Feb 1, 2015


Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

An Immersive Highlights Tour

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

Welcome to the National Postal Museum

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

The William H. Gross Stamp Gallery

"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. Let’s move on and have a closer look.

Inverted Jenny Pt. 1

"Inverted Jenny" Block of Four

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.

Inverted Jenny Pt. 2

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

Loan from Stuart Weitzman.

The World's Rarest Stamp

Here we have a 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.

Stamp Act of 1765 Proof

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.

The Titanic 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.

The Hope Diamond Wrapper

The Hope Diamond has had many homes. It is believed to have originated in India, and is known to have been cut from the French Blue (Le bleu de France), presented to King Louis XIV. In it's original form, the diamond was very likely admired here, in the Palace of Versaille.

- Wikipedia

The Palace of Versaille

Here we have ridden the escalators down to the Atrium, where we are met by the splendor of marble floors and a magnificent 90-foot-high skylight ceiling. Turn around to see a smiling statue of Benjamin Franklin, the Nation’s 1st Postmaster General.

The Atrium

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

The deHavilland DH-4 Airplane

In order to keep mail flying around the clock, the postal service had to ensure the safety and success of night flight. These beacons were placed 10 miles apart (Loan from the National Air and Space Museum)

Airmail Beacon

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.

Amelia Earhart's Flight Suit

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.

Concord-style Mail Coach

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.

Dog Sled

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.

The Story of Owney

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.

Mail by Rail
Railway Mail Service Crane

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.

The "Central America" Steamer

On April 3, 1860, a lone rider left on horseback from the gates of one of the nation’s most historic landmarks, the Pikes Peak Stables in St. Joseph, Missouri. Carrying saddlebags filled with our nation’s hopes and dreams, the Pony Express riders traveled 2,000 miles west to Sacramento, California. These brave young souls raced against nature’s cruel elements and rugged terrain in an attempt to unite a country separated by distance. Today the stables continue to stand as a tribute to the legend and legacy of the Pony Express and its enduring era.

- Pony Express National Museum St. Joseph, MO

Story of a Pony Express Rider

Pony Express mochilas were made of leather, with four pockets to hold mail. Riders sat on top of the mochila, which had openings in the leather allowing it to fit over the saddle horn and cantle.

Pony Express Mochilas

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.

John T. Jackson Distribution Case

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

Victory Mail

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

Vietnam Open Real Tape - Pvt. Kowalczyk

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.

USS Oklahoma Handstamp
Pneumatic Mail Canister

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.

Screen Wagon

This restored screen wagon was used to transport mail between Winchester, Virginia, Martinsburg, West Virginia, and Hagerstown, Maryland. It was built by the Terre Haute Carriage & Buggy Company, which secured the exclusive contract to build screen wagons from the Post Office Department in 1897.

As mail volume continued to grow in the late nineteenth century, the Post Office Department began using mail wagons to carry pouches and sacks full of mail between railway stations, post offices, and occasionally between towns. The Department contracted with companies that provided their own wagons for carrying the mail. Mail security became an issue with these wagons, most of which used canvas covers over the side that could easily be ripped by potential thieves.

To provide greater security, the Department began using wire-caged mail wagons in the late 1880s. While the mail was being moved, a lock secured the back doors of each mail wagon. Because of this design, the wagons were quickly nicknamed 'screen wagons'.

Screen Wagon
Origin of the Sidewalk Mailbox

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.

Unabomber - Postal Inspector Wilhelmus

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.

Elwood P. Zap
Smithsonian National Postal Museum
Credits: Story

Cardboard VR Tour compiled by
Marc Bretzfelder, Smithsonian Office of the Chief Information Officer

Visit the National Postal Museum's Website

Discover these items and many more at the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum, where there is always something new to see and learn.

Credits: All media
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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