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Philately and the Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders

To the Editor: I was interested in the recent articles from the “Stamps of greatness” series, reprinted from past issues of the AMA Gazette, containing the memorialisation in stamps of famous historical leaders in medicine. Few readers would be likely to realise the association between the hobby of philately (the study and collection of postage stamps) itself and the development of the Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM) classification of psychiatric illness.1

As an activity in itself, the hobby of philately is likely to have significant mental health benefits, such as enhancing organisational ability in a relaxed environment, as well as allowing the collector to enjoy the design and art of the stamps, and to engage intellectually with the value, geography and historical context of the stamp. However, the way in which philately applied to the development of the DSM is one of those chance moments that affect the subsequent course of history.

William Menninger, a member of a prominent United States family of psychiatrists from Kansas, was appointed to the 4th Service Command of the US Army during the Second World War after the sudden death of the head of the neuropsychiatric…