Postal History Discovery in the Archives

Registry Receipt
1904, Post Office Record of a Registered Letter from Aaronsburg, Pennsylvania to St. Louis

 

Coincidently with Larry’s posting about October being Archives month I stopped in Bellefonte, on my way home from attending the Postal History Symposium, to examine an archival collection at the American Philatelic Research Library. It consists of ledgers and official papers from the Aaronsburg, Pennsylvania Post Office spanning the 1890s until the early 1940s. As this gift had not yet been fully processed, I offered to inventory the materials and help prepare a finding aid in exchange for being able to peruse the two boxes.  

Not only do I expect to use some of these materials with a Summer Seminar class that I will be offering on U.S. Post Office forms. But, I also found an opportunity for more research on the role of Registered Mail in rural America. While a single form may shed light on the handling of a particular piece of mail, a Post Office ledger or collection of forms can reveal much about the operation of an individual post office and perhaps provide a window into postal operations more generally. Several years ago, I made an in-depth examination of a Registry Book from the Post Office in Stony Hill, Missouri that allowed me to draw conclusions about commerce in rural American two decades before RFD and three before Parcel Post. Since publishing that article, I have sought other Registry Books to test whether my conclusions are valid for other locations, economic conditions, and time periods. My cursory examination of the single Registry Book in this collection suggests that Registered Mail served a different function in Aaronsburg in the first decade of the 20th century than it did in Stony Hill in the 1880s.  

There are no doubt other undiscovered archival gems at the APRL. We expect to begin posting finding aids online next year; volunteers interested in helping should contact Tara. In the mean time, you are welcome to discuss your research projects with the library staff to learn what resources might available to support your projects.

Postal History Foundation Celebrates 50th Anniversary

Postal History Foundation Building

 

On Saturday, October 23rd the Postal History Foundation in Tucson, Arizona will have an open house as part of the celebration of its 50th anniversary.  The open house will include special exhibits, tours, activities for children, a book sale of philatelic literature, and special cachets. The Postal History Foundation was founded in 1960 by William (Bill) Alexander who moved to Tucson from Pittsburgh, PA where he had been Curator of Postal History and Stamps at the Carnegie Museum. Originally, the Postal History Foundation was called the Western Postal History Museum and was a department in what is now the Arizona Historical Society. The name change to Postal History Foundation occurred in 1990 to reflect a broader mission. That mission is to “is to promote an appreciation of stamp collecting and postal history through the preservation of philatelic collections, literature and documents, and the enhancement of youth education using stamps as teaching tools.”  In October, 1996 a new library building opened with the assistance of a grant of $750,000 from the family of Peggy J. Slusser. The library is named the Peggy J. Slusser Memorial Philatelic Library. The library houses a collection of over 30,000 books, journals, catalogs, photos, maps, and other reference items related to the philatelic history of the United States, especially the Western States, U.S. postal history and worldwide philatelic history.  With the hiring of Librarian/Archivist Charlotte Cushman the library has moved aggressively to automate its catalog and to digitize parts of its collection. Through an innovative federal grant the library’s catalog is available online as part of Pima County Public Library’s catalog (note: to get to the Postal History Foundation Collection, use the drop down menu on the search bar). It was great to meet and talk to Charlotte at StampShow 2010 in Richmond. More about the library’s special collections in later posts.

What's an archives?

Washington National Records Center Stack Area with Employee Servicing RecordsAs Larry mentioned in an earlier post, October is American Archives Month.

If you’re not familiar with archives, you might wonder what they are, exactly. The Smithsonian Institution Archives is celebrating American Archives Month with a series of blog posts on archives, and one from the Visual Archives blog, The Bigger Picture, offers an explanation of archives.

Read the explanation and find out why my post title is not as grammatically incorrect as it might seem!

Stay tuned for another post with a glimpse into the archives at the American Philatelic Research Library…

Rocky Mountain Philatelic Library

I’m envious of those of you who are located at a reasonable distance from a dedicated philatelic library. Although the services of the American Philatelic Research Library (APRL) are available remotely to both members of the American Philatelic Society and non-members, there’s no substitute for using a library collection in person. One of my sons and his family are located in Longmont, Colorado and as a result I’ve become a member of the Rocky Mountain Philatelic Library (RMPL) in Denver. I try to visit the library whenever I’m in the area, and I have been extremely impressed with their operation.  Although the RMPL is an all volunteer operation, they have benefited greatly from the services of retired librarian Ellengail Beuthel.  The library’s catalog is accessible online through their website which has been recently revamped. The RMPL is also one of the libraries that is participating in the APRL’s online union catalog. Regular membership in the RMPL is $15 but the $25 contributing membership allows you to borrow books from the library including through the mail.  One of the great features of their website is access to the current issue and back issues of  their outstanding newsletter Scribblings.  Recently the library has greatly expanded its space by purchasing and remodeling an adjacent building. If you’re in the Denver area pay a visit to this very welcoming library, and if not, visit them online.

October is Archives Month

October is National Stamp Collecting Month. It is also American Archives Month, and archival institutions around the nation are taking this opportunity to promote their collections. In Wisconsin we’re using the theme Postcard Wisconsin to celebrate Archives Month. Archival records can be valuable resources for the philatelic researcher and we hope to highlight selected archival collections in future posts on this blog. The National Postal Museum Library is home to a number of special archival collections and it is beginning to develop online finding aids for these collections. One of the collections is the archives of the Third Assistant Postmaster General’s Office which 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. On a personal note, I bring stamps and archives together with my collection of archives and archivists on postage stamps.