There's Gold in Them Thar Mail Crates

Although most philatelic libraries are primarily depositories for books, magazines, and archival collections. They often include some three dimensional postal-related artifacts in their collections. Dr. Frank R. Scheer, Curator  of the Railway Mail Service Library in Boyce, VA recently let me know about a terrific artifact the library just acquired for its collection.  It is a U.S. Mint Registered Mail crate for shipping gold to Ft. Knox during the 1930s. Frank indicated that he spent months trying to acquire the gold crate at a reasonable cost.  According to him, gold bars would have been placed inside the crate and then secured with a Treasury Department registered mail lock. His estimate is that it may have weighed about 500 pounds when loaded, so four burly men would likely have been lifting 125 pounds each, using two steel rods that clipped under the corner hooks. They were laid along the floor of a storage mail car, with an armed Railway Mail Clerk or Postal Inspector acting as a guard in the car en route. Frank is uncertain about how many cars were in a chartered train to Ft. Knox, but it may have been about 20. In any case it is definitely an interesting piece of history. As Frank notes the crate is essentially a three dimensional philatelic cover. Thanks Frank for sharing information about your new library acquisition.

National Philatelic Museum of Philadelphia

Cachet from FDC promoting National Postal Museum

Among my philatelic collecting interests are postal items related to philatelic libraries and museums. Included in my collection are a number of covers and letters mailed by the National Philatelic Museum which was located in Philadelphia. The story of the National Philatelic Museum and its impact on philately is very interesting. The American Stamp Dealer & Collector magazine which is edited by Randy Neil featured the museum in its November-December 2008 issue followed by more information in the January 2009 issue. The museum was founded in December, 1948 by Bernard W. Davis, a former banker and philanthropist. It went out of business in 1960 or 1961. The museum promoted itself as “The only Museum of its kind in the world actively and exclusively engaged in furthering the interests of Philately.” The museum hosted numerous philatelic exhibits and conventions and produced a series of 36 publications on various aspects of philately. The publications have been treated by libraries as a single serial collection and as individual books. The American Philatelic Research Library has the entire collection. The museum had a close relationship with Temple University and sponsored courses on philately.  The museum had an extensive library. When the museum was closed its library and collections went to the Spellman Museum of Stamps and Postal History in Weston, MA. Bernard Davis has been honored with several philatelic awards including the Luff Award of the American Philatelic Society.


Postcard pr0moting “The Air Post Show of 54”.


John Boynton Kaiser, Bibliophilatelist

Today is the 125th anniversary of the birth of John Boynton Kaiser (1887-1973), a librarian and a philatelist. Kaiser is one of many librarians who collect or have collected postage stamps. He was, however, one of the first to collect postage stamps which depict libraries and librarians. Kaiser had a successful career as a librarian which included serving as administrator of the Tacoma (WA) Public Library, the University of Iowa Libraries and Library School, and the Newark (NJ) Public Library. He served as librarian at Camp Knox, Kentucky during World War I. He was also a serious philatelist and received the Walter McCoy Award for Excellence in Philatelic Writing from the American Philatelic Congress in 1953. The award was for his article Bibliography: The Basis for Philatelic Research which was published in the 1953 Congress Book (note: this article was also reprinted as a separate publication by the Philatelic Library Association in 1953). In the July, 1955 issue of Library Journal, Kaiser wrote an article titled “Librarianship and Philately” in which he introduced the library community to the collecting of postage stamps related to libraries and librarians that has since been called “bibliophilately”. Kaiser’s article in the Library Journal also makes note of many “parallelisms” between librarianship and stamp collecting. As a bibliophilatelist myself, I appreciate Kaiser’s early efforts to identify postage stamps related to libraries. A much broader approach to bibliophilately was written about by Leona Rostenberg in a series of articles in 1977 for the American Philatelist. Those articles were later published as a book titled Bibliately in 1978 by the American Philatelic Society (search for “Bibliately” in the APRL online union catalog to find philatelic libraries with this book). I discovered bibliophilately via a 1982 article by George Eberhart titled “Biblio-philately” in the magazine American Libraries.  I have established a webpage on “Bibliophilately Resources” for those who would like to explore this topic further. 

Words from the West: Arizona Stories and Stamps

The Arizona Capitol Museum in collaboration with The Peggy Slusser Memorial Philatelic Library of the Postal History Foundation is having a grand opening of a new exhibit titled “Words from the West: Arizona Stories and Stamps” today at the State Capitol in Phoenix Arizona.  The exhibit will on display through the Spring of 2012 and will be a part of Arizona’s State Centennial celebration. Arizona achieved statehood on February 14, 1912.  A press release gives more details about the exhibit. The Slusser Library and the Postal History Foundation have been involved in the creation of several online digital collections related to Arizona postal history in conjunction with the Arizona Memory Project of the Arizona State Library, Archives, and Records Division.

Volunteer Week at APRL


Tara Murray explains the Piper Periodical Index to Library Volunteers


My wife Kathy and I were among the volunteers who assembled at the American Philatelic Center for Volunteer Week in Bellefonte, PA which took place July 25-29. Volunteers were able to select from a variety of helpful tasks identified by APS and APRL for their contribution of labor. The APRL, where Kathy and I volunteered, needed help with rearranging their book stack area, going through duplicate auction catalogs, and cataloging publications. Although we were only able to participate for three of the five days, we found it to be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. As one of the trustees of the APRL I found it to be a particularly valuable opportunity. On the receiving end volunteers were treated to an exceptional tour of the American Philatelic Center by APS Executive Director Ken Martin which included both current space and future space. We were able to meet many of the great staff members at both APS and APRL. Tara Murray, APRL Director of Information and Librarian, gave library volunteers a tour of the special collections and research tools of the library. In addition to other volunteer tasks, I had the opportunity to sit in with library staff on some of the discussions of plans for expanded space for APRL at the American Philatelic Center complex. I highly recommend Volunteer Week at the American Philatelic Center as an opportunity to give and to receive in behalf of philately.

Owney, the Railway Mail Service Mascot

RMSL Photograph of Owney













PHF Postmark

On July 27 the United States Postal Service will issue a postage stamp commemorating Owney, the dog that became the unofficial mascot of the Railway Mail Service in the late 19th century. A number of philatelic organizations are taking this opportunity to promote stamp collecting to a wider audience. The National Postal Museum is undertaking an especially aggressive effort in this regard. The American Philatelic Society has created an Owney Resouce Page on its website to promote this event. The Railway Mail Service Library (RMSL)in Boyce, VA owns a photograph of Owney taken in Pittsfield, MA after arriving from New York City on the Pittsfield & Bridgeport RPO. The RMSL has created a postcard using their photograph of Owney and are selling the postcards on eBay. The Postal History Foundation and its Slusser Library in Tucson are celebrating the release of the Owney stamp by having a children’s party and stamp unveiling on July 27th. The party will include activities for the kids and a storyteller recounting the tale of Owney. They are also selling a cachet and have produced a special postmark for the day.

Happy National Train Day

Railway postal clerk on parcel post stamp

 It is National Train Day and a good opportunity to comment on railway mail service information resources. Most of our philatelic libraries including the American Philatelic Research Library have books and periodicals relating to the railway mail service. The Railway Mail Service Library (RMSL) in Boyce, VA is a virtual treasure trove of research materials and artifacts related to the railway mail service. I wrote a previous blog post on the RMSL. The Mobile Post Office Society is devoted to the study of mobile mail including railway mail, and has several publications on this topic. The National Postal Museum of the Smithsonian Institution has a section of its website devoted to the railway mail service. It also has an online exhibit titled “Mail by Rail”.  One of the museum’s most popular exhibits is about Owney, the dog that served as the mascot of the Railway Mail Service. Searching the Hathi Trust Digital Library, an enormous collection of online digitized publications, using the term “railway mail service” links to a number of publications, many in full text. The National Archives has indexes to rosters of railway postal clerks from 1883 to 1902. Happy National Train Day.

Mauritius Ball Covers Together at The British Library

Michael Sefi (left) and David Beech of the British Library with the three "Ball covers"

David Beech, Curator and Head of the Philatelic Collections at the British Library, provided the following information about a philatelic first. 

“In February, Michael Sefi, the Keeper of The Royal Philatelic Collection, visited the British Library Philatelic Collections. The occasion for his visit was to bring together the only three known Mauritius “Ball” envelopes, one from the Royal Philatelic Collection, one from the British Library’s Tapling Collection, and one that is currently on loan to the British Library that belongs to Mr. Vikram Chand. The “Ball” covers are so called because they each bear an example of the Mauritius 1847 “Post Office” issue 1d orange-red and are understood to have been used to send invitations or admittance cards for a Ball being given by Lady Gomm the wife of the Governor at Government House, Port Louis on 30th September 1847. This is the first time that all three surviving Ball covers have been together in the same place.”

A closer view of the Mauritius Ball cover in the British Library’s Tapling Collection.

Slusser Memorial Philatelic Library Visit

Charlotte Cushman, Librarian, and Larry Nix in front of Arizona postal history display













On a reecent Southwest trip my wife and I were able to visit the Postal History Foundation complex in Tucson, Arizona.  On our visit we were treated to a personalized tour of the library building by Charlotte Cushman, the librarian, and a tour of the main Foundation building by Paul Nelson.  The Peggy J. Slusser Memorial Philatelic Library was of particular interest to me. It is housed in its own building which was designed specifically as a philatelic library. I am not aware of another instance in which this has occurred.  The building was designed by architect Les Wallach and dedicated in 1996. It is one of 40 libraries in the U.S. featured in the book Architecture for the Books by Michael J. Crosbie which was published in 2003.  In addition to its book and periodical collection devoted to philately, the library has an extensive collection of materials related to the Civil War. I wrote an earlier post about the Postal History Foundation and the Slusser Library, and it was really great to see this organization and its facilities in person. More photos follow.

New York Collectors Club Library’s First Online Treasure

Bruce Marsden, APRL Board Member and Librarian for the New York Collectors Club Library, reports the posting to the Collectors Club’s website of the first scanned copy of a rare, out-of-print, publication from its collection. The library has posted the 1842 first edition of Messr. Waghorn & Co.’s Overland Guide to India by Four Routes to Egypt [pdf]. The library’s catalog notes indicate that this may be a unique volume and it is the predecessor to the 1846 second edition owned by Oxford’s Bodleian library which is available online through Google Books. Marsden indicates that his first reaction on finding it on the library’s shelves was to question why the library would have an early travel guide, but he learned that Thomas Waghorn’s real claim to fame was the opening of the route which shortened the time the post required to journey between England and colonial India. Prior to establishing an overland link from Alexandria to Suez, mail and passengers from England to India had to travel around Cape Horn, a much longer and riskier journey. Marsden encourages everyone to take a look at the Collector Club’s first experiment in the online distribution of a digital publication. Feedback and suggestions are invited.