Collecting History: 125 Years of the National Philatelic Collection

 

CURATORS OF THE NATIONAL PHILATELIC COLLECTION
1913 TO PRESENT

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Joseph Britton Leavy
1913-1921
Catherine Lemmon Manning
1922-1951
Franklin Richard Bruns, Jr.
1951-1957; 1972-1979
Francis J. McCall
1957-1963
George Townsend Turner
1958-1963
Carl H Scheele
1959-1963; 1971-1977
Reidar Norby
1966-1988
James H. Bruns
1984-1997
Woodrow Wilson Hulme
2002-2007
Cheryl R. Ganz
2005-2014
Daniel A. Piazza
2008-Present
 
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“The National Philatelic Collection is entrusted to the Smithsonian
but it belongs to every American.”
~Cheryl R. Ganz, Chief Curator of Philately, 2010
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    CURATOR BIOGRAPHIES
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Joseph Leavy
Joseph B. Leavy

JOSEPH BRITTON LEAVY
March 7, 1872—July 25, 1921

 

In 1913, the Smithsonian’s U.S. National Museum advertised for a professional philatelist to organize the massive stamp collection it had received from the Post Office Department the previous year. Joseph Leavy, a well-known and accomplished stamp collector from New York City, applied and emerged first on the list of eligible candidates. He accepted the position at a salary of $100 per month.

 

As “Government Philatelist,” Leavy devoted the next eight years to building the Smithsonian’s collection through strategic exchanges, which allowed him to cull duplicate material while filling gaps in the collection. He prepared a catalogue of the National Museum’s collection, Catalogue of the Postage Stamps and Stamped Envelopes of the United States and Possessions Issued to January 1, 1919, in order to encourage donations of material needed to complete the collection.

 

Leavy mounted the collection and displayed it in specially built frames in the northwest court of the National Museum Building (known today as the Arts and Industries Building) in 1914. The goal, he wrote, was a “magnificent and lavish arrangement” so attractive that “no philatelist who comes to Washington is worthy of the name unless he pays a visit.” It became one of the museum’s most popular exhibits, and many of the pages he mounted were on display well into the 1960s.

 
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Catherine Manning
Catherine L. Manning

CATHERINE LEMMON MANNING
January 24, 1881—April 14, 1957

 

A native of Washington, Catherine Manning worked for the stamp dealer John Murray Bartels in the 1890s. When Bartels sold his business to Hamilton F. Colman in 1898, Manning joked that Colman inherited her along with the furniture and stockbooks. At work in Colman’s office on May 14, 1918, she answered a frantic telephone call from William T. Robey and became one of the first philatelists to learn about Robey’s purchase of a full sheet of the spectacular Inverted Jenny airmail error stamps.

 

Mrs. Manning’s philosophy that “it is better to generalize than specialize” determined the National Philatelic Collection’s trajectory from the time she succeeded Joseph Leavy as Government Philatelist in 1922 until her retirement in 1951. She organized the collection, processed thousands of specimens received from the Universal Postal Union and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, published articles, exhibited, and participated widely in the philatelic community, carving a place of distinction in the hobby. The philatelic collection quickly became the largest in the division of history, and in 1943 it was reorganized as a division in its own right. Manning was given the title Assistant Curator, becoming the first woman to achieve that rank in the Smithsonian outside of the sciences.

 

In a visionary speech before the first American Philatelic Congress in 1935, Catherine Manning shared her dream for a “great philatelic center in Washington.” She said, “I can picture it in my imagination with exhibition galleries, library, offices, committee rooms, and an auditorium.” Her dream became reality in 1993 with the opening of the National Postal Museum.

 
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Franklin Bruns, Jr.
Franklin R. Bruns, Jr.

FRANKLIN R. BRUNS, JR.
May 15, 1912-March 24, 1979

 

Stamp collectors worldwide still recognize the name Franklin R. Bruns, Jr. He was the quintessential promoter—a prolific journalist and speaker with a passion for stamps. Equally at ease writing for both popular and advanced philatelists, he devoted his entire adult life to educating the public about the instructive value and joy of collecting stamps.

 

Bruns became the Smithsonian’s philatelic curator when Catherine Manning retired in 1951. His six years as curator witnessed the collection’s remarkable growth. A former newspaperman with a flair for turning a phrase, Bruns articulated his vision for a “National Philatelic Collection” and was the first to use that term regularly. Where his predecessors collected rather passively, mostly depending on transfers of material from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the Post Office Department, Bruns aggressively solicited the philatelic holdings of other government agencies. During his curatorship, he negotiated the Library of Congress’s transfer of the Clarence H. Eagle and Ernest R. Ackerman collections of U.S. essays and proofs and duplicate volumes from the extensive Frederick J. Melville library.

 

He left the Smithsonian in 1957 to become director of the Post Office Department’s division of philately. He returned to the National Philatelic Collection as Associate Curator in 1972 and was Supervising Curator at the time of his death on March 24, 1979.

 
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Francis McCall
Francis J. McCall

FRANCIS J. McCALL
January 13, 1909—July 20, 1963

 

Francis J. (“Frank”) McCall spent his brief career at the Smithsonian planning the National Philatelic Collection’s move from the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building, where it had been displayed for half a century, to the new National Museum of History and Technology. During those years he served as assistant curator (1957-62) and as associate curator in charge (1962-63).

 

McCall completed the Library of Congress transfers initiated by Frank Bruns, and sought additional philatelic materials from governmental agencies such as the Post Office Department and Government Printing Office. He also cultivated private donors. He was especially successful at securing donations of specialized foreign collections, including Leroy W. Christenson’s collections of China and Japan and Sidney N. Shure’s Israel and Palestine.

 
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George Turner
George T. Turner

GEORGE T. TURNER
February 11, 1906—August 14, 1979

 

George T. Turner, acting curator of the Smithsonian Institution’s philatelic collection from 1959 until 1962, owned the greatest private philatelic library ever assembled. He purchased the fine libraries of other bibliophiles, who, in turn, had incorporated other libraries into their own. For instance, Turner acquired William C. Stone’s library, through which he acquired the libraries of William R. Ricketts, W. R. King, Roland King-Farlow, and Ralph Kimble.

 

Through Turner’s bequest, the Smithsonian Institution received the Turner library’s finest items, totaling over 3,000 books and related material. This acquisition forms the core of the Smithsonian National Postal Museum’s library. It included Turner’s card catalog as well as Ralph A. Kimble’s subject index to philatelic articles that had appeared in the philatelic press, 1935-1950.

 
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Carl Scheele
Carl H. Scheele

CARL H. SCHEELE
June 19, 1928—September 29, 1995

 

George Turner’s departure and Frank McCall’s death left Carl H. Scheele as the Smithsonian’s only philatelic curator when plans for the Hall of Philately and Postal History at the new Museum of History and Technology came to fruition. He oversaw the collection’s move from the Arts and Industries Building, where it had been housed for half a century, to its quarters on the third floor of the new museum. Although the first floor of the Museum of History and Technology opened to the public on January 22, 1964, the Hall of Philately and Postal History remained under construction until September, when it was dedicated during that year’s NAPEX stamp show.

 

The most significant philatelic acquisition of Scheele’s curatorship was the unique “Balloon Jupiter” letter carried on Professor John Wise’s 1859 hot-air balloon flight between Lafayette and Crawfordsville, Indiana. Written by Mary A. Webb of Lafayette to New York City lawyer W. H. Munn, the letter is the sole surviving example of 123 first-class letters carried on this flight and is regarded as the world’s first authorized airmail. Scheele purchased it for the collection at auction on November 4, 1964, using private funds donated for the acquisition of airmail material.

 
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Reidar Norby
Reidar (“RAY”) Norby

REIDAR (“RAY”) NORBY
July 14, 1919—August 15, 1993

 

Reidar Norby served as assistant curator under Carl Scheele (1966-1972) and associate curator under Franklin R. Bruns, Jr., and James H. Bruns (1972-1988). He served as the museum’s curator-in-charge of foreign collections; in addition to English, Norby spoke Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, and German. During his tenure, the museum acquired the notable French Napoleonic Collection as well as early issues of Palestine, Liberia, Russia, and Germany. He helped select the volumes from the George T. Turner library, bequeathed to the museum in Turner’s will, which form the core of the National Postal Museum Library. In 1970, he curated a major exhibit of Scandinavian stamps and postal history in cooperation with all the Scandinavian nations.

 
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James Bruns
James H. Bruns

JAMES H. BRUNS

 

James Bruns served as curator of the National Philatelic Collection from 1983 until 1997 and as its director from 1987 and 2000. He laid the groundwork for the National Postal Museum through vigorous fundraising. In 1999, he established the Blount Center for Postal Studies with a grant from Winton M. Blount, former postmaster general.

 

Throughout his career, Bruns published many books related to postal history, including The First Highway Post Office (1985), Collection and Distribution Wagon Service (1986), and Reaching Rural America (1997). He edited Specimens of Stamped Envelopes and Wrappers of the United States and co-edited the Index of Postal Stationery. Between 1981 and 1983, he edited The United States Specialist, the journal of the Bureau Issues Association.

 
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W. Wilson Hulme
W. Wilson Hulme

WOODROW WILSON HULME
June 14, 1946—January 10, 2007

 

Wilson Hulme transformed the Smithsonian National Postal Museum after nearly a decade during which it suffered from lack of philatelic direction. During his five years as philatelic curator (2002-2007), he inspired a break with the past and a vision that saw the museum as the heart of the philatelic universe.

 

Soon after taking his position, Hulme planned the museum’s first significant philatelic exhibit in thirty years, The 1847s: America’s First Stamps. He went on to orchestrate the exhibition of other remarkable collections, all loaned from other institutions—among them Queen Elizabeth II’s Royal Philatelic Collection, The New York Public Library’s Benjamin K. Miller Collection, and materials from the U.S. Postmaster General’s Collection. Each attracted thousands, as did John Lennon’s childhood stamp album, which Hulme purchased for the collection and exhibited in 2005.

 
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Cheryl Ganz
Cheryl R. Ganz

CHERYL R. GANZ
(born 1950)

 

Cheryl R. Ganz, Ph.D., became Chief Curator of Philately at the National Postal Museum upon W. Wilson Hulme’s death in 2007. By curating exhibits that appeal to popular audiences, she enlarged Hulme’s vision of making philatelic treasures accessible to collectors. She led the museum curatorial, script, and content teams in creating the William H. Gross Stamp Gallery, which opened in September 2013. Her pioneering vision, as is evident in the new gallery, places stamps and mail in historical context and uses narratives and artifacts to complement the stamps.

 

Exhibitions, web stories, and catalogs that Ganz curated or wrote include Rarity Revealed: The Benjamin K. Miller Collection; Delivering Hope: FDR & Stamps of the Great Depression; Fire & Ice: Hindenburg and Titanic; Favorite Finds; and Pacific Exchange: China & U.S. Mail. She received the Smithsonian Secretary’s Research Award for the best research book of the year in 2011. In 2014, she edited and contributed to the book Every Stamp Tells a Story: The National Philatelic Collection. SI Secretary Wayne Clough recognized Ganz with the title Curator of Philately Emerita.

 

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Daniel Piazza
Daniel A. Piazza

DANIEL A. PIAZZA
(born 1977)

 

Daniel A. Piazza came to the National Postal Museum in February 2007 as the Winton Blount Chair in Research. He moved into the assistant curator’s position one year later, becoming the youngest person ever to hold a curatorial position in the collection’s history. 

 

He co-curated (with Cheryl R. Ganz) Delivering Hope: FDR & Stamps of the Great Depression, and co-authored its companion publications. His current exhibit is Collecting History: 125 Years of the National Philatelic Collection, on view until January 2012. Later that year, he and Ganz will open a co-curated exhibit tentatively titled Fire and Ice: Hindenburg and Titanic.

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