National Postal Museum

Exterior of the Washington City Post Office Building, by Penland, Dane A, 1992, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 92-15710.
Exterior of the Washington City Post Office Building
Postage Stamp Collection in A&I Bldg, by Unknown, 1920s, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, SIA2010-2544 or 11064A or MAH-11064A.
Postage Stamp Collection in A&I Bldg
Opening Night, HMSG, by Unknown, 1974, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 92-1643.
Opening of Post Office in NMHT
Atrium of National Postal Museum, by Long, Eric, 1993, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 93-2985-22 or 93-2985.22.
Atrium of National Postal Museum

Postage Stamp Collection in A&I Bldg, by Unknown, 1920s, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, SIA2010-2544 or 11064A or MAH-11064A.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.

Advertisement for New Postal Museum, by Tinsley, Jeff, 1992, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 92-7382-20A or 92-7382.20a.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.

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Today in Smithsonian History

Procession to SI with James Smithson's Remains, by Springer, E. L, 1904, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 82-3338.

January 25, 1904

Alexander Graham Bell, a Smithsonian Regent, brings James Smithson's remains from Genoa, Italy, to the United States. After a procession from the Navy Yard to the Smithsonian Institution Building, Bell hands over Smithson's remains with the words, "And mission is ended and I deliver into your hands...the remains of this great benefactor of the United States." The remains are temporarily situated in the Regents Room accompanied by the few remaining personal relics of Smithson. In 1905 the crypt containing Smithson's remains is created at the north entrance of the Smithsonian Building.More

Did you know...

That the Postal Museum building has a poem called “The Letter,” written by Dr. Charles W. Eliot (1834-1926), engraved on the exterior?

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