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Curator's Corner — Every stamp has a story PDF Print E-mail
Friday, March 14, 2014 8:00 PM

Are you planning a trip to Washington, D.C., this year? Washington is a great city to learn about the history of our nation and our connection to the world around us. But where you decide to go to find this wealth of knowledge is very important. Forget for the moment that we are a postal history museum but think of us more of the story of American history. So where would I suggest you go? I suggest the National Postal Museum (NPM) which is part of the Smithsonian Institutions.

Before you scoff and dismiss what I suggest, please read on just a little further. I wish I had the knowledge and skills of one of the world’s finest philatelists –Dr. Cheryl Ganz. Dr. Ganz recently retired from the NPM. She was so revered as a philatelist, the Smithsonian has bestowed a title upon her of Curator of Philately Emerita. No one before has received such an honor. But unless you are widely versed in stamp collecting, you may never have heard her name before. She is an author, philatelic researcher, conservationist and has a vast understanding of how best to educate the young and the old.

Her final and most phenomenal achievement has been to design the world’s largest display of stamps. How large? They have several million stamps and philatelic papers. It is known as the William H. Gross Gallery and you will find it in the new expansion of the National Postal Museum.

Dr. Ganz approached her task with one concept in mind: “Every stamp has a story.” She has shown the world how interesting and even exciting this collection can be. Her temporary successor, Daniel A. Piazza, says that he has measured the success of the exhibits by the number of nose prints on the glass that protects each artifact. During a 30-minute interview and walk-through of the gallery, both these curators pointed out how each day all the glass needs to be cleaned because of the incredible number of nose prints. Piazza stated that the fascination and desire to get as close a look as possible is indicative of the gallery’s popularity.

After an initial donation from Mr. Gross of $12 million and some of the finest and rarest stamps ever printed, it still took several years, plus millions of dollars more, to complete this amazing look at history.

Some of the most sought-after stamps in the world were those of the Inverted Jenny. There were only 100 of these stamps every printed as the first airmail stamp. I am sure you have seen pictures of it or may have even purchased some of the recent reissues. In the gallery you will find a plate block of four of the stamps donated by Mr. Gross accompanied by a display that shows how this error may have occurred. But there is so much more.

There are six themes that encompass the gallery – each with interactive screens and monitors. The stamps are shown within a framework of stories and related artifacts. For example, there is a section on Amelia Earhart, a pioneer in aviation and the first female pilot to fly solo on a transatlantic flight. Most people don’t know that she was also a stamp collector and a designer of clothing. The Earhart displays include the leather flight suit she designed and wore. But as a stamp collector, she developed her own postmarkings, cachets and philatelic covers that accompanied her on her flights. She even set up stamp shows to sell many of her philatelic items to help fund her desires in the pursuit of avionics.

As you walk through the themed galleries, you will find pullout panels that slip back into the walls. These panels contain over 20,000 stamps and related items. In my next article, I will fill you in on the other themed galleries and also take you on a virtual walk through the museum itself.

Speaking of museums, this Tuesday evening, we will be hosting a dinner meeting for those interested in promoting the Lincoln Highway and supporting a newly-formed organization, “The Lincoln Highway Association West.” Please contact me if you are interested in attending this meeting. The program will include a tour through the Museum of Postal History. There is a charge for buffet dinner.

 

Just a note: Seats have been selling quite well for the MPH Tour to Chicago scheduled for this June 5-8 with your museum director, Gary Levitt, as your guide. If you would like more information, please contact me at 419-303-5482 or Ruth Ann Wittler at 419-692-4536.

 

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