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Opening Plenary Panel “What Is Postal History?”

Winton M. Blount Symposium on Postal History
November 3-4, 2006
Smithsonian National Postal Museum, Washington, D.C.

A seemingly simple question, but when examined by experts from different fields, postal history has divergent meanings. Whether postal history is the starting point for a philatelic collection, a research project, a museum exhibit, or a future business innovation, each of our invited guests has a particular perspective on the topic. With this opening session the symposium organizers hope to spark a dialog among conference attendees that will create future collaboration between historians and philatelists.

Philatelic Perspective, Michael Laurence, Executive Director, Philatelic Foundation

In the philatelic vocabulary, “postal history” describes envelopes or folded letter sheets that have passed through the mails. Applying the lofty phrase “postal history” to a category of collectibles more traditionally called “covers” or “envelopes” was the contribution of a British stamp dealer, Robson Lowe, in the mid 20th century.

Academic Perspective, Richard R. John, Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago

For historians, postal history is the empirically grounded investigation in space and time of a vital yet often neglected communications medium. Topics inviting exploration include postal policy; postal administration; postal surveillance; political movements in which postal systems become entangled; and the consequences of postal systems for politics, business, and culture.

Museum Perspective, John Willis, Historian, Canadian Postal Museum

Museum curators take a broad territory of research and interpret it for the benefit of the public via exhibitions. Objects in a postal collection become supporting documents of the postal past. Letters, envelopes, stamps, and writing implements are devices that help establish a rapport between a particular theme of history and the public.

Business Perspective, Maynard H. Benjamin, President and CEO, Envelope Manufacturers Association

Businesses see their postal history as a celebration of past achievements and a springboard for future innovations. Postal history includes the evolution of technologies and manufacturing processes for sorting and moving the mail. Businesses know that the assurance a message is secure and delivered correctly is intertwined with the history of the company.