Hemo-philately: Robert A. Kyle, MD

Professor of Laboratory Medicine & Pathology and professor of Medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota

When did you become interested in stamp collecting?

I have had a passing interest in postage stamps ever since I was young, but I didn’t pay much attention to it until I was hospitalized due to a lumbar disc problem in 1965. Fortunately, I recovered without surgery, but I was in the hospital for 40 days and 40 nights. As you can imagine, I had a good deal of spare time. That’s when I rekindled my interest in stamps.

While I was hospitalized, I looked through the four volumes of the Scott Catalogues of Postage Stamps, which include philatelic information on every stamp that had been published from every country in the world. I went through these massive books page by page, stamp by stamp, looking for any stamps that were related to hematology, blood transfusion, cancer, or any hematologic malignancy.

I was able to obtain these stamps, and then, with a friend in Philadelphia, wrote a couple of papers on the subject of philately and blood transfusion. We urged the United States Postal Service to publish a stamp honoring blood transfusion, with the goal of stimulating people’s interests in becoming blood donors.

Well, we wrote articles, we talked about it whenever we could, and we wrote letters to the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee in Washington, DC, but our pleas fell on deaf ears. Fortunately, the American Association of Blood Banks learned of our efforts and were able to spread the message – lo and behold, in 1971, the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp devoted to blood transfusion, and I was invited to the First Day Ceremony in New York.

Are there other ways in which your life in hematology and your interest in philately have intersected?

Both my wife and I collect hematology-related stamps and exhibit at several local, regional, and national stamp meetings. By doing so, we have become acquainted with a number of other medical philatelists.

In the late 1960s, the associate editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association – a fellow philatelist – asked me to revamp a collection of biographical vignettes on persons who had been honored on stamps. Marc Shampo, PhD, another colleague at Mayo Clinic who was interested in medical philately, and I co-authored a collection of these biographies in book form, which was published by JAMA.

We actually continued to publish these vignettes over almost 20 years in JAMA, and since then we’ve written them for the Mayo Clinic Proceedings. I’ve never counted them, but I would estimate that we’ve published at least 500, possibly 600, of these vignettes. We’ve also published two more volumes of the vignettes and a book on physicians, medical students, or scientists not known for their medical contributions but honored on stamps for other reasons. For instance, we included Ernest Hemingway, who was an ambulance driver during World War I, and Charles Lindbergh who contributed to the development of the first perfusion pump, a forerunner to the modern heart-lung machine.

I am pleased to have received several honors and awards for my stamps and for writing in the stamp-collecting world. I was awarded the John Brain Medal in the late 1960s. In 1980, I earned the Myrtle Watt Award for Medical Philately Journalism for the vignettes that I authored. I also became active in the American Topical Association, a large philatelic organization, and became president of its Medical Subjects Unit for five years, as well as being named a Distinguished Topical Philatelist in 1982.

How many stamps do you have in your collection?

Well, I haven’t stopped to count, but I do have a goodly number of albums, which are bound books to store and preserve stamps.

Are there any stamps in your collection that you’re particularly proud of?

As I was building my collection, I was looking for a postage stamp issued by Mongolia that honored and promoted blood transfusion. I attempted to get that stamp, but I could not find it; I looked for it in philately shops everywhere I travelled, but it eluded me. I even enlisted colleagues and fellow medical philatelists to help find it.

Finally, I had a stroke of luck: Marc Shampo was given a shoebox full of stamps, and, much to my surprise, two of those stamps were the elusive Mongolian stamp. He was kind enough to give me one for my collection. I looked it up in the Stanley Gibbons Catalogue and found that it was worth only 40 cents! Personally, I would have rated it at a much higher value. But maybe if I can interest some of the ASH Clinical News readers in blood transfusion stamps, though, it could increase demand and the market price of that Mongolian stamp!

So, it’s safe to assume that you didn’t get involved with stamp-collecting for the fame and money?

Correct. The stories behind the stamps are what interest me most. My collection is selective, so I’m not one of the very high-powered collectors – like the one who bought a $9-million British Guiana stamp recently.