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Smithsonian National Postal Museum


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Exhibits


The National Postal Museum is divided into galleries that explore America's postal history from colonial times to the present. Visitors learn how mail has been transported, emphasize the importance of letters, and spotlight the creation and wondrous diversity of postage stamps.






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    Exhibits Home   |   Current   |   Upcoming   |   Past   |   Virtual  
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Current Exhibits
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Exhibit logo

Pacific Exchange: China & U.S. Mail
March 6, 2014 – January 4, 2015

This exhibit looks at the relationship of the two countries through the study of stamps and mail. The sections about commerce and culture focus on the decades between 1860 and 1980, including very rare proofs of stamps from the China Bureau of Engraving and Printing (1912-1928). The section on community tells the story of Chinese Americans from the Gold Rush to today’s celebration of Lunar New Year.

     
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Stamp Gallery design

The William H. Gross Stamp Gallery
September 22, 2013 - Permanent

William H. Gross, the founder of PIMCO and a stamp collector, has donated $10 million to the National Postal Museum to create a new 12,000-square-foot gallery that was named in his honor. The new gallery opened on September 22, 2013.

     
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World of Stamps Gallery

World of Stamps
September 22, 2013 - Permanent

As visitors step into this introductory gallery, a display of oversized stamps and video monitors grabs their attention. Video images bring stamps to life and pique curiosity through questions that are answered as visitors explore the surrounding displays.

Visitors encounter the world’s first postage stamp—the 1840 Penny Black, with its profile of young Queen Victoria—and learn how it revolutionized communication. Stamp images—including the Nicaraguan volcano that influenced the location of the Panama Canal, Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the top–selling 1993 Elvis! stamp, and the stamp that helped raise almost $72 million dollars for breast cancer research—illustrate how stamps have shaped history and honored people and places worldwide.

     
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The William H. Gross Stamp Gallery

Gems of American Philately
September 22, 2013 - Permanent

In this dramatically lit space, visitors have the privilege of examining 13 of the most rare and highly valued gems in the world of philately—including the most famous U.S. stamp of all, the 1918 Inverted Jenny. An immersive video explains why the Inverted Jenny and other stamps displayed here are philatelic gems.

The treasures in this area are rarely available for public viewing. Each tells a story about a significant milestone in U.S. history—from one of the surviving revenue stamp proofs of the 1765 Stamp Act that so infuriated the American colonists, to a lunar mail cover postmarked on the Moon by astronaut Dave Scott in 1971.

     
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The William H. Gross Stamp Gallery

Mail Marks History
September 22, 2013 - Permanent

The markings on mail provide valuable clues to the surprising ways mail has been transported over time, including challenges and even disasters encountered along the way. Visitors learn to decipher these markings through an interactive experience in which they trace the journeys of three historic letters by analyzing different kinds of mail markings.

At wall displays supplemented by exhibit frames, visitors investigate markings on mail transported on land and across seas, by air and in space. Among the many historic artifacts on view are a 1390 Silk Road letter, a letter mailed aboard Titanic during its first and only voyage, Amelia Earhart’s brown leather flight suit, a mailbox remnant from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and a mailbox from 9-11.

     
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The William H. Gross Stamp Gallery

Connect with U.S. Stamps
September 22, 2013 - Permanent

In this highly interactive area, visitors are immersed in examples of how stamp content, design, and production have changed over time and how modern U.S. stamps reflect the nation’s identity. Here, too, visitors explore their own connections with stamps. At three touchscreen tables, they sort through the National Postal Museum’s collection and create their own stamp collection based on the topics that interest them most. Nearby are stations where visitors can create their own stamp designs.

Visitors also have the chance to view videos in which stamp designers talk about their craft, stamp collectors explain what they collect and why, and footage shows how stamps are produced.

     
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The William H. Gross Stamp Gallery

National Stamp Salon
September 22, 2013 - Permanent

Here, philatelists and other interested visitors have access to some of the great U.S. collections owned by the National Postal Museum or on loan from other institutions. 275 pullout frames display tens of thousands of stamps and pieces of mail from the National Philatelic Collection along with the Postmaster General’s and Benjamin K. Miller collections. A large case displays medals, handstamps, dies, and other historic artifacts from the National Philatelic Collection.

A touchscreen interactive links visitors to the National Postal Museum’s online research database, Arago, enabling them to easily find more information about the stamps and mail that interest them.

     
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The William H. Gross Stamp Gallery

Stamps Around the Globe
September 22, 2013 - Permanent

International stamps make up more than half of the National Postal Museum’s collections. At interactive displays flanking a large globe, visitors explore examples of how stamps reflect their countries of origin and connect people, places, and cultures worldwide.

One display showcases some of the most scarce and famous stamps from 24 countries on six continents. Nearby, 50 pullout frames present more than 700 stamps—one from every country that has ever produced stamps, including many countries that no longer exist.

Other pullout frames feature changing displays of stamps from the museum’s international vaults, encouraging visitors to return and sample more of the diversity of these vast collections.

     
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Systems at Work

Systems at Work
December 14, 2011 – Permanent

You drop a letter in a mailbox and then what happens? You receive mail at home or the office—how does it get there? The answer to these questions unfolds in the Systems at Work gallery. Systems at Work recreates the paths of letters, magazines, parcels, and other mail as they travel from sender to recipient over the last 200 years.
     
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Mail Call

Mail Call
November 10, 2011 – Permanent

Soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen anxiously awaiting mail delivery is a familiar scene from movies, newsreels, and documentary photographs. Mail call is the moment when the frontline and home front connect. This exhibition tells the history of military mail from the American Revolution to 2010: How does this mail reach its destination? What roles does it play? Why does it influence morale? The exhibition explores the great lengths taken to set up and operate postal services under extraordinary circumstances. It also features letters that reveal the expressions, emotions, and events of the time. On the battlefront and at home, mail provides a vital communication link between military service personnel, their communities, and their loved ones.
     
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Pony Express rider   Pony Express: Romance vs. Reality
April 3, 2010 - Permanent

This exhibition examines fictional and actual stories from the history of the world's best known mail carriers.
     
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Alphabetilately exhibit logo

Alphabetilately
September 26, 2008 –January 31, 2015

This exhibition presents an alphabet of philately through 26 topics, in which each letter stands for some aspect of stamp collecting or the sending of mail.
     
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Curtiss Jenny carrying mail for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, takes off from the polo grounds near the Potomac River in Washington, DC

Airmail in America
February 22, 2006 – Permanent

This exhibition examines the critical role the postal system played in the creation of America's commercial aviation industry and features the pilots and early aircraft that made it possible.
     
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Dogsled carrying mail

Networking a Nation: Star Route Service
February 21, 2006 – Permanent

This exhibition explores Star Routes -- a new mail service established in 1845 when the Postal Service began hiring contractors to use the most appropriate and efficient methods of transportation to carry the mail.
     
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An automobile mail wagon manufactured by the Winton Company of Cleveland, Ohio

On the Road
December 23, 2004 – Permanent

Featuring a 1931 Model A Ford Parcel Post truck and a contemporary Long Life Vehicle mail truck, this exhibition explores the history of city mail vehicles -- from the first tests in 1899 to the present.
     
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Entrance to Binding the Nation exhibit

Binding the Nation
July 30, 1993 - Permanent

This gallery provides an overview of mail service in America from colonial times through the 19th century, stressing the importance of written communication in the young nation.
     
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Serving the Cities is one of the exhibits in this gallery

Customers and Communities
July 30, 1993 - Permanent

This gallery focuses on the modern changes in mail service introduced at the turn of the 20th century.
     
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Moving the Mail atrium exhibit at the Museum

Moving the Mail
July 30, 1993 - Permanent

Faced with the challenge of moving the mail quickly, the postal service looked to trains, automobiles, airplanes, and buses to deliver the mail.
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