LOVE and Other Disasters

Dear Visitor,

Get swept up in tales
of love, loss,
and lively adventure!

Yours truly,
the National Postal Museum

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Painting of a Pony Express rider, a role romanticized for the dangers riders faced.

Location: National Stamp Salon, Pullout Frame 178

5-cent Documentary Inland Exchange revenue stamp single on marriage certificate
In 1862 revenue tax stamps became required on a variety of goods, stocks, and legal documents in order to pay off the national debt and support the Union army.
1871 Marriage Certificate »

For the first stop in our itinerary, you’ll find a beautiful gold marriage certificate from 1871, as well as a petition for divorce (both of which are found under the U.S. Revenues section in the gallery at the museum). Whether they “sealed” the deal or “canceled” the relationship, revenue stamps were needed on the document to prove that taxes were paid on either relationship change. How much more did the stamps cost to get divorced than married?

50c Documentary Mortgage revenue stamp on petition for divorce
Divorce petitions are legal documents filed by someone who wishes to end a marriage.

Location: National Stamp Salon, Pullout Frame 15

Confederate valentine letter
Even simple valentines took on the role of legitimizing the Confederate States of America as a fully functioning nation with its own postal system.
Confederate valentine »

Sending valentines took off in the United States during the mid-19th century with the advent of postage stamps and more affordable postage rates. These elaborate valentines made with lace and colored paper were thoughtful and creative declarations of the sender’s affection. For rebel states during the Civil War, shortages of usable paper and stamps made sending valentines like the one shown here a rarer and more subdued affair.

Classic ornate style valentine
A New York valentine sent sometime between 1847-1850 was sent with a 10-cent black Washington stamp.
Ornate Style Valentine »

*Take note of whose portrait is on the stamps and the number of stars on the flags printed in these letters.

Location: Mail Marks History, “On Land and Sea – Pullout Frame 3”

A large blue diamond mounted in a necklace of many diamonds
The Hope Diamond
(National Museum of Natural History)

Would you ship your most precious jewelry through the mail? Famed jeweler Harry Winston did! In 1958, Winston sent one of the world’s most famous “cursed” jewels, the Hope Diamond, by registered mail from New York to the city post office in D.C. --which is the National Postal Museum today. The package cost $145.29--$2.44 for shipping and the rest for one million dollars’ worth of insurance. The gem was delivered safely to the National Museum of Natural History (check out the Hope Diamond and its package), but postal worker James G. Todd, who carried the package, suffered a series of misfortunes in the year following his delivery.

large registered mail envelope with several postage meter marks
Winston told reporters that registered mail is the safest way to ship gems.
Hope Diamond Package »

Location: Binding the Nation, “The Pony Express”

Le Poney Express, a poster from Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Rough Riders of the World traveling show showing many men on horseback
Poster for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Rough Riders of the World: Le Pony Express.
Pony Express Wild West Show »

Why do we talk about the “Romance” of the Pony Express? It evokes images of courageous young men crossing long stretches of country, frequently under harsh conditions, facing the constant threat of death. And, like so many legendary events of the "Old West," there have been wild exaggerations of the facts. Take a look at the Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Rough Riders of the World: Le Pony Express poster featuring the Pony Express or Lloyd Branson’s oil painting of a Pony Express rider. The actual Pony Express lasted only 18 months, and only about 80 young men ever rode for the Pony Express. However, this short-lived service was romanticized then and now as a quintessential American institution. Check out the Pony Express: Romance Versus Reality online exhibition to learn more.

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Lloyd Branson’s oil painting of a Pony Express rider encapsulates the romantic idealism of the short-lived service.
Pony Express Rider Painting »

Location: Moving the Mail, “Networking a Nation”

“The sights were SO GRAND…”
—passenger Frank Root recalling his stagecoach travels

painting of western mail coach pulled by horses with a high mountain in the background
Western Mail Coach in Sight of Mt. Hood, by Lloyd Branson:
Western Mail Coach in Sight of Mt. Hood Artwork »

Concord stagecoaches were used for passenger travel and by young couples moving west as much as they were used for transporting mail. In fact, passenger travel became possible because of the regular, reliable mail contracts that funded the stagecoach companies. Travelers could find themselves packed tightly into such wagons with up to eight people inside the coach, several more on top, and mailbags stuffed in among the passengers. Although the journey was long, bumpy, and uncomfortable, passengers frequently reported on the picturesque scenery and their amazement as they came into a new city that could become a new home.

Concord mail coach on exhibit in the museum
Concord mail coaches, like the one in exhibit in the National Postal Museum Atrium, were used for transporting both passengers and mail.
Object Spotlight: Concord Mail Coach »

Location: Mail Call, “1991 – At the Front”

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A coconut from the Pacific mailed home to a loved one.
Coconut »

During World War II, “some sunny day” letter writing was considered the patriotic duty of both civilians and military personnel. Romantic gestures, such as mailing a coconut home while stationed in the Pacific, kept separated couples together. Today, physical mail is still a valued part of keeping up morale in the military. Look the letter Marine Corps Major Reina DuVal wrote to a loved one in 1991 while serving in the Persian Gulf War. The government makes great efforts to ease the cost and process of sending and receiving mail for the military, a boon to many long-distance relationships.

Letter from Major DuVal
DuVal writes to a loved one, “we live for mail call.”
Letter from Major DuVal »

Looking to make your digital discoveries even more immersive? Explore our playlists, personally curated for each unique self-guide theme!