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.

New Vaccari Catalog

Vaccari CatalogThis weekend I received Vaccari’s 28th philatelic literature catalog, la Libreria Filatelica, in the mail. In addition to the sections on Italian States and the Italian Kingdom and Republic, the scope of the catalog is international with a strong European emphasis. The major sections include catalogs, dictionaries & handbooks, airmail, military, colonies & occupations, rates & regulations, revenues, thematics, postcards, and numismatics; plus a section for used and rare titles. At the back, tete-beche style, is their third catalog of general history titles, again heavily Italian and European.

Not only booksellers, but also as publishers and scholars, Paulo Vaccari sets such high standards for research and printing quality in his own titles that I regret never having learned Italian. Also, for over 20 years they have published the award winning Vaccari Magazine, a semi-annual postal history journal.

They continually update the electronic version of the Vaccari catalog with much of it bilingual, Italian and English. Their web site also includes press releases and a philatelic news blog in Italian.

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…

Postal History in Georgetown

C&O Canal BoatOn Saturday after the Postal History Symposium, my daughter Helen and I lunched in Georgetown before we toured the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Park. This engineering project began in 1828, where Rock Creek meets the Potomac River, with the goal of creating a link to the Ohio River. Had the canal been finished, it would have created a navigable waterway from Chesapeake Bay to Missoula, Montana. However, by 1850 as railroads began to dominate transportation and communication, the canal had been dug only 184 miles to Cumberland, Maryland where it ends today, far short of the Ohio River. As we rode the replica canal boat, pulled by a pair of mules at 2 miles-per-hour, past the historic factories and mills that now house trendy restaurants and boutiques, I mused about the mail contractors who once traveled the towpath to serve Post Offices along the canal.

Bartleby's BooksAfterwards we stopped at Bartleby’s Books on 29th Street. Although they had only a couple philatelic titles in stock, I did not get the puzzled looks that so often greet requests for our literature. And, when I asked Karen Griffin, one of the owners, for postal history and Post Office documents she graciously searched their pamphlets and ephemera stock. The find of the day was the 1794 edition of the Postal Laws and Regulations containing the Post Office Act of 1794, 14 pages of “Regulations to be Observed by the Deputy Postmasters in the United States,” a table of Post-Roads from Passamaquoddy, Maine to Greensborough, Georgia, and 8 sample post office forms showing their correct use. This store certainly warrants a return visit.

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.

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. 

Continue reading “Attending the Postal History Symposium”

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.