April 25, 2010

National Postal Museum, Part III: Artifacts

After passing through the lobby, where I learned about the history of the National Postal Museum itself, and meeting the characters that have played important roles in the history of the USPS, I explored the artifacts that make postal junkies eek with joy.

I'm not why, but the Postal Museum seems to have a large collection of artifacts and exhibits focusing on the Postal Service in the 1940s. Then again, it could just be my own personal interest filter, and I chose to pay most attention to displays from the WWII era.

The beautiful vehicle above is a mail delivery truck from the early 1940s. The truck, while very different from the trucks of today, was a dramatic improvement over the original automobiles put into service in 1899. In the first test run, through snow, the automobile completed a six hour route by horse in under two and a half hours.

In addition to this mail truck, the museum also has a walk through mail delivery train and a roped off Pony Express stagecoach, neither of which I took photos of. Sorry. Maybe this is evidence of the existence of the aforementioned personal interest filter...

Which brings me to this piece of ephemera. Above is an envelope that was mailed to James Farley, Postmaser General from 1933 to 1940, by his vacationing son. What interests me so much about this envelope isn't so much that it was forwarded to Farley in a classified location, but that the envelope appears to be from a collection of stationery from The Stone Tavern in Lake Spofford, New Hampshire. I'm a big fan of hotel stationery (I have a letterhead from Hotel Mecca in the image archive) and am sad that is has slowly gone out of fashion.

Close to the letter to Postmaser Farley is the above envelope. The reason this piece is significant is not because of the individuals that mailed or received it, but because of where it was processed. The envelope was processed through the Honolulu post office on December 7, 1941, the day of the of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

In front of the museum book store and the stamp store, there are rows of mail boxes from around the world. Some of these box styles are out of date, but many are still still in use in their respective countries, standing on corners, hanging from lamp posts and telephone poles.

Can you guess which countries these boxes hail from?

At the end of my museum visit, I spent a good amount of time in the museum bookstore. In many ways, the bookstore of the National Postal Museum is a continuance of the museum experience. There is a long wall of shelves, filled with books on letter writing, mail art, stamp collecting, and historical perspectives on correspondence. I took the picture above because two books caught my eye, Good Mail Day and Yours Ever, both of which have been big hits in the online letter writing community in the last year.

I purchased the above two items as souvenirs from my experience. The first is the book The Art of the Handwritten Letter. The author, Margaret Shepherd, focuses much more on the emotional, human side of letter writing, rather than the rules of etiquette, an attempt to persuade the reader to actually sit down, write, stamp and mail. She writes many great reflections on letter writing, some of which I will be using here, on Everyday Correspondence, in the coming months.

The bottom picture is of a first day issue stamp and envelope commemorating Freedom of the Press. The NPM store has a pleasant selection of first day issues, easily numbering in the hundreds for visitors to sort through. So, it wasn't difficult to find a first day issue with personal significance for me to purchase. I plan on framing it and hanging it in my printing studio (aka my living room).

I had a afternoon visiting the National Postal Museum. While neither very large nor heavily visited, the museum has lots to offer, especially for the postal enthusiast. After all, we're the type of people that just love reading placards, aren't we?


Anonymous said...

I love the little red "fire hydrant"-looking box (far left; second picture).

So, when do we get the answers? :)

James said...

In the second picture, from left to right, the mail boxes are from Japan, India, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Canada.

Does anyone have guesses for the first picture?

Jackie Flaherty said...

I enjoyed this post! Very entertaining and you have great photos! We are going to DC in Sept and the two stops on my list are this museum and the Library of Congress. We were there in 2000 but did not get to these places.


James said...

Thanks, Jackie! Great choice in deciding to also visit the Library of Congress, the central building (Jefferson) is gorgeous. And, it's conveniently located next to the Supreme Court and across the street from the Capitol. I recommend a visit to the recently opened Capitol Visitor's Center, they have some great ephemera on display.