Since opening its doors on July 30, 1993, the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum has welcomed millions of visitors eager to view its exhibits and enjoy its programs. However, the NPM’s collection of 5.9 million postal and philatelic objects—the second largest in the Smithsonian system—is much older than the museum. It all began in the 1880s with a single photograph and a pane of Confederate stamps.
The first philatelic object collected by the Smithsonian was this pane of the 10¢ blue Jefferson Davis stamp released by the Confederate States of America in April or May of 1863. Earlier CSA issues had been lithographed or typographed and were inferior to U.S. stamps. As a result, CSA postmaster General John H. Reagan recruited a Northern printer and engraver to produce the Confederacy’s first engraved series.
These 10¢ stamps, which paid the rate for letters weighing less than one-half ounce were the result. The pane of one hundred was half of a press sheet of two hundred stamps printed by the firm of John Archer in Richmond, Virginia. Four stamps—a single and a strip of three—were removed at some point before M.W. Robertson gave the pane to the Smithsonian in 1886.
By the end of the decade, the Smithsonian had received two more important donations: in 1887, Spencer Fullerton Baird, the Institution’s second secretary, died and bequeathed his personal stamp collection. Two years later, a red proof on thick laid paper of Britain’s one-penny colonial revenue stamp of 1765 (the “Stamp Act stamp”) was given by John A. Brill, a streetcar manufacturer from Philadelphia. These were just the beginning; today the collection includes rare material and highly specialized U.S. and foreign collections. It is both our National Philatelic Collection and a national treasure.