Stamp of good health

A medical researcher stumbles on to a rare stamp that tells a story of the University’s role in a forgotten 1920s public health campaign to eradicate cancer.
Image of the stamp

Chris Lawrance, Marketing Project Manager at the Faculty of Medicine, was doing some research into some tobacco cards from a 1910 series featuring forces of the Commonwealth. Through this research he was contacted by a stamp/tobacco card dealer who mentioned that he had a “Cinderella stamp”, related to the University, which he was interested in selling.

His interested piqued, Lawrance bought the stamp and started researching the history surrounding it. He discovered that the stamp was released in 1926 as part of a campaign to raise money to fight cancer, according to reports in the Sydney Morning Herald at the time. The University was actively involved in the campaign, the Federal government having allocated pounds 2500 to Sydney for cancer research to kickstart the campaign in 1925.

In the 1920s cancer was seen in the same light as infectious diseases and with other medical advances of the time. The Herald reported that in 1881, “cancer was responsible for the death of one in 43 people. In the intervening years it has developed and intensified and now the rate is one in 10.”

Researchers thought it could be eradicated quite quickly with a big enough push, in the same way that polio was targeted. “All over the world science is marshalling its forces and endeavouring to circumvent this scourge,” The Herald report added.

Community groups were co-opted into the campaign, including the Big Brother movement and Girl Guides Association. The public was encouraged to buy the stamp to raise revenue and publicity for the cancer campaign, and the Herald reported that all sales were by volunteers, with no commission to be paid. However, a bogus collector was caught soliciting donations, causing “a great deal of indignation”.

The campaign was national and aimed to raise 100,000 pounds (a colossal sum in those days) to build a facility here at the University, staff and equip it. The stamp appeal raised 31,416 pounds, the Herald reported in 1927. It was not reported exactly how much the cancer campaign raised in total.