Drug Company First Day Covers of Australia

Sigma's Anzac first day cover of 14 April 1965

From the 1950s pharmaceutical businesses targeted doctors, chemists and others in the Australian healthcare trade with promotional material cloaked as first day covers. Originally discarded as junk mail, these are now highly collectable.

Several drug companies engaged in the marketing ploy, but Sigma kick-started the habit and pushed it relentlessly for 25 years.

The rouse was simple. Send personalised first day covers packed with leaflets pumping pills, syrups, syringes and so forth to doyens of the healthcare industry. Of course to the disinterested and uninitiated such envelopes would have been considered junk and suitably treated. Most wouldn't have made it past the reception desk – opened with little finesse and unceremoniously binned.

Those falling into appreciative hands would invariably remain unopened rendering the marketing strategy questionable. Indeed most drug peddlers dabbled and desisted suggesting the effort and expense was unjustified. Although Sigma must have had success given their persistence.

Sigma's first cover foray was for the Stamp Centenary issue of 27 September 1950. These exist with hand stamped cachets as well as printed. Rare exceptions aside, most Sigma covers prior to the mid 1960s are formulaic, text-based cachets. Thereafter the design and usage of color becomes more adventurous. And continues that way until the last covers for the Prime Ministers issue of 26 March 1975.

There are the odd variants for individual issues – usually comprising differences in text arrangement or envelope format. There's even occasional postmark interest. But the real tease is the existence of innumerable Australian first day covers from one cachet maker over a 25 year period. Not every issue is recorded. And finding covers in decent condition with original contents is an enormous challenge.

Sigma aside, there are offerings from Allen & Hanburys, CIBA, Eli Lilly, Essex, Ethnor, Ortho, Pfizer and others. But even combined they are a fraction of Sigma's output.

Go seek. There's more to the pharma first day cover story. What remains to be written?

Explore Pharmaceutical First Day Covers


Sigma's Cilicane promotional flyer

• Typical pharmaceutical flyer found in Sigma first day covers

Sigma 1950 first day cover

• Early Sigma first day cover with hand stamped cachet for Postage Stamp Centenary issue of 27 September 1950. A version with printed cachet also exists for this issue

Sigma 1953 first day covers

• Variations of Sigma's 1d Queen Elizabeth II cachet of 19 August 1953

Allen & Hanburys 1959 first day cover• Allen & Hanburys 3d Queen Elizabeth II first day cover of 20 May 1959

Ames 1963 first day cover• Ames/Miles Laboratories 5d Royal Visit first day cover of 18 February 1963

Essex 1965 first day cover• Essex 5d Anzac first day cover of 15 April 1965