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Sir R.A. Peters, FRS

An Brief but interesting History

by Alyn Lunt
15th of November 2010

While browsing through my collection (accumulation, horde, etc.), I came across the following covers and they piqued my interest. On first appearance there is nothing particularly intriguing or interesting about the covers or the stamps that are on them. It was the addressee that caught my attention. Who was Sir Rudolph Peters?

Cover to Sir R A Peters 28-11-77

scott 1730 & 2 scott 1590
Sent to Sir Rudolph when he was at Cambridge as a Visiting researcher
Post Marked: Albany NY, 28 Nov. 1977

Rudolph Albert Peters was born on May 13, 1889 and grew up in Petersfield the son of a doctor. He attended Cambridge University where he was able to demonstrate how oxygen binds with the iron in haemoglobin defining its stoichiometry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stoichiometric). After receiving his degree in the natural sciences he completed his medical studies at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital.

In 1915 he was commissioned into the Royal Army Medical Corps and served on the front lines and at the Chemical Warfare Unit. He was awarded the Military Cross twice and mentioned in dispatches during his service in the First World War.

RAP Italian Cover
scott 564
Sent to Sir Rudolph while at Oxford
Postmarked: Roma Ferrovia, 2 IV 1952

At the end of the First World War, he completed his medical degree, but returned to research in biochemistry. In 1923 he was asked to become the Whitley Chair of Biochemistry. He worked there until he retired in 1954.  

scott 1595 x 2, sc. 1280 x 3
Sent from Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment
Postmarked: Denver CO, 1978

Under his leadership his department at Oxford was responsible for the development of an antidote to lewisite (a chemical warfare agent) aptly named British Anti Lewisite during the Second World War.

RAP Israel Cover
scott 64 from 1952
addressed to Professor R.A. Peters while at Oxford
postmarked Tel Aviv

Much of his research after the Second World War revolved around toxic compounds and demonstrated how a non-toxic compound was synthesized into a toxic substance (lethal synthesis).

Knighted in 1952 for his service to science, Peters retired from Oxford 2 years later in 1954 but did not stop his work. He founded and directed a biochemical laboratory at the Agricultural Research Centre for 5 years. After this he became a visiting research worker at Cambridge until he was 87 years old (1976). He was an avid musician and on many an evening he would play the violin at home.

RAP Swedish Cover
scott 555
postmarked 1960 from Sweden
from the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology

Sir Rudolph Peters became a fellow of the Royal Society, a founding member of the Nutrition Society, Chair of the Accessory Food Factors Committee and he was made a member of the American Institute of Nutrition. He passed away on the 29th of January 1982.

A.M. Copping, “Obituary Notice,” British Journal of Nutrition, Vol. 49, No. 1, 1983
“Obituary,” British Medical Journal, Vol. 284, 20 February 1982, p. 589

(Both references were accessed on-line)

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