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National Postal Museum

Smithsonian National Postal Museum


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About the Museum




Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)






About the Museum


Does the Museum ever purchase stamp collections?

Does the Museum provide tours?

How can I become an intern at the Museum?

How can I view stamps that are not on display?

How do I arrange to do research in the collection or library?

Is the Museum accessible by wheelchair?

Is there an entry fee?

What are the Museum and library hours?

What is the poem engraved on your building?

What is the Graceful Envelope Contest and why doesn't the Museum sponsor it anymore?

What kind of exhibits does the National Postal Museum have?

How can I become a volunteer at the Museum?

Are there storage lockers available for visitors?

About Postal History


Has the eagle always been the symbol of the U.S. Postal Service?

How can I track down an old mail route?

How much did it cost to mail a letter in the past?

How much did it cost to mail a postcard in the past?

I'd like to learn more about an ancestor who worked for the postal service.

I'd like to learn more about the history of a specific post office.

What are Defense Savings Stamps?

What are my Postal Savings CDs, bonds and stamps worth?

What are my stamps worth?

What is the difference between a commemorative and a definitive stamp?

What is the postal service motto?

When did ZIP codes begin?

Who was Owney?

Is there a list of U.S. Postmasters General available?












About the Museum

Does the Museum ever purchase stamp collections?
The Museum has a very small acquisition fund and it is used mainly to purchase the relatively few items that are not found in the national philatelic collection. The Museum does not purchase general U.S. or worldwide stamp collections, since they largely duplicate the national collection. More than 99% of the national philatelic collection consists of transfers from government agencies and donations from collectors, dealers and people like you.
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Does the Museum provide tours?
See “Visiting the Museum
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How can I become an intern at the Museum?
See "Internships"
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How can I view stamps that are not on display?
See “Appointments to Research Objects
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How do I arrange to do research in the collection or library?
http://library.si.edu/libraries/postal-museum/using
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Is the Museum accessible by wheelchair?
Yes
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Is there an entry fee?
No
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What are the Museum and library hours?
The Museum is open from 10a.m. - 5:30 p.m. every day except December 25.

The Library is open from 10 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Monday - Friday. It is open to the public by appointment only and is closed on Federal holidays.
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What is the poem engraved on your building?
The poem was written by Dr. Charles W. Eliot (1834-1926).

Eliot was born in Boston and graduated from Harvard in 1853. The following year he began teaching math at his alma mater and by 1858 was an assistant professor there. In 1869 Eliot became president of Harvard and remained at that post for 40 years. He assisted Elizabeth Cary Agassiz' efforts to establish an affiliated women's college - Radcliffe. He resigned from office in 1909 and continued to serve the cause of education as a board member (General Education Board) and trustee (Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching). He published works on religion, ethics and democracy. In 1901 he wrote his son's biography. Charles Eliot (1859-1897) was a landscape architect in Boston.

A verse written by Eliot called “The Letter” appears on the outside of the Old City Post Office in Washington, D.C., home to the National Postal Museum. The text was altered slightly by then U.S. President Woodrow Wilson before it was added to the building.
This is the text as it appears on our building:

Messenger of Sympathy and Love
Servant of Parted Friends
Consoler of the Lonely
Bond of the Scattered Family
Enlarger of the Common Life
Carrier of News and Knowledge
Instrument of Trade and Industry
Promoter of Mutual Acquaintance
Of Peace and of Goodwill Among Men and Nations
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What is the Graceful Envelope Contest and why doesn't the Museum sponsor it anymore?
The Graceful Envelope Contest solicits hand-lettered and uniquely illustrated envelopes in an international outreach program that celebrates the role of letter-writing in binding people together, acknowledges the postal employees who deliver mail with skill and care, and promotes the art of calligraphy. Created in 1995 by the Smithsonian Institution's National Postal Museum, the contest is now sponsored by the Washington Calligraphers Guild.

Beginning in 2001, the Smithsonian Institution's National Postal Museum ceased to conduct the contest. Although the contest was extremely popular with calligraphers everywhere, it did not comply with the Museum's mission and the Museum decided to re-focus its limited resources. Because we did not want to disappoint the Contest's large and cherished artist following, the Museum asked the local calligraphy guild to manage the contest and they have done so successfully.

You may learn more about the Contest from the Washington Calligraphers Guild by calling (301) 897-8637 or visiting the Washington Calligraphers Guild's website at http://www.calligraphersguild.org or write to the:
Washington Calligraphers Guild
Box 3688
Merrifield, VA 22116-3688
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What kind of exhibits does the National Postal Museum have?
The Museum features exhibits of stamps and philatelic items, vehicles that have carried the mail and a wide array of items from the history of America's postal system.
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How can I become a volunteer at the Museum?
See "Volunteering"
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Are there storage lockers available for visitors?
Yes, storage lockers are located next to the Benjamin Franklin statue on the lower level of the museum. The approximate size of the lockers is: 12” wide x 16” deep x 24” high.
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About Postal History

Has the eagle always been the symbol of the U.S. Postal Service?
The first symbol of America's postal service was Mercury, the Roman god of commerce and travel. This symbol was first used by Postmaster General Hazard in 1782.

From 1837 to 1970, the postal service was represented by a running pony symbol. The symbol did not, as some believed, represent the Pony Express service, which did not begin until April 1860 and which was not part of the U.S. Postal Service, but a privately-run organization.

On August 12, 1970, the Post Office Department was reorganized under President Nixon's tenure to the Postal Service. The running pony was replaced by the bald eagle, which, though re-designed in the 1990s, remains the postal service's symbol.
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How can I track down an old mail route?
The National Postal Museum does not have mail route information. Postal Records are kept at the National Archives and Records Administration.

Postal Service records that can be found at the National Archives & Records Administration include:
Records of Postmasters
Records of Post Office Locations
Post Office Names
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How much did it cost to mail a letter in the past?
See “U.S. Domestic Letter Rates
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How much did it cost to mail a postcard in the past?
See “U.S. Domestic Postcard Rates
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I'd like to learn more about an ancestor who worked for the postal service.
Postal Employee records may be accessed through the National Archives and Records Administration.

National Personnel Records Center
1 Archives Drive
St. Louis, MO 63138

Telephone: 314-801-0800
Fax: 314-801-9195
E-mail: MPR.center@nara.gov

More information can be found at the postal service/genealogy page of the National Archives & Records Administration's web site.

Postal Service records that can be found at the National Archives & Records Administration include:
Records of Postmasters
Records of Post Office Locations
Post Office Names

For more information on files that may be useful in locating ancestors and post offices, check out the U.S. Postal Service's “Postmaster Finder” page.
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I'd like to learn more about the history of a specific post office.
More information can be found at the postal service/genealogy page of the National Archives & Records Administration's web site.

Postal Service records that can be found at the National Archives & Records Administration include:
Records of Postmasters
Records of Post Office Locations
Post Office Names

For more information on files that may be useful in locating ancestors and post offices, check out the U.S. Postal Service's “Postmaster Finder” page.
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What are Defense Savings Stamps?
The Defense Postal Savings Stamp Albums were distributed by the U.S. Treasury, mostly through the Post Office Department. It was a way for the government to have the public help finance the war effort. War savings stamps were first issued in 1917, during World War I. In May, 1941, the America on Guard series appeared, consisting of 10, 25, 50 cents, $1 and $5 denominations. Use was encouraged as a way for the public to save money and at the same time contribute to the war effort.

School children would fill an "album" with $18.75 of low denomination stamps, 10-cents or 25-cents, and hand it in to the post office in exchange for a War Savings Bond, which would mature in 10 years to $25.00. Adults could buy larger denomination stamps, place them in correspondingly higher value "albums" and trade them in upon completion for $50.00, $100.00 or higher denomination War Savings Bonds. The program continued after the Second World War, ending in June 1970.
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What are my Postal Savings CDs, bonds and stamps worth?
The Post Office Department offered government-backed savings services to American residents from 1911 to 1966. Postal Savings Certificates of Deposit are no longer valid to be cashed in: as of 1966 Congress abolished the postal savings system and the statute of limitations for claims ran out on July 13, 1985. If you have Postal Savings Stamps and Savings Bonds, contact the Bureau of the Public Debt, Post Office Box 426, Parkersburg, WV 26106-0426 to inquire about redeeming these items. Click here to learn more about the history of the postal savings system.
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What are my stamps worth?
Smithsonian policy prohibits employees from appraising or placing a value upon any objects. Many local and university libraries have copies of a stamp catalog that provides retail prices for most stamps. The “Scott” Catalogs, as they are called, provide current estimated retail values of stamps from the U.S. and around the world. The “Scott values” represent the price you could expect to pay if you were to buy stamps in similar condition from a stamp dealer. They do not represent the price you would receive if you were to sell the collection to a dealer.
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What is the difference between a commemorative and a definitive stamp?
A commemorative stamp commemorates a particular person, place or event, and is issued in limited quantities for a relatively short period of time. A definitive stamp is issued as a regular stamp for the country or territory in which it is to be used.
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What is the postal service motto?
Actually, the U.S. Postal Service does not have an official motto. The phrase which most people associate with the postal office is that which is engraved on the outside of the James A. Farley Post Office building at 8th Avenue & 33rd Street in New York, New York: Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

This phrase was a translation by Prof. George H. Palmer, Harvard University, from an ancient Greek work of Herodotus describing the Persian system of mounted postal carriers c. 500 B.C. The inscription was added to the building by William Mitchell Kendall of the architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White, the building's architects.
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When did ZIP codes begin?
ZIP Codes, or Zoning Improvement Plan codes began on July 1, 1963.
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Who was Owney?
Owney was a stray mutt who wandered into the Albany, New York, post office in 1888. The clerks let him stay, and he fell asleep on some mailbags. Owney was attracted to the texture or scent of the mailbags and followed them when they were placed on a Railway Mail Service train. Owney began to ride with the bags on trains across the state--and then the country.

In 1895 Owney traveled with mailbags on steamships to Asia and across Europe before returning to Albany. He was beloved by Railway Mail Service clerks, who adopted him as their unofficial mascot.

Click here to learn more about Owney.
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