Many organizations offer seals, small stamps that are not valid as postage, to support their cause. These seals are usually issued around a major holiday, such as Easter or Christmas. In 1903, a Danish postmaster named Einar Holboll created the first Christmas Seal as a way to raise money and awareness to help stop the spread of tuberculosis (TB), which was a growing problem during that time. In their first year of fundraising, the Christmas Seals raised 80,000 Denmark Kroners, the equivalent of $15,107.25 US Dollars (USD). Backed with the support of the Danish government, the first six years of sales earned enough to fund a TB hospital, or sanatorium, with a large amount of money going towards medical research.
In 1907, four years after the first Christmas Seals were sold, an American woman named Emily Bissell borrowed the idea. Her cousin, Joseph Wales, was a doctor at the small Brandywine Sanatorium in Delaware. His hospital was in dire need of $300 USD to stay open. Emily Bissell, an active participant with the American Red Cross, borrowed Einar Holboll's concept and, with a donation of $40 USD, paid for a print run of 50,000 Christmas Seals. They sold for a penny apiece.
Working with the National Association for the Study to Prevent and Cure Tuberculosis as well as the American Red Cross, Emily Bissell raised more than $3,000 USD to help keep the sanatorium open, which was about ten times the amount that the hospital required. The cause was supported by high-ranking public officials, including then-president Theodore Roosevelt. Since that year, Christmas Seals have been a yearly tradition. When the antibiotic that cured TB was discovered after World War II, the National Association for the Study to Prevent and Cure Tuberculosis reformed as the American Lung Association, and has continued the production and sale of the yearly stamps.
Over the years, Christmas Seals have featured a variety of themes and guest artists. The cause has expanded to not only fund help for tuberculosis, but other lung diseases as well. The seals are provided for a small donation to the American Lung Association, and the organization claims that about 80 percent of the money is earmarked to help local branches. Much of the money, the association says, goes to fund the work of volunteers and research toward halting lung diseases. Besides helping others, Christmas Seals have taken on a secondary role as collectors items, and have several organizations dedicated to the hobby.