Every U.S. stamp collection has its own story, but the origin of the Postmaster General’s Collection of the U.S. Postal Service is surely unique. It began in the 1860s as a modest set of Post Office Department files, filled with records and examples of U.S. stamps. At the time there were just a handful of U.S. stamps, starting with the first two in 1847. Thousands of stamps later, the same archive has become a one-of-a-kind philatelic resource with unusual, rare, and even unique holdings.
To specialists, the collection may be best known for its extensive holding of U.S. die proofs—proofs made from the dies on which stamp designs are engraved. But it contains much more, including rejected and approved stamp designs; many stamps in full panes, dating to the 19th century; sets of color proofs; uncut press sheets; and even historic artifacts, like the mail pouch the Apollo 15 astronauts carried to the Moon.
This exhibition draws on the collection’s greatest strength—the behind-the-scenes stages of stamp production—to tell the stories of several carefully selected stamps. Each one represents a different method that has been used to print U.S. stamps. But they all have something in common: an air or space theme. Together, they reveal how stamp designers, artists, engravers, and printers of many eras have made visual ideas take flight.
Stamps Take Flight was organized by National Postal Museum Curator of Philately Wilson Hulme and guest curator Joseph Brockert of the United States Postal Service. In addition to objects from the Postmaster General's Collection, the exhibition also includes materials from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the United States Air Force, the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, and generous private lenders.