Dr. Schwartz’s Stamp Collection

By Ginny A. Roth

The Prints and Photographs collection in the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine holds many treasures that not only serve as research materials, but are also visually captivating. One does not need a trained eye in the arts in order to appreciate collection items that are as beautiful as they are informative. The image above is one page from a collection of medically-themed stamps which number in the area of 700,000 and fill 109 4-inch binders. The collection is a result of 60 years of collecting by Dr. Adolf W. Schwartz. Dr. Schwartz was born in Hamburg, Germany and received his M.D. at the University of Heidelberg.  He later studied at the Mayo Clinic and  practiced plastic surgery in Bakersfield California for over 30 years.  Along with a life-long interest in stamp collecting, Dr. Schwartz was also a world-traveler, and many of the countries he visited are represented in the collection. Dr. Schwartz’s daughter generously donated the collection to the Library in 2010.

Subjects on the stamps include doctors, nurses, military medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, folk and mythical medicine, plants and herbs, inventors of surgical instruments, doctors serving in Congress, places named for physicians, and more. The stamps are cancelled, non-cancelled, commemorative, in postcard form, first-day issue, proofs, tax stamps, tobacco stamps, postal cancellations, and legal tender. Stamps feature, for example, Elizabeth Blackwell, Marie Curie, Wilhelm Roentgen, and Florence Nightingale, among thousands of others. The collection includes a series on the Nobel Prizes from the Federated States of Micronesia, as well as a series of special oversized cigar bands from the Canary Islands featuring Nobel Prize winners in Medicine of Physiology for the years 1901-1970, including Joshua Lederberg, James Watson, Francis Crick, and Marshall Nirenberg. The collection also includes 16 books that Dr. Schwartz compiled containing biographical and historical information about the stamps and their subjects.

In 2014, the Library initiated an effort to preserve the collection and re-house the stamps in archival pages and binders. As part of an ongoing project, Library interns with an interest in preservation have successfully re-housed half of the collection, carefully removing each stamp from its hinge and placing it on new acid-free mounting pages using clear photo corners.

The original order of the collection has been maintained throughout this process. Additionally, the entire collection, nearly 4000 pages, has been digitized. Below is a gallery of images highlighting just a handful of the stamps that comprise this impressive collection.

Celebrate American Archives Month with Circulating Now. Check out more posts from NLM’s prints and photograph collection.

portrait of Ginny outside Ginny A. Roth is the Curator of Prints & Photographs in the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine.