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Current Exhibits

The National Postal Museum is divided into galleries that explore America's postal history from colonial times to the present. Visitors learn how mail has been transported, emphasize the importance of letters, and spotlight the creation and wondrous diversity of postage stamps.


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32c Dahlia stamp, 1995.

Beautiful Blooms: Flowering Plants on Stamps

October 20, 2017 – July 14, 2019
This exhibition highlights the variety of flowering plants commemorated on US postage stamps during the past 50 years and explores artistic themes that emerged during this period. For example, the artwork portrays a variety of flowering plants found in gardens and public spaces throughout the United States and explore the symbiotic relationship between flowering plants, bees, birds and butterflies. The exhibit displays at least 30 pieces of developmental and final artwork used to produce at least 28 flora stamps. The use of stamp art in various phases of development enables visitors to understand the role design artwork plays in the production of postage stamps. The artwork is borrowed from the renowned Postmaster General’s Collection which is on a long-term loan to the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum.


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Mr. ZIP decals like this one were added to letter carriers' satchels to advertise ZIP codes.

Recent Acquisitions

September 22, 2017 – January 21, 2018
Our museum actively collects objects that help tell stories about the postal service, the mail, and philately. Our curators seek out objects that have significant histories; objects that are rare or unique; or objects that reflect trends and customs. We invite you to peek behind the scenes to see how some of our recent acquisitions came to our museum. The objects selected for this exhibition are just a few of many items our museum added to the collection between 2012 and 2016, including: the marketing characters Mr. and Mrs. ZIP, postal workers’ uniforms and equipment, and decorative boxes for postage stamps.


World War I picture postcard showing one soldier reading a letter, and two others about to drop mail into a mailbox.
World War I picture postcard.

My Fellow Soldiers: Letters from World War I

April 6, 2017 – November 29, 2018
Through personal correspondence written on the frontlines and home front, this centennial exhibition uncovers the history of America’s involvement in World War I. The compelling selection of letters illuminates emotions and thoughts engendered by the war that brought America onto the world stage; raised complex questions about gender, race and ethnic relations; and ushered in the modern era. Included are previously unpublished letters by General John Pershing, the general who led the American Expeditionary Forces and a person who understood the power of the medium. In his postwar letter that begins “My fellow soldiers,” he recognized each individual under his command for bravery and service. My Fellow Soldiers: Letters from World War I was created by the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum in collaboration with the Center for American War Letters at Chapman University.

Please note, this exhibit will be temporarily closed on the following dates: February 5-6, 2018, and July 2-3, 2018.


John Muir stamp art

Trailblazing: 100 Years of Our National Parks

June 9, 2016 – March 25, 2018
Did you know that a village at the bottom of the Grand Canyon eats most of its mail? Or that America’s newest national park was once so secret it used an undercover address? "Trailblazing: 100 Years of Our National Parks", a two-year temporary exhibition, chronicles these and numerous other intersections between mail and our national parks. Featuring original postage stamp art from the United States Postal Service and artifacts loaned by the National Park Service, the exhibition explores the myriad – and sometimes surprising – ways that mail moves to, through and from our national parks.


A Post-Secret postcard
“I just hope I can find someone, fall in love and share all of my secrets with them.”

 

PostSecret: The Power of a Postcard

August 3, 2015 – January 1, 2018
The exhibition communicates a contemporary narrative of mail and the postal service, highlighting the aesthetics of the communication tool itself and the juxtaposition between anonymity and shared experiences. It also demonstrates a unique relationship between mail, digital technology and social media. More than 500 artfully decorated postcards mailed anonymously from around the world reveal regret, fear, betrayal, desire, confession, childhood humiliation and other compelling confessions. From sexual taboos and criminal activity to confessions of hidden acts of kindness and shocking habits and fears, the display shares deep secrets by individuals seeking a safe and anonymous space to share untold stories. A pyramid of more than one quarter million stacked cards represents the magnitude and popularity of sharing secrets via postcards.


1856 British Guiana One-Cent Magenta

British Guiana One-Cent Magenta: The World’s Most Famous Stamp

June 4, 2015 — September 4, 2018
The 1856 British Guiana One-Cent Magenta is displayed in the museum’s William H. Gross Stamp Gallery. This exhibition of the stamp is the longest and most publicly accessible showing ever.


Postal inspector looking through binoculars

June 27, 2014 — Indefinite
Behind the Badge explores the mission and duty of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the law enforcement arm of the Postal Service. The exhibit examines the inspection service’s history and work through some of its most famous and remarkable cases. Visitors learn how the service helps protect them, sharing tips to guard against scams and fraud.


William H. Gross Stamp Gallery logo

September 22, 2013 — Permanent
William H. Gross, the founder of PIMCO and a stamp collector, has donated $10 million to the National Postal Museum to create a new 12,000-square-foot gallery that was named in his honor. The new gallery opened on September 22, 2013.


colorful photo of the World of Stamps exhibit

September 22, 2013 — Permanent
As visitors step into this introductory gallery, a display of oversized stamps and video monitors grabs their attention. Video images bring stamps to life and pique curiosity through questions that are answered as visitors explore the surrounding displays.

Visitors encounter the world’s first postage stamp—the 1840 Penny Black, with its profile of young Queen Victoria—and learn how it revolutionized communication. Stamp images—including the Nicaraguan volcano that influenced the location of the Panama Canal, Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the top–selling 1993 Elvis! stamp, and the stamp that helped raise almost $72 million dollars for breast cancer research—illustrate how stamps have shaped history and honored people and places worldwide.


photo of the Gems of American Philately exhibit

September 22, 2013 — Permanent
In this dramatically lit space, visitors have the privilege of examining 13 of the most rare and highly valued gems in the world of philately—including the most famous U.S. stamp of all, the 1918 Inverted Jenny. An immersive video explains why the Inverted Jenny and other stamps displayed here are philatelic gems.

The treasures in this area are rarely available for public viewing. Each tells a story about a significant milestone in U.S. history—from one of the surviving revenue stamp proofs of the 1765 Stamp Act that so infuriated the American colonists, to a lunar mail cover postmarked on the Moon by astronaut Dave Scott in 1971.


photo of the Amelia Earhart section in the Mail Marks History exhibit

September 22, 2013 — Permanent
The markings on mail provide valuable clues to the surprising ways mail has been transported over time, including challenges and even disasters encountered along the way. Visitors learn to decipher these markings through an interactive experience in which they trace the journeys of three historic letters by analyzing different kinds of mail markings.

At wall displays supplemented by exhibit frames, visitors investigate markings on mail transported on land and across seas, by air and in space. Among the many historic artifacts on view are a 1390 Silk Road letter, a letter mailed aboard Titanic during its first and only voyage, Amelia Earhart’s brown leather flight suit, a mailbox remnant from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and a mailbox from 9-11.


photo of the Connect with U.S. Stamps exhibit

September 22, 2013 — Permanent
In this highly interactive area, visitors are immersed in examples of how stamp content, design, and production have changed over time and how modern U.S. stamps reflect the nation’s identity. Here, too, visitors explore their own connections with stamps. At three touchscreen tables, they sort through the National Postal Museum’s collection and create their own stamp collection based on the topics that interest them most. Nearby are stations where visitors can create their own stamp designs.

Visitors also have the chance to view videos in which stamp designers talk about their craft, stamp collectors explain what they collect and why, and footage shows how stamps are produced.


photo of the entry to the National Stamp Salon

September 22, 2013 — Permanent
Here, philatelists and other interested visitors have access to some of the great U.S. collections owned by the National Postal Museum or on loan from other institutions. 275 pullout frames display tens of thousands of stamps and pieces of mail from the National Philatelic Collection along with the Postmaster General’s and Benjamin K. Miller collections. A large case displays medals, handstamps, dies, and other historic artifacts from the National Philatelic Collection.

A touchscreen interactive links visitors to the National Postal Museum’s online research database, Arago, enabling them to easily find more information about the stamps and mail that interest them.


photo of the Stamps Around the Globe exhibit

September 22, 2013 — Permanent
International stamps make up more than half of the National Postal Museum’s collections. At interactive displays flanking a large globe, visitors explore examples of how stamps reflect their countries of origin and connect people, places, and cultures worldwide.

One display showcases some of the most scarce and famous stamps from 24 countries on six continents. Nearby, 50 pullout frames present more than 700 stamps—one from every country that has ever produced stamps, including many countries that no longer exist.

Other pullout frames feature changing displays of stamps from the museum’s international vaults, encouraging visitors to return and sample more of the diversity of these vast collections.


photo of a projection of the Earth in the Systems at Work exhibit

December 14, 2011 — Permanent
You drop a letter in a mailbox and then what happens? You receive mail at home or the office—how does it get there? The answer to these questions unfolds in Systems at Work, a permanent exhibition at the National Postal Museum. Systems at Work recreates the paths of letters, magazines, parcels, and other mail as they travel from sender to recipient over the last 200 years.


black and white photo of soldiers gathered around a man reading a letter

November 10, 2011 — Permanent
Soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen anxiously awaiting mail delivery is a familiar scene from movies, newsreels, and documentary photographs. Mail call is the moment when the frontline and home front connect. This exhibition tells the history of military mail from the American Revolution to 2010: How does this mail reach its destination? What roles does it play? Why does it influence morale? The exhibition explores the great lengths taken to set up and operate postal services under extraordinary circumstances. It also features letters that reveal the expressions, emotions, and events of the time. On the battlefront and at home, mail provides a vital communication link between military service personnel, their communities, and their loved ones.


color illustration of a man in a cowboy hat on a horse

Pony Express: Romance vs. Reality

April 3, 2010 — Permanent
This exhibition examines fictional and actual stories from the history of the world's best known mail carriers.


blue tinted photo of a plane

Airmail in America

February 22, 2006 — Permanent
This exhibition examines the critical role the postal system played in the creation of America's commercial aviation industry and features the pilots and early aircraft that made it possible.


black and white photo of dogs pulling a man on a mail sled

Networking a Nation: Star Route Service 

February 21, 2006 — Permanent
This exhibition explores Star Routes -- a new mail service established in 1845 when the Postal Service began hiring contractors to use the most appropriate and efficient methods of transportation to carry the mail.


black and white photo of a Model A Ford Parcel Post truck

On the Road

December 23, 2004 — Permanent
Featuring a 1931 Model A Ford Parcel Post truck and a contemporary Long Life Vehicle mail truck, this exhibition explores the history of city mail vehicles -- from the first tests in 1899 to the present.


photo of a portrait of Benjamin Franklin in the Binding the Nation exhibit

Binding the Nation

July 30, 1993 — Permanent
This gallery provides an overview of mail service in America from colonial times through the 19th century, stressing the importance of written communication in the young nation.


color illustration of people gathered around a barn

Customers and Communities

July 30, 1993 — Permanent
This gallery focuses on the modern changes in mail service introduced at the turn of the 20th century.


photo of the atrium of the Postal Museum

Moving the Mail

July 30, 1993 — Permanent
Faced with the challenge of moving the mail quickly, the postal service looked to trains, automobiles, airplanes, and buses to deliver the mail.