US Stamps

1932 cover raises a question: what is a preventorium?

Jan 15, 2024, 10 AM

U.S. Stamp Notes by John M. Hotchner

The image of a signpost serving as a cachet on the Sept. 14, 1932, cover in Figure 1 indicates it is a souvenir.

The text on the signpost says, “Mailed at Camp Wanzer, Black Hills Health Camp Exhibit at South Dakota’s State Fair, Huron, South Dakota Christmas Seals Fight TB.”

The Christmas seal connection might lead one to conclude that Camp Wanzer was a sanatorium, a health facility that existed to help the recovery of those afflicted with tuberculosis.

But, the Figure 2 postcard, which was enclosed in the envelope, provided further information.

The picture side of the card is labeled “General view Camp Wanzer, Silver City, S.D.,” and the first two lines of the handstamp on the back read, “CAMP WANZER A PREVENTORIUM.” The last word was not found in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.

So, to discover what “preventorium” meant, I went to the website of the Silver City Historical Society, where I found an article about the camp and its activities, under a title that proclaims “A Summer Preventorium.”

The article began, “In an idyllic location just upstream from Silver City, a summer camp for kids was established in the early 20th century.”

The article also included the following description of the camp from Through the Black Hills and Bad Lands of South Dakota by P.D. Peterson, published in 1929:

Camp Wanzer is not a tuberculosis camp. It is a camp for building up physically run-down children. No one with tuberculosis or other communicable disease is admitted. The plan is to have the children live out here away from vices and irregularities of city life, where proper hours, food, exercise and supervision may build up their run-down bodies. The records show remarkable results. Children are required to rise at a certain time, observe exercise periods, rest periods, to eat wholesome meals at regular times and to sleep enough each night. They have a nice swimming hole, too.

The children enjoy the vacation. They are kept for three to six weeks, and in practically every case leave there stronger and happier than when they came. A person is highly impressed with what this camp means to these children. There were fifty-five there in 1928. Children come from all parts of the state. Parents pay for it where they can and the Christmas seals sale pays for the rest. After seeing where our Christmas seal proceeds go we are ever so much more willing and even anxious to contribute to the fund.

You can reach your own conclusions about the meaning of “preventorium,” but it is clear that this cover has a place in a Christmas seal collection even though it does not have a seal on it. The 1932 Christmas seal would not be issued until two months after the cancellation date on the cover.

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