Tea bags and wheelchairs

May 26th, 2011

Oh dear, oh dear. I have twice this week been asked (at my gym and another weekly activity I participate in) to keep my tea bag labels/tags for a research project which will, upon receipt of certain (undefined) numbers of tea bag tags, donate wheelchairs to people who need them.

Is it because I am a slightly bitter cynic that I don’t believe this? Would a slightly bitter cynic actually keep four tags before deciding to put on her research hat?

It struck a chord with me, because during the research for my book on stamps, Blue Mauritius, I came across similar stories dating back to the nineteenth century, which promised to build a hospital/ward for sick children if the [insert your local hospital here] could get a million stamps (or variations of this theme). Just search the wonderful Trove database of digitised Australian newspapers on million stamps hospital and you’ll see ample evidence of this, back to at least the 1890s.

This current tea bag thing sounds similar. Sure enough, a Google search on tea bag label tag wheelchair turns up a scan in Google News from the Connecticut Sunday Herald, dated 15 October 1972, “Tea Bag Mystery”, reading:

Can’t get any confirmation on those reports concerning a drive to collect tea bag tags for wheelchairs. Readers tell us many in town collecting the tags with the understanding it will help the handicapped. Rehabilitation Center knows nothing about it nor do the local hospitals. Sounds like the old cigarette package drive that fooled so many people a few years back.

So that’s almost forty years ago, referring to another even older scam, with antecedents pre-1900.

The only other thing of note I found was a comment on an article about raising funds for wheelchairs through Rotary, dated 15 May 2011, asking “Our Croquet Club is collecting tea bag labels for the purpose of buying wheelchairs, how does this work, where do the labels go, and how many are needed to buy a chair. Our contact says they are collect at Dandenong hospital, more info please.” It seems a few other people/groups have collected tea bag tags over the years, but right now there is nothing concrete on the web to verify this collecting drive in Melbourne, Australia.

Fascinating, don’t you think?