and gold stamp had a value of 2½d postage value. However the cost of the stamp was 2sh and 6d. The difference between the steep price of each stamp and its actual postage value was donated to the tuberculosis patient’s home charity.
Another colony in Australia, Victoria, also issued some stamps honoring the queen in 1897 about four months after the New Wales semipostal issue. These stamps had the same pricing structure as the New Wales versions. The money was designated for a hospital fund.
Over the years various countries have issued semipostals to fund various charities and causes. Germany has issued over 1,000 semipostals alone. The first German semipostals in 1919 were created to collect donations for individuals wounded in World War I. Belgium has also issued more than 1,000 semipostals itself.
The early semipostals are often difficult to recognize from regular postage stamps. As an example, many of Switzerland’s early semipostals are inscribed with the country name “Helvetia” with the postage value, the phrase “Pro Juventute,” and the year of issue.
Sometime in the 1920s, most countries that issued semipostals started marking the respective postage and charity values more clearly. The United States did not issue any semipostals stamps until 1998.
There has been much debate over the U.S. semipostals. The semipostals issued here in the U.S. have funded breast cancer research, family violence prevention, and species extinction.
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