1908 Messina Earthquake Charity Labels

On December 28, 1908, at about 5:20am, a massive earthquake of magnitude 7.2 struck Sicily and the Calabria region in southern Italy.

The epicentre of the earthquake was the narrow Strait of Messina that separates Sicily from the Italian mainland. The ground shook for more than 30 seconds and a devastating almost 12m high tsunami followed shortly afterwards. It is estimated that 100,000-200,000 people were killed during the disaster. The town of Messina was virtually wiped out (91% buildings destroyed, 70,000 people killed), also the town of Reggio across the Strait suffered heavy damages. The Italian army and navy immediately began with rescue efforts, with the great help of foreign navies – many British, Russian, French, US and other warships arrived with humanitarian relief, their sailors searched for survivors and helped with clean-up operations, and ships evacuated many victims.

The disaster shocked the world and funds were opened to aid the victims. One method of raising funds was by the sale of charity labels.

In 1909, bicoloured triangular labels with common designs but with different denominations for ten countries were produced. They were sold in Austria (heller), Denmark (ore), France (centimes), Germany (pfennigs), Great Britain (pence), Hungary (filler), Italy (centesimos), Netherlands (cents), Russia (kopecks) and USA (cents). They show ten different ancient landmarks and ruins of the region, with ‘Sicilia’ and ‘Calabria’ in the lower corners and the date of the disaster ‘1908’ across the bottom. Each label was sold at 10c, 10pf, 1½d or equivalent currency. The labels were printed se-tenant in sheets of 50. The ‘Views’ sets accompany labels with similar designs but showing a portrait of the King and Queen of Italy, these were sold at 20c, 20pf, 2½d or equivalent currency.

In Austria, a 2h rectangular charity label was produced. It shows a forlorn woman walking away from the still smoldering remains of her house, the inscription ‘Fur die Obdachlosen in Suditalien’ at the top translates as ‘For homeless people in Southern Italy’. These labels were printed in various colours on various coloured papers and exist perforated or imperforate.

In the United States, a triangular label showing a volcano and inscribed ‘American National Red Cross Relief Fund Italian Earthquake’ was produced by the Massachusetts branch of the Red Cross.

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