Since 1912, the United States postal system has fueled the public’s keen interest in flight by issuing stamps with aviation themes. “Stamps Take Flight,” an exhibition opening March 15 at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum, uses stamps, original art, artifacts and other materials with air and space themes to illustrate the creative processes and printing techniques behind America’s stamps.
Materials from the extraordinary Postmaster General’s Collection and other sources tell the story of several carefully selected stamps, each representing a major stamp printing method from engraving to holography. Visitors to the exhibit will learn how printing techniques led to the famous 1918 “Inverted Jenny” stamp, in which a Curtiss “Jenny” airmail plane was printed upside down relative to the surrounding frame. Other highlights of the exhibition include the four-cent stamp celebrating John Glenn’s 1962 orbit of the Earth—designed and printed in complete secrecy in case the mission failed—and the only known surviving piece of mail from the first official U.S. airmail delivery in 1859 aboard the hot-air balloon Jupiter. A mail pouch the Apollo 15 astronauts took to the moon is also on display.
The Postmaster General’s Collection began as a Post Office reference file on stamps in the 1860s, not long after the first U.S. stamps were issued in 1847. Thousands of stamps later, it has become a unique philatelic resource, specializing in the “behind-the-scenes” aspect of U.S. stamp production such as original artwork, die proofs, color proofs, press sheets and full panes.
Curator of Philately Wilson Hulme of the National Postal Museum and guest curator Joseph Brockert of the United States Postal Service organized “Stamps Take Flight.” In addition to objects from the U.S. Postmaster General’s Collection, the exhibit also includes materials from the U.S. Bureau of Printing and Engraving, the U.S. Air Force and the National Postal Museum. “Stamps Take Flight” will be on view in the Philatelic Gallery of the National Postal Museum through March 19, 2006.
Philately is the collection and study of postage stamps, postmarks and stamped envelopes and the study of postal history. “Stamps Take Flight” is part of the National Postal Museum’s ongoing effort to present “blockbuster” philatelic exhibits which offer exciting and rare philatelic material that otherwise would not be available for viewing by the general public.
The National Postal Museum is devoted to presenting the colorful and engaging history of the nation’s mail service and showcasing the largest and most comprehensive collection of stamps and philatelic material in the world. It is located at 2 Massachusetts Ave. N.E., in the Old City Post Office Building across from Union Station. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. For more information visit the museum’s Web site at postalmuseum.si.edu.
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