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When pharmacy and philately meet

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Stanley Gibbons (Callie Jones)

Taking up a hobby might be one suggestion for tackling the workplace pressures highlighted in the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s current campaign, but a certain Herbert C. Raubenheimer thought of it first.

Mr Raubenheimer made the following statement in The Practical Druggist in 1933: “Every pharmacist should have a hobby to take his mind off his business cares, to make him forget himself and to help him enjoy his living of life. A pharmacist with a hobby can never tire of life.”

Mr Raubenheimer was referring to pharmaceutical philately, a branch of stamp collecting he introduced via a series of articles relating to stamps that bear images of materia medica and famous personalities connected with pharmacy.

Little further was heard of pharmaceutical philately until the 1950s, when the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy compiled a selective bibliography on the subject.

A number of books on pharmaceutical philately were published during the 1960s, including the ‘Pharmacopoeia Philatelica’ by George Griffenhagen in 1967. Pharmacist Tom Wilson founded the British Medical Philately study group in 1982.

Advertising on the gummed side of UK stamps was introduced by Pears Soap in 1887. But it had failed to ask the Government of the day for approval, and was ordered to stop the practice, although it continued to give away the stamps as souvenirs.

New Zealand became the first government to sell advertising on the gummed side of its stamps in 1893. Products advertised included Beecham’s Pills, Macbean Stewart’s ‘New Cure for Asthma, Diphtheria and Croup’ and Sunlight Soap.

Advertising in stamp booklets was particularly popular in France, where the manufacturer of Le Philpode tried to bypass the French post office by buying its own sheets and printing its own adverts on three denominations of stamp. The French Post Office soon put a stop to this practice, making these stamps extremely rare.

Pharmacy has more connections with philately than one might expect. For example, Stanley Gibbons, perhaps the most famous philatelist, was the son of a pharmacist. Edward Stanley Gibbons’s father owned a pharmacy in Plymouth. Edward became an apprentice in his father’s pharmacy shop in 1856 and used a counter in the shop to sell his stamps.

By 1862 his turnover exceeded that of his father’s shop. After his father’s death, Gibbons sold the pharmacy and concentrated on stamps, moving his business to London in 1874.

A number of commemorative postage stamps have been issued to honour pharmacists who have made a mark in history. For example, J. A. A. Parmentier, noted for his discoveries in food chemistry, appeared on a French 12F stamp.

Canada’s first pharmacy postage stamp honoured Louis Herbert, “the father of Canadian pharmacy”. It was issued to mark the 45th congress of the International Pharmaceutical Federation in Montreal, 1985.

And, as part of its 2007 “Clever Kiwis” collection, New Zealand honoured pharmacist Colin Murdoch (PJ, 2 August 2008, p144) for his invention of the tranquilliser gun.

Look hard enough and you can even find a connection between pharmacy, stamps and Hollywood. W. C. Fields plays a hapless pharmacist, Mr Dilweg, in the short 1932 film, ‘The pharmacist’.

Mr Dilweg suffers a domineering wife at home and difficult customers at work. One such customer wants to purchase a single stamp, but insists that it is cut from the middle of the sheet.

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