The Smithsonian opened the world's largest stamp gallery on Sept. 22, with many free family activities, programs, and tours.
- Make Your Own Stamp Collection -- Choose six free stamps and make a collection.
- Stamp Design Contest -- Create your dream stamp and enter a design-of-the-day contest. The winner will receive a sheet of their stamps produced as real U.S. postage stamps.
- Meet Ben Franklin, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Tweety -- An actor portraying Benjamin Franklin, America's first postmaster general, will talk about objects on display. Pose for pictures with Ben, or with the three Warner Bros. faves, all featured before on U.S. postage stamps.
- Correspondence Salons -- In a series of 45-minute freestyle workshops, the museum will provide materials, including vintage postage, for visitors to create artistic mail and envelopes. Each guest also will receive an assortment of stamps on one of many interesting topics.
- Scavenger Hunt -- Take a scavenger hunt sheet to explore the museum and claim a prize after visiting all the stops and completing the tasks.
The free museum displays treasures including:
- The "Inverted Jenny", America's most famous stamp and one of the most famous errors.
-- In 1918, while making the Curtiss Jenny stamp to celebrate America's first air mail flight, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing made one sheet of 100 stamps with the blue biplane flying upside down.
-- The 24-cent stamp is being reprinted as a $2 stamp and reissued on Sept. 22 to celebrate the gallery's opening; the 20th anniversary of the Smithsonian National Postal Museum; and "to commemorate the many ways a single stamp can turn a moment in history upside down," the U.S. Postal Service® (USPS) said in a statement.
Other historic items include:
- One of 32 surviving red proofs of Britain's 1765 Stamp Act.
-- The Stamp Act mandated a tax of a penny per sheet on American newspapers. It became it was the first act leading to the American Revolution. Colonists were infuriated about "taxation without representation”, and their protests forced Britain's Parliament to repeal the Stamp Act about four months later, on March 18, 1766.
- A letter postmarked July 4, 1776, addressed to John Hancock, a founding father and signer of the Declaration of Independence.
- An 1860 letter carried by Pony Express, with a notation on the envelope saying it was from "mail stolen by the Indians." It's considered one of the most significant historically in U.S. postal history.
- One of the only two 1868 1-cent Z-grill stamps in existence. They show Benjamin Franklin.
- A watch worn by a sea clerk aboard the Titanic.
- "Moon Mail" postmarked on the moon in 1971. Apollo 15 Mission Commander Dave Scott postmarked an envelope cover, while the USPS issued the stamps 238,000 miles away. In this lunar video, astronaut Scott cancels the stamp -- "I'm very proud to have the opportunity here to play postman."
Many of the other stamps have never been on public display. More than 20,000 stamps and other items can be seen in numerous pull-out frames.
Divided into seven thematic areas, the displays also include high-tech interactive stations that reveal the fascinating stories behind the items.
A stained-glass wall of "Windows into America", extending for a block along Massachusetts Avenue, depicts 54 colorful, historic U.S. stamps. It will glow at night.
The century-old building itself is majestic, with Ionic-columns. It originally housed Washington's City Post Office, right across from Union Station. The post office structure was designed by Graham, Burnham & Company "to harmonize with, but defer to, Union Station..." notes the "American Institute of Architects (AIA) Guide to the Architecture of Washington, D.C." After 72 years, the main post office was converted to the Smithsonian National Postal Museum in 1993.
Its new William H. Gross Stamp Gallery brilliantly demonstrates the deep connection between the history of stamps and the history of America.
For more info: William H. Gross Stamp Gallery, Smithsonian National Postal Museum, www.postalmuseum.si.edu, 2 Massachusetts Avenue, N.E., at North Capitol Street, N.E., Washington, D.C., 202-633-5555. Free.