The National Postal Museum showcases one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of stamps and philatelic materials in the world. The Museum grew out of the National Philatelic Collection, which was established at the Smithsonian Institution in 1886 with the donation of a sheet of 10-cent Confederate postage stamps. In 1888, the Smithsonian’s original museum, the US National Museum, received 1,733 foreign postage stamps collected by second Smithsonian Secretary Spencer Fullerton Baird from his voluminous personal correspondence. Generous gifts from individuals and foreign governments, transfers from government agencies, and occasional purchases increased the collection to today's total of more than sixteen million items. For example, in 1957, stamp dealer Raymond H. Weill donated a rare Inverted Jenny error stamp, and in 1960 Emma E. Batchelor left an endowment to support the airmail collection.
From 1908 until 1963, the collection was housed in the Arts and Industries Building, where it was a very popular display. In 1964, the collection moved to the new National Museum of History and Technology, now the National Museum of American History. There the collection expanded to include postal history and stamp production. In 1971, the museum opened a reconstructed general store and post office from Headsville, West Virginia, that served as a working post office.
The National Postal Museum was established in 1990 under an agreement between the Smithsonian and the US Postal Service. The Museum moved to its new location, the lower level of the former Washington City Post Office Building on Capitol Hill, in 1993. Ten thousand people visited the National Postal Museum on opening weekend, July 30–31, 1993, and four new stamps were issued for the occasion. In January of 1997, the Museum hosted the inaugural ball for Vice President Albert Gore. Originally part of the National Museum of American History, in 1997, the museum was given full status as an independent national museum within the Smithsonian.
In addition to stamps, the Museum also collects postal stationary, postal history material that pre-dates stamps, vehicles used to transport the mail, mailboxes, meters, greeting cards, covers, and letters. The museum also houses other unique bits of postal history. For example, Owney, a stray dog, became the Railway Post Office mascot in 1888, crisscrossing the country, picking up medals and tags from his stops on his collar, until he died in 1897. Owney was preserved by taxidermy, and came to the Museum’s collections in time for its opening in 1993.
- Chronology of the National Postal Museum
- Bibliography of the National Postal Museum
- Images of the National Postal Museum
- Images from the National Postal Museum Collections
- National Postal Museum Records from the Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Historic Picture Highlights of the National Postal Museum
- Additional Records and Collections of the National Postal Museum Across the Smithsonian
Today in Smithsonian History
James Smithson's legacy, in the form of British gold sovereigns packed in eleven boxes, as well as his personal effects, arrive with Richard Rush on the ship "Mediator" in the harbor of New York. The personal effects are deposited with the collector of the Port of New York on September 1. The gold is immediately deposited with the Bank of America, until September 1, when it is transferred to the Treasurer of the United States Mint in Philadelphia. The £104,960 and 8 shillings, 6 pence in gold sovereigns is melted down and reminted into United States coins worth $508,318.46. Smithson's personal effects remain in New York until June 1841, when the National Institute requests they be sent to Washington.More