The 1897 Prince of Wales Hospital Fund Cinderella Stamps
The Government of the day had dismissed a proposal to issue special postage stamps to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and, given this decision, the Prince of Wales - later to become King Edward VII - suggested that some "charity labels" could be issued instead. His idea was to commemorate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and, at the same time, raise funds for his London Hospital. They would therefore become known as "Hospital Fund Stamps" and two similar stamp designs for the two different values were eventually produced.
The first had a "value" (cost) of 1/- (One shilling or 5p in today's decimal currency) with the design printed in steel blue. The second was given a value of 2/6d (Two Shillings and Sixpence or 12.5p in today's decimal currency) printed in red although a few examples can be found in a rusty red-brown also.
The Hospital Fund Stamps were designed and printed in just one run using three recess printing machines by De La Rue completely as an act of charity. The Prince of Wales himself is said to have selected the design which featured the image of "Charity" as previously painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds.
The Hospital Fund Stamps were were issued on 18th May 1897 and sold to the public by booksellers, newsstands and stationers (not Post Offices) as a momento of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee but they were also used on receipts for health insurance premiums paid at some London hospitals. A red presentation folder was also produced for keener collectors to keep their stamps in.
In total the stamps raised around £35,000 for the Hospital charity - a huge sum in the day - and this unsurprisingly led to a much less successful repeat set of Hospital Fund Stamps being issued the following year in 1898. For many more years similar "stamps", usually having an inferior appearance to the 1897 issue, were produced with the year overprinted on them and this would continue until 1922.
Single mint sets of the original 1897 stamps are not unduly rare or expensive and it is the later printings of 1898 and the overprint issues that are not so easy to find. A few examples of postally used Hospital Fund stamps on original cover are also known to exist. These mostly bear the correct postage rate using official postage stamps in addition to the Hospital labels but covers are known where only the Hospital Fund stamps were used and these are highly desirable and therefore valuable. Apparently "fine used" c.d.s. examples of the 1897 stamps off cover seem to turn up quite frequently but a large degree of caution is recommended as, especially off cover, genuine usage cannot be guaranteed.
Given the lack of information about such cinderella items in the more common stamp catalogues these labels do appear on eBay quite frequently in 99p start auctions as many sellers don't know of them or cannot find valuation guidance. If these cinderella stamps appeal to you then keep an eye on this Charity Stamp auction search which often finds some good value opportunities in among the various other listings found.
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