Philately and U.S. World's Fairs

Finding Guide
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New York World’s Fair Certified Plate Proof, 1939 – Scott 853 (Accession No. 0.242263.15861)

Prepared by Cheryl R. Ganz, Chief Curator of Philately.


The United States Post Office Department (United States Postal Service since 1971) played a major role in America’s world’s fairs by issuing postage stamps to promote and honor the international expositions and their themes, by exhibiting the history of postage stamps and postal operations in the Federal Building, and by operating postal stations on the fair grounds for fair organizers, concessionaires, and visitors. The U.S. post office issued its first commemorative postage stamps for the 1893 Columbian Exposition, initiating a significant change in the postage stamp program (The Columbian Exposition and the Nation's First Commemorative Stamps).

Scholars who study American world’s fairs will discover untapped resources in the philatelic collections, archives, and library at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum.


World’s fair holdings are not identified or organized as such but are part of larger collections transferred from the Post Office Department and Department of the Treasury or donated by individuals.


In addition to postage stamps, the National Philatelic Collection includes die proofs, certified plate proofs, postal stationery, and special exposition postmarks on mail. These objects document the postal history of the fairs and provide graphic imagery that projects themes and aesthetic styles of the fairs.

The archival holdings include the Third Assistant Postmaster General stamp design files with information on sources for stamps design, production information, and correspondence with the public in response to specific stamp issues. The files contains documents related to the design and production of U.S. regular stamp issues from Scott #1 (1847) to Scott #2532 (1991) as well as 'back of the book' issues (airmail, postage dues, postal savings, federal duck stamps, and postal stationery) for roughly the same period. The collection is organized into file jackets and oversized envelopes according to Scott Catalogue number. For further details, see

The bibliography includes selected books, catalogs, and journal articles with philatelic information not generally found in traditional exposition literature. Philatelists have researched extensively and published in detail on stamps and events related to postage stamps.

[Note: For U.S. postage stamps from 1978 to present, reproduction permission is required from the USPS]