One of Philately's Rarest Books


By Daniel Piazza, Philatelic Curator

Exhibit Highlights from:

Collecting History exhibition logo

(Open August 4, 2010 to January 9, 2012)

Woodward book cover

Alphonse Marie Tracey Woodward’s two-volume Postage Stamps of Japan and Dependencies (1928) is one of philately’s rarest books. Only one hundred and twelve sets were printed on handmade vellum paper, bound in full calf leather, and decorated with tooled gold. One hundred of these were signed and numbered by Woodward for sale at $75 per set (the equivalent of spending approximately $1000 on a book today). The twelve remaining sets were left unsigned and unnumbered to serve as reviewers’ copies.

A page with stamps in the Woodward album

The National Philatelic Collection obtained signed and numbered set number 38 in a 1954 auction of Ralph A. Kimble’s philatelic library. In 1980, it received one of the unnumbered sets from the estate of George T. Turner. Since 1993, both sets have been deposited in the Smithsonian National Postal Museum Library. The signed and numbered set will be on view in the museum’s philatelic galleries from August 8, 2010 until January 9, 2012 as part of the exhibition Collecting History: 125 Years of the National Philatelic Collection.

Woodward book open

These sumptuous books are being shown alongside original pages from Woodward’s specialized stamp collection of the 1 sen issue of 1872, the first time they have been shown together. Following Woodward’s death in 1938, his stamp collection was sold at auction by the London firm H. R. Harmer. Several volumes were purchased by Leroy Waller Christenson, a collector of Japanese stamps who lived in Cleveland, Ohio. Christenson kept the volumes intact, and in 1960 he donated eight of them to the National Philatelic Collection.

Both the book and the collection garnered significant international awards during Woodward’s lifetime. Postage Stamps of Japan and Dependencies was awarded the Royal Philatelic Society London’s prestigious Crawford Medal in 1929 for “valuable and original contribution to the study and knowledge of philately published in book form.” The stamp collection received the RPSL’s Tilleard Medal in the same year.

To learn more about the exhibition:
Collecting History: 125 Years of the National Philatelic Collection

Additional information:
A.M. Tracey Woodward’s Specialized Collections of Japan Donated by L.w. Christenson Finding Guide


Daniel Piazza

About the Author
Daniel A. Piazza, Curator of Philately, collects and writes about the stamps and postal history of the U.S. during the Bureau period (1894-1978) as well as the Italian peninsula. He sits on the board of governors of the Vatican Philatelic Society and edits its journal, Vatican Notes. His other national memberships include the American Philatelic Society, American Philatelic Research Library, American First Day Cover Society, and Writers Unit #30. Locally, he belongs to both the Washington Stamp Collectors Club and the Baltimore Philatelic Society. In addition to his philatelic activities, Piazza is an academic historian specializing in U.S. History to 1760. He holds degrees in the subject from Wagner College (B.A., 1998) and Syracuse University (M.A., 2004) and has completed the coursework for his Ph.D.