Swiss Pro Juventute Stamps Raise Funds for Children and Families

For 100 years now, Switzerland's Pro Juventute Foundation has worked to meet the needs of children and their parents. Pro Juventute is Latin meaning "For the Children." Each year at Christmas, in coordination with the Swiss Post, semi-postal stamps and philatelic products are sold to raise money for the organization. The attractive topical stamps and well-meaning intentions of Pro Juventute combine to make these issues favorites with the Swiss public and stamp collectors around the world.

Both the foundation and the stamp issuing tradition arose simultaneously in 1912 as part of an anti-tuberculosis campaign. Tuberculosis had been a major global scourge in the 19th century, responsible for as much as 25% percent of all deaths in Europe. A disease of the lungs, sufferers developed a chronic cough. It was known as Consumption because its victims would lose weight and literally waste away. Before the discovery of antibiotics, Tuberculosis was incurable, and people with the disease would be isolated in sanatoriums and other "homes for consumptives."

By the early 20th century doctors and scientists were finally beginning to understand how the disease spread and there was a call for greater preventive measures. Dr. Carl Horber, Secretary of the Tuberculosis Commission in Zurich, embarked on a plan to unite the several thousand Swiss charitable organizations with child welfare missions. He reasoned that among the other benefits of unity, a single organization could more effectively champion prevention campaigns. Pro Juventute was born.

Horber approached the Post Office and made arrangements to issue a special stamp to raise awareness and help finance the fledgling organization.

The notion of raising funds with stamps and stamp-like labels was not new. During the United States Civil War, Sanitary Fair stamps were sold to support the care of Union Troops. Although they had no postal value, they were used on mail alongside regular stamps. Perhaps the most famous stamp-like labels are Christmas Seals, first issued in Denmark in 1903 as part of that country's anti-Tuberculosis efforts.

The term semi-postal is used by collectors to describe a stamp that has both postal value and raises charitable funds. The first semi-postal stamp was issued by the Australian state of New South Wales in 1897 to raise money for a home for consumptives in Sydney.

The first Pro Juventute stamps were sold at Post Offices between December 14 and December 31, 1912. There were three stamps issued each using a different language: German, French and Italian. The 1912 stamps were not valid for postage but were denominated at 10 rappen - more than 1.2 million were sold.

Because they were not valid for postage, the 1912 stamps are often referred to as forerunner Pro Juventute stamps. The forerunner issues are typically not found in philatelic catalogues, which have long established guidelines and only list valid postage and revenue stamps.

In 1913, Switzerland issued the first true semi-postal Pro Juventute stamp. Interrupted by war, there were no Pro Juventute stamps in 1914, but production resumed in 1915 and has continued uninterrupted to this day.

This collector cover shows the 1962 sheetlet marking the 50th anniversary
of the founding of Pro Juventute along with several special commemorative cancels.

Philatelists will be interested to note some of the changes the program has undergone over the years. The first issue was valid for only a brief period of time - December 1, 1913 to February 28, 1914 - as was printed directly on the stamps. Subsequent issues did not print the validity period on the stamps and over time that period was gradually extended. From 1917 to 1928 stamps were valid until April 30 of the following year. In 1929 the validity was extended to May 31 and since 1964 Pro Juventute issues have had unlimited validity. Also of note is the fact that prior to 1921, semi-postal stamps were not valid on international mail. This was a restriction of the Universal Postal Union, and it was largely a response to Pro Juventute that the regulations were changed allowing charity and other special purpose stamps to be used internationally.

Over the years, the stamps have featured a variety of topics, typically embracing Swiss themes and highlighting the works of Swiss artists. The topics often run in series across multiple years. Landscapes, Swiss personalities, traditional costumes, toys, characters from literature, flowers, insects, birds and wild animals are some of the highlights. More recent years have seen the inclusion of one stamp each year with a specific Christmas theme and the selection of stamp images from the drawings of children.

In addition to the stamps, a number of souvenir sheets have been released. Also each year, special Pro Juventute cancelations are designed. Favor canceled stamps are available to collectors as well as collectible covers with caches, stamps and cancels. For a truly modern twist, Pro Juventute now offers personalized "Web Stamps" where postal patrons can design and print their own stamps from their own images. You can learn more about Web Stamps, the annual stamp program, other items for sale such as calendars and greeting cards, as well as the goods works of the organization itself at their website:

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