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National Postal Museum (NPM)

Elliot Gruber, Director

In the summer of 1993, the National Postal Museum opened in the historic City Post Office Building, located next to Union Station. The Museum was created with the cooperation of the United States Postal Service and houses over six million objects, making its collection one of the largest of its kind.

The systematized movement of written communication is thousands of years old. The message and the medium are intrinsically connected to our need for interpersonal communication and the national necessity to mark territorial boundaries. Mail provides citizens and their governments with mutual access. Postal monies have provided the capital that encouraged the development of transportation routes and road maintenance. Mail boosts morale in the military, maintains personal connections, and makes the goods of the world accessible to all. It promotes business, migration, and community and identity formation.

America’s postal history can be defined through the use of objects as small as stamps and as large as the nation’s first Highway Post Office bus. It is expressed in heartrending letters from soldiers on foreign battlefields and through the explosion of direct mail marketing. America’s postal history is the story of the people who make the service work and those who use it.

Museum Assets

The National Postal Museum Library is one of the largest and most important research facilities for the study of philately and the history of postal operations in the world. The library contains extensive runs of major American philatelic journals and major subject-oriented journals published worldwide. The collection of monographs on philately and postal history is nearly complete, with emphasis on materials in the English language and those of special importance.

The Museum has the world’s best scientific philatelic research laboratory and it is open to all researchers. The instruments include a VSC-6000 (Video Spectral Comparator), a 1200x Leica Microscope, an electronic micrometer, an X-Ray Fluorescence Spectrometer and a Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometer. These instruments allow for the non-destructive scientific analysis of objects.

Although the National Postal Museum Library focuses mainly on philately and postal operations in the United States, the philatelic collections are international in scope. In particular, Russia, Peru, Great Britain, Germany, France and the Universal Postal Union (UPU) are well represented. With more than 5,000 books, 6,000 serial titles, manuscript files, photographs and many auction catalogues, the collection also includes major archival holdings, including files from the United States Post Office, the Highway Post Office, the Aerial Mail Service, the Railway Mail Service, and the Panama Canal Zone Post Office. The major archival collections include the Post Office Department files of the Third Assistant Postmaster General, including original letters sent to various post office officials and replies discussing stamp issues and related postal subjects.

Research Staff

Heidelbaugh, Lynn R., Curator. B.A. (1996) Bryn Mawr College; M.A. (2001) George Washington University. Research specialties: U.S. postal operations history; military mail; material culture of letter writing; business history; tourism and tourist industry history. Contact: HeidelbaughL@si.edu

Piazza, Daniel, Chief Curator. B.A. (1998) Wagner College; M.A. (2004) Syracuse University. Research specialties: early American history to 1815; postage stamps and postal history. Contact: PiazzaD@si.edu

Warren, Christopher A., Director of Curatorial Affairs. B.A. (1998) University of Kansas; J.D. (2005) George Mason University; M.A. (2011) George Mason University. Research specialties: 19th to early 20th century American history; U.S. military history; memory and commemoration. Contact: WarrenC@si.edu

Affiliated Research Staff

Bazylinski, ALISON, Assistant Curator of Philately. B.A. (2011) Northeastern University; M.A. (2013) University of Nevada, Las Vegas; Ph.D. (2020) William & Mary. Research specialties: Postal history, 20th century American cultural history; material culture; history of consumption; textiles and clothing. Contact: BazylinskiA@si.edu

Devine, Scott W.Paper Conservator (books and paper). B.A. (1990) Duke University; M.L.I.S. (1996) The University of Texas at Austin. Research specialties: rare book conservation; philatelic conservation. Contact: DevineSW@si.edu

Smith, Susan, Winton M. Blount Research Chair. B.A. (1992) Georgetown University; M.A.I.S. (1997) University of Washington; Ph.D. (2005) University of Washington. Research specialties: Postal history; cultural heritage; museum studies; Russian and Soviet history. Contact: SmithSu@si.edu

 

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