Awesome Things to See at the National Postal Museum

Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

Objects displayed in the museum's various exhibits document the history of the U.S. postal service and showcase the beauty and lore of stamps. Thousands of objects are on display in the museum, each offering visitors a chance to see "the real thing."

Enter Smithsonian's National Postal Museum through the Historic Lobby of Washington, D.C.'s Main Post Office.

The William H. Gross Stamp Gallery, named after its primary benefactor, is the world’s largest gallery dedicated to philately.

"Inverted Jenny" Block of Four

One of the most iconic and recognizable stamp errors ever discovered is the 1918 24c "Inverted Jenny" air post stamp. In 1918 the Post Office issued its first air mail postage stamp, to promote the newly established air mail service. A special 24c stamp was prepared, depicting the "Curtiss Jenny" biplane in the center in blue, surrounded by a red frame. One sheet of 100 stamps was discovered with all of the stamps within the sheet having had the blue biplane in the center printed upside down.

From the original sheet of 100, only six blocks of four still exist - four of which are contained within the William Gross collection. He has loaned one of these spectacular blocks of four, the unique left sheet margin block of four (positions 41-42/51-52) to the Smithsonian National Postal Museum.

Loan from William H. Gross.

World’s Rarest Stamp

The 1856 British Guiana One-Cent Magenta, the world’s rarest postage stamp, is now prominently displayed in the museum’s William H. Gross Stamp Gallery for a three year period (June 4, 2015 — September 4, 2018).

Please check with the museum in advance of your visit for specific exhibit dates.

More information:

postalmuseum.si.edu/stampgallery/magenta

Loan from Stuart Weitzman.

Stamp Act of 1765 Proof

In 1765 the British Parliament passed an act commonly called The Stamp Act that infuriated American colonists. Resisting the Act was the first incremental step on the road to the American Revolution. Cries of “taxation without representation” and attacks on stamp agents led to the repeal of the Act on March 18, 1766.

Titanic Sea Post Clerk John Starr March's body was recovered at sea following the disaster. His effects, returned to his grieving daughters, included his gold watch.

This mailing wrapper contained the rare gem, the "Hope Diamond," when it was sent by Harry Winston to the Smithsonian in 1958. Winston routinely used the mails to deliver valuable material.

As visitors descend the escalators to the Atrium, they are greeted by the splendor of marble floors and a magnificent 90-foot-high skylight ceiling.

The Post Office Department relied on its fleet of de Havilland mail airplanes for carrying the mail during the airmail service’s nine year-long existence. (Loan from the National Air and Space Museum)

In order to keep mail flying around the clock, the postal service had to ensure the safety and success of night flight. (Loan from the National Air and Space Museum)

Amelia Earhart's Flight Suit

This famous female pilot broke flying records in the air, and while on the ground she shared her stamp and cover collection. You can see relics from both parts of her life displayed here, on the touch screen interactive and in the adjacent cases. The flight suit kept her warm and safe on her adventures. The envelopes with special cancels, carried aboard those flights, instantly created a collectable desired by stamp experts. They pre-paid for the envelopes flown aboard her plane which she would postmark with the dates of the flight.

The airplanes used for early airmail service had open cockpits, which left pilots exposed to frigid temperatures. Pilots were often ordered to fly, regardless of weather, making these flight suits critical pieces of equipment.

Coach makers J. Stephen Abbot and Lewis Downing wanted to create stagecoaches that not only offered comfortable rides, but vehicles that could elegantly stand out on America’s roads.

Contract mail carrier Ed Biederman used this dog sled for his 160-mile route in Alaska. In 1935 frostbite crippled Biederman when his feet froze while moving through a river overflow.

Owney was the canine mascot of the Railway Mail Service in the late 19th century. To mark the dog's frequent travels, postal clerks attached tags to Owney's collar.

Sorting mail on moving trains was one of the postal service’s great innovations. After the Civil War, Post Office officials worked to decentralize operations.

Behind this iron crane is a story of “mail on the fly”. Mail clerks used special catcher arms attached to the side of railway mail cars to snatch the suspended mail pouch in the blink of an eye.

This model represents the Central America steamer, originally named SS George Law. It, with 423 passengers and crew, tons of mail and freight, and over $1 million in gold, sunk on September 12, 1857.

Made of leather, with four pockets, the Pony Express mochilas were used to hold mail. Riders sat on the mochila-covered saddle. Openings in the leather made it fit over the saddle horn and cantle.

John T. Jackson's Distribution Case

On April 1, 1891 John T. Jackson became the postmaster of Alanthus, Virginia. When he began his career, the twenty-nine year old was greeted with threats from those unwilling to accept an African-American in that position. He remained in his job for 49 years, retiring in 1940.

Victory Mail, more commonly known as V-Mail, operated during World War II to expedite mail service for American armed forces overseas.

Open reel audio tape sent home by Private First Class Frank Kowalczyk in 1969.

U.S. Army Private Frank A. Kowalczyk audio correspondence (excerpt)

This registration handstamp was one of six post-marking devices recovered from the U.S.S. Oklahoma. It is dated “Dec. 6 1941” the last day it was used.

Networks of pneumatic tubes speeded mail beneath city streets beginning in the 1890s. Pneumatic carriers holding 600 letters traveled at about 35 miles per hour. The tubes were introduced in 1893.

Wagons carried mail between railway stations and post offices. Screen wagons, introduced in 1886, increased security as the mail moved between post offices, railroad stations, and steamboat landings.

By the 1850s, adhesive postage stamps were available, and people no longer needed to go to the post office to mail letters. They could keep stamps at home and mail letters at their leisure.

Members of the UNABOM Task Force placed these cuffs on Kaczynski when they captured him in a shack near Lincoln, Montana, on April 3, 1996.

Postal Inspector Paul Wilhelmus talks about interrogating unabomber Ted Kaczynski

Mr. Zap Puppet

The Elwood P. Zap puppet had a brief career. His character appeared at a series of five professional conferences in 1979 to teach employees and business mail representatives about postal crimes, safety and security. The programming around the puppet represents one of the Postal Inspection Service's many educational initiatives.

Explore America's postal history and philately from colonial times to the present.
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Discover these items and many more at the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum, where there is always something new to see and learn.

Visit the National Postal Museum's Website

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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