Attending the Postal History Symposium

Jack Trammell
Jack Trammell presenting at the Postal History Symposium

Last Thursday, I completed an eleven-day philatelic road trip that included the fifth annual Postal History Symposium and a stop in Bellefonte to prepare for next year’s Summer Seminar. This will be the first of several postings related to the trip. 

Rather than various aspects of postal operations and reform that have occupied previous symposia, the speakers this year examined stamps from the perspective of “Imagery, Icons, & Identity.” To answer the frequently asked question of how the USPS selects stamp designs, John Hotchner led off the symposium with a history of the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC), on which he served for 12 years. Most interesting to me was to learn that when Postmaster General Arthur E. Summerfield established CSAC in 1957 the committee included a representative from the U.S. Information Agency to advise on stamp designs for Cold War propaganda. This probably accounts for the Champions of Liberty and Credo issues. 

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My first stamp

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Winton M. Blount Postal History Symposium at the National Postal Museum in Washington, DC.

If you’ve read my introduction in the most recent issue (3rd quarter 2010) of the Philatelic Literature Review, you know I’m not a stamp collector — but thanks to the symposium, I have my first stamp.

Walt Whitman stampSteven Rod started off his presentation (“The Case of Thirty-five Esthetic and Political Messages: the Famous Americans of 1940”) by handing everyone in the audience a card with a Famous American stamp mounted on it. He paired us up, and had us talk about our stamp with a partner.

I was neither a stamp collector nor a historian, and my partner was from Denmark, but we nevertheless had an engaging conversation about the stamps’ designs.

Steven then began his talk about the stamps, shedding light on the issues we had discussed.

I was not the only non-collector in the room — the symposium drew a mixed crowd of philatelists, historians, museum professionals, and at least one librarian. Steven’s introduction got us all talking to each other.

At the end of his talk, Steven invited us to keep the stamps, which were duplicates from his collection: “For those of you who are not collectors, this can be your first stamp.”

Steven’s slides can be downloaded in PDF format from the symposium website.

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.

New Swiss handbook released

The American Helvetia Philatelic Society (AHPS) has released a wonderful introduction to Swiss philately with 32 chapters that cover the expected topics like classic cantonal issues and airmail – as well as topics like Hotel Post and Soldier Stamps that are particularly Swiss. Each attractively laid-out chapter was written by a different collector who specializes in the area, under the editorship of Richard T. Hall. If you are searching for a new collecting area, the book provides collecting tips and guidance for beginning collectors of Switzerland. At the same time, it will be an important reference work for experienced collectors. One of the valuable reference tools is the multilingual philatelic dictionary on CD. This 352-page, full color, hardbound volume with dust jacket, including the CD is $65 post-paid from the AHPS.

Smithsonian Publishes Postal History

Postal History Symposia bookAlthough the title – Smithsonian Contributions to History and Technology, No. 55: The Winton M. Blount Postal History Symposia: select papers, 2006-2009 – is rather ponderous and academic sounding, the latest volume from the Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press is a lively collection of essays that examine postal history within the larger contexts of social, political, and economic history. The 16 not previously published essays, by 18 authors, were selected from over 60 papers presented at the first four Postal History Symposia: three from 2006 “What is Postal History?”; a single from 2007 “Further, Farther, Faster: Transportation Technology and the Mail”; four from 2008 “When the Mail Goes to War”; and half the volume from last year’s “Postal Reform” conference at the Match Factory in Bellefonte. Full disclosure – the final essay in volume is mine, “Cheap Postage: A Tool for Social Reform.” Considerable credit goes to Tom Lera, at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum (NPM), for orchestrating and editing this volume.

The 170-page, soft bound, full color volume is available free from the Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press – click on the Ordering Link and follow the instructions for sending an e-mail request at the bottom of the page; be sure to request “Contributions to History and Technology, No. 55.” Or, you may download the full text as a pdf file.

The Postal History Symposia are an annual project of the NPM along with the American Philatelic Research Library, and the American Philatelic Society. They were conceived as a venue for bringing together philatelic and academic postal historians, allowing them to interact and share their research. One measure of success is that seven of the 18 authors in this volume are academic or public historians, who do not collect stamps. The next symposia, “Stamps and Mail: Imagery, Icons, & Propaganda” is September 30th and October 1st at the National Postal Museum.

Introducing Larry Nix

Larry NixI’m looking forward to being a regular contributor to the new blog of the American Philatelic Research Library (APRL).  The blog format for communicating information is well established in the virtual world of the Internet, and I’m confident that it will be an effective way for the APRL to assist philatelists in the study of a broad range of philatelic topics. I’m a current member of the APRL Board of Trustees, and I write the “Library News” column for the Philatelic Literature Review (PLR). Unfortunately, the news in the “Library News” column is often old news because of the quarterly format of PLR. Currency is one of the major advantages of the blog format.  Part of my enthusiasm for the blog format stems from my experience in maintaining the Library History Buff Blog and and the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center blog and website.  I have an interest in philatelic libraries and museums other than the APRL and this will be a focus of some of my future contributions to the blog.  My primary collecting interest is an area which I call postal librariana.  I have developed several philatelic exhibits featuring libraries and usually enter these exhibits in the Display Division. My interest in libraries stems from a career as a librarian (now retired) which started almost 48 years ago.  As the blog proceeds, I hope my interests in philately and libraries will result in some useful and interesting posts for the readers of this blog.

Introducing David Straight

David StraightGood Morning!

The sun is coming up in St. Louis – this is my time of day – the quiet, early morning before phones ring and e-mail announces new messages. Libby, our rescued poodle mix, is napping in front my armchair after a dawn walk.

Perhaps, you already know me through my Colophon column in the Philatelic Literature Review, or an article in one of the magazines where I share my stamps and covers. In any event, I would like to say a few words about my plans for this blog, my collecting interests, and my non-stamp background.

Writing a news column for a quarterly journal has always been frustrating because of the long gaps between issues. The plan is that my blog posts will complement, not replace, the Colophon. Blog posts will allow me to share news about book releases, literature awards, and research opportunities in a timely fashion as I discover them. In the Colophon, I will strive to provide information in greater depth and perhaps review some of the books announced. No doubt, it will take a little time to strike the proper balance between the two media; hopefully the relationship will evolve in response to readers’ comments.

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Welcome to Philatelic Literature & Research

Tara MurrayWelcome to Philatelic Literature & Research, the blog of the American Philatelic Research Library. This blog supplements the library’s quarterly journal, the Philatelic Literature Review, bringing you the latest news about philatelic literature and research, as well as brief items of interest from the APRL.

I am the librarian at the American Philatelic Research Library, and I will keep you updated on the very latest happenings here at the library and offer tips for using our resources.

I’ve only been working at the APRL since July, so I am busy learning about philately and exploring the wonderful collection here in Bellefonte, PA. Follow along with me as I get to know the literature and uncover hidden treasures in our collection.

If you have questions or comments, you can post them here on the blog, or see the APRL website for contact information.

My co-bloggers, Larry Nix and David Straight, will introduce themselves soon.