Ethiopian Red Cross Postage Stamps
1920 Audio tour
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Five sets of stamps are neatly arranged in chronological order on a sheet of paper. The dates of these stamps, issued by the Ethiopian Red Cross Society, range from 1936 to 1960. These stamps are not only used for postage, they have a dual purpose. As Red Cross stamps, they are ‘semi-postal’ - they have an additional surcharge. When these stamps were sold, half of the proceeds would go to supporting and maintaining the charitable activities of the Ethiopian Red Cross. A surprinted small red cross can be found on the upper left corner of a number of stamps. In some stamps, we see the image of a nurse, holding a baby. In others, we see Princess Tsehai, daughter of the Emperor Haile Selassie, tending sick children. Nurse imagery can be seen on Red Cross stamps from every corner of the world. In this way, the nurse unites many different nations.
These stamps trace the history of the Ethiopian Red Cross Society, which was founded in 1935. If we take a closer look at the stamps from 1960, we see that they are the same as those first issued by the Ethiopian Red Cross in 1936. However, they have been overprinted with the words ‘Silver Jubilee’ in English and Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia. The first issue of stamps has become commemorative, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Ethiopian Red Cross. They also trace the history of the Red Cross. Three of the stamps issued in 1959 are overprinted with the words ‘Red Cross Centenary’ to mark the 100th year anniversary of the organisation.
I believe that stamps are unique historical documents. These stamps tell many stories within their edges. Those issued in 1945 are overprinted with a ‘V’, standing for ‘victory’ to commemorate the end of the Second World War. On this sheet of paper, images of Red Cross nurses and Abyssinian lions can be seen alongside the profile of the twentieth-century Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie. The history of the Ethiopian Red Cross is intertwined with the history of Ethiopia – and indeed, with world history.
Audio recording by Antonia Dalivalle (Volunteer), London.
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