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'Doctor Cards' in the Pacific

By Bill Holland bill@newhebs.demon.co.uk
as published in Pacifica, Volume 42, #169, October 2004
Quarterly journal of the Pacific Islands Study Circle (UK)

In 1947 Laboratoires La Biomarine of Dieppe, France, began a mailshot campaign to French speaking doctors in France, Belgium and Switzerland to promote their pharmaceutical products, Ionyl, Plasmarine and Marinol. This consisted of a series of matt black and white postcards sent from the many French colonies which then existed. The card incorporated a picture, relevant to the colony from which it came, together with a printed handwritten style message appropriate to the picture and the name and address of the doctor.

The first card seems to have been sent from Senegal in West Africa and is cancelled Dakar 14 December 1947. These cards are approximately 15 cms by 10 cms. Many of the cards are headed ’IMPRIME’ to claim the printed paper rate. This produced an interesting anomaly as France would not accept a printed paper rate item from a colony at less than its own rate. Therefore cards to France are often franked more highly than those to Belgium or Switzerland.


[i] First series La Biomarine cards 3-2 49 Message side

There are no details as to the quantity of each card sent but there must have been at least 20,000 French speaking doctors in France, Belgium and Switzerland at that time.


[ii] The picture side of the New Caledonia card

The Pacific cards of this size, all promoting Ionyl, are:

New Caledonia to Switzerland cancelled 2 Feb 1948 and franked Fc 0.80
New Caledonia to France cancelled 11 Feb 1948 and franked Fc 1.50
Tahiti to France cancelled 12 May 1949 and franked Fc 1.00
Wallis and Futuna to France cancelled 23 May 1949 Prot Francse Wallis octagonal - Fc 1.50
Wallis and Futuna to France cancelled 28 June 1949 Mata-Utu cds - Fc 1.50

In the early 1950’s, La Biomarine introduced a second series of larger black and white cards. These measure approx 18 cms by 10 cms and, again, are invariably endorsed ’IMPRIME’ to claim the printed paper rate. This kind of mailshot was also taken up by other companies and some cards are therefore found with differing messages but using the same picture card.

In 1954, La Biomarine launched these cards in a series ‘Dans la sillage de Bougainville’ [In the wake of Bougainville]. This was a series of 11 cards, the first numbered i from Nantes in France which depicted a map of Bougainville’s round the world voyage from 1766 To 1769. Then, numbered cards were sent from ii-Falklands, iii-Pitcairn, iv-Tahiti, v-Tonga, vi-New Hebrides, vii-New Caledonia, viii-British Solomon Islands, ix-Mauritius, x-Madagascar and xi-Ascension.


[iii] First card showing the start from Nantes and the route thereon


[iv] Second series La Biomarine cards – New Hebrides 4 12 1954 front & back

It is interesting to note that the machine cancel used on the New Hebrides cards is not known to have been used on any other type of mail. Only a few dozen SECAP cancellers are known to have been in use in France in 1954 and it is thought unlikely that one would have been shipped so early to such a minor outpost as the New Hebrides. There is a suspicion that these cards could have been cancelled in France.

The following companies decided on the same idea. Bougainville was then used by:
1 Laboratoires Charles Delacre, Bruxelles, Belgium to promote ‘Alcasedine’,
2 Desparture et Fils, France, promoting ‘Barathea’ cloth for the firm’s centenary, and
3 Amora, France, advertising their mustard to grocers.

Cancellation dates of the various cards are shown, where known, in the table below:

Country Ionyl Alcasedine Barathea Amora
Pitcairn 17.01.55 24.03.55   ??.??.??
Tahiti 30.10.54 02.02.55   30.10.54
Tonga 23.03.55 06.06.55   23.03.5?
New Hebrides 04.12.54 25.02.55 04.12.54 04.12.54
New Caledonia 15.12.54 04.03.55 15.12.54 ??.12.54
BSIP 06.06.55 07.06.55   08.06.55

The cancellations of the other Pacific Islands in the series are considered by specialists in those islands to be those in use locally at that time. It would be interesting to know how many cards were processed on Pitcairn. It is possibly its only genuine source of the printed paper rate. I would guess that at least some 30,000 cards must have been processed for the four known users. Perhaps the Crown Agents records might show a large purchase of low value George VI stamps in 1954. [1/2d, 1d and 1 1/2d]

The following companies are also known to have sent cards from the overall series, but it is not known if they sent the Bougainville set.

Papeterie d’Arches, France, promoting their special artist’s papers
Compagnie Miniere des Montmins Tranith, France, with their drilling tools
It is possible that other companies might have sent similar cards.

I have not seen any Pacific items for either Arches or Tranith.

In late 1955, La Biomarine introduced coloured picture postcards in sets of nine, the first card of which always showed a map covering the itinerary of the nine cards in the set. Pacific cards occurred in 1961 for New Caledonia and Tahiti and 1963 for Hawaii. There was possibly another card from Tahiti in 1970.

These cards were most comprehensively adopted by Amora who issued some 14 series between 1958 and 1972

In late 1955, La Biomarine introduced coloured picture postcards in sets of nine, the first card of which always showed a map covering the itinerary of the nine cards in the set. Pacific cards occurred in 1961 for New Caledonia and Tahiti and 1963 for Hawaii. There was possibly another card from Tahiti in 1970.

These cards were most comprehensively adopted by Amora who issued some 14 series between 1958 and 1972


[v] Amora map sent from Santa Isabel, Fernando Poo, Spanish Guinea - 12 Oct 60

The Pacific items were:

Prospection Amora 1960-1961
viii New Caledonia canc Noumea 28 April 1961 - danseurs pilou-pilou - Fr 3
ix Tahiti cancelled Papeete 19 April 1961- jeune fille en costume de danse - Fr 3

Amora 1963-64
iii Hawaii cancelled Honolulu no date – Aquaplane [surfer] – US 5c

Tour du Monde Amora 1969-1970
viii Tahiti cancelled Papeete 18 June 1970 - Baie de Cook a Bora-Bora - Fr 5

???? viii Tahiti cancelled Papeete RP 15 Dec 1972 - Tamoure - Fr 8


[vi] Amora Papeete, Ile Tahiti, card 19-4-61

The German soup company, Maggi, also joined in the act using the above Amora 1960-1961 cards but described ‘Mit Maggi-Fridolin Am Aquator’.

viii New Caledonia cancelled Noumea 23 Sept 1960 - Fr 4
ix Tahiti cancelled Papeete 30 September 1960 - Fr 4

Nestle, Italy also joined the club with the same series of cards
viii New Caledonia cancelled Noumea 20 December 1960 - Fr 4

In 1961, Poulenc Limited, the pharmaceutical company, decided that this was an excellent way to promote its products to the medical profession. So they also chose, or were directed by their agent, to the same series of cards but now described. To the Equator with Poulenc
viii New Caledonia cancelled Noumea 28 April 1961 - Fr 4
ix Tahiti cancelled Papeete RP 19 April 1961 - Fr 4

There are several series of Poulenc cards seemingly all sent to doctors in Canada. Often the addresses were hand written in a style close to that of the message. Is it possible that these were completely hand written?

It is possible that other companies, known to have used at least one of the sets of cards, could have used one incorporating a Pacific island card. Companies include BW & Co [Burroughs Wellcome], CS [Communication Systems] to UK companies, Buriat, a Belgian pharmaceutical company, Lab Belgana of Brussels and the French artist’s materials company again, Aquarelle Arches.

Finally, we come to Abbott, the major American pharmaceutical company, who wished to promote Sodium Pentothal, the anaesthetic and so called truth drug, whose patent was expiring. They issued a completely separate series of cards which did not incorporate a mapped itinerary.

The first of their colour picture postcards, which depicted Nelson’s Column, seems to have been sent from London on 22 February 1956 to doctors in the United States and Canada. In the end some 150 different picture postcards were sent to doctors and to nurse anaesthetists until 1968. It is known that some 350,000 cards were sent from Australian Antarctic Territories in January 1961. Recent research has shown that cards were sent to doctors in more than 18 countries and in at least 6 languages. These include Spanish, German. Arabic, Italian and Dutch as well as English. It is not yet known if all cards were sent to all countries. All seem to have been sent to USA.

The Pacific Islands’ cards include:


[vii] A typical Abbott card – Fiji 1 Nov 1967

The Abbott cards

Easter Island cancelled Isla de Pascua 25 December 1966 - three stone giants - 10c
Fiji cancelled Suva 1 November 1967 -police trumpeters - 4 d
French Polynesia cancelled Papeete ????? - beach scene - Fr 4
. Hawaii canc Honolulu no date - Waikiki Beach - 3c
Hawaii canc Honolulu no date - outrigger canoe off Waikiki - 3c
New Caledonia cancelled Noumea 10 November 1959 - view of Noumea - Fr 4
New Hebrides cancelled Port Vila 1 October 1966 - native with hatchet - 10 gc
Wallis & Futuna cancelled Mata-Utu 2 September 1965? - island view - Fr 4


[viii] Abbott card – the Fiji police fanfare trumpeters

The above is unlikely to be exhaustive. I should therefore be most appreciative to receive details of any other Pacific Island cards that members may have or be aware of.