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

Rare, Unusual and Popular Mammals of the World, Exhibit, by Unknown, 1959, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, MNH-430 or MNH430.

November 23, 1959

As part of an Exhibits Modernization Program, the World of Mammals opens at the National Museum of Natural History. Henry W. Setzer is the curator in charge of the hall, Rolland Hower supervises the exhibits staff of the Natural History Laboratory, and Thomas Baker is the designer. The taxidermy work is supervised by Watson M. Perrygo, the mural is painted by Art Smith, and Robert C. Hogue painted the backgrounds of the habitat groups.More

Did you know...

That the Postal Museum still has the stamped brown wrapper used to mail the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian on November 10, 1958?

Related Media

Smithsonian Institution Issue Stamp Design File
Photograph of Highway Post Office clerks at work on bus
Photograph of letter carrier delivering mail
Union patriotic cover
34c Rosebud Orchid, Pipeworts, Southern Toad and Yellow Pitcher Plants single
41c Spider-Woman single
Photograph of Christmas Mail
1864 Lincoln Presidential Campaign Cover