125 Years of the National Philatelic Collection

Exhibition Highlights

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Visible in this photograph are selections from the famous Clarence H. Eagle and Ernest R. Ackerman collections of U.S. proofs and essays, both of which were transferred to the Smithsonian's philatelic collection by the Library of Congress in the 1950s.

detail of 1 sen blue, Japan, 1872

Alphonse Marie Tracey Woodward’s Postage Stamps of Japan and Dependencies (1928) is one of philately’s rarest books. The National Philatelic Collection obtained this copy at auction in 1954.

three blocks of Egyptian stamp

Egypt’s King Fuad and his son, King Farouk, were presented with specially printed imperforate copies of every Egyptian stamp issued from 1926 until 1952, when Farouk was overthrown and exiled. In 1961, some of the collection of royal imperforates (approximately 10% of all the copies in existence) were given to the National Philatelic Collection.

5c Flag of Austria approved large die proof

During World War II, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt conceived of a stamp series featuring the flags of countries conquered by German and Japanese forces. This is one example from a series of proofs that were prepared so postal officials could approve the stamps’ designs.

Envelope with a Polish prisoner of war and concentration camp refugee stamp

During World War II, stamps and mail provided civilian internees in the United States and prisoners of war overseas with the only way to contact their family and friends.

Marijuana Tax Stamps of 1937

Beginning in 1954, the U.S. Treasury Department transferred nearly 7.8 million obsolete revenue stamps—used to collect taxes on merchandise, legal documents, and financial transactions—to the National Philatelic Collection.

Five Cents Connell stamp and four diamond-shaped stamps

Five British North American provinces issued their own postage stamps before becoming part of Canada. The Ahmanson collection contains an impressive, complete grouping of all five provinces’ stamps in unused condition.

Certified Plate Proof

In 1955, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing purchased a Huck printing press capable of printing multiple colors in a single pass. BEP employees produced numerous experimental printing plates from master dies for stamps that dated as far back as the 1930s. This is a proof of one of those experimental plates, rarely seen by collectors or the public.