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…
On 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.
Afterwards 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.
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.
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.
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.
Steven 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 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.
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.
Although 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.
I’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.
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.