First-of-a-kind stamp exhibit open at Smithsonian National Postal Museum

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WASHINGTON – Philatelic Firsts, open through Oct. 28 at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum, showcases first-of-their-kind items from the first Hawaiian stamps to the first American invert stamp error.

What to see. Highlights of the exhibition include:

* The First U.S. Postage Stamp – In 1845, Congress and the Postal Service worked to reform and simplify the nation’s vast and confusing table of postage rates. A major component of the reform was the introduction of stamps.

The fist stamps, issued July 1, 1847, were a 5-cent stamp featuring Benjamin Franklin, and a 10-cent stamp featuring George Washington.

On view are three 10-cent 1847 stamps used to mail a letter from Philadelphia to Providence, R.I.

* The First Flight – President Woodrow Wilson sent this autographed cover, addressed to the New York City postmaster, on the first regular U.S. airmail flight on May 15, 1918.

Visitors will see a 24-cent airmail stamp featuring the Curtiss Jenny airplane.

* The Coronation Cover – On May 12, 1937, Britain celebrated the coronation of King George VI and his wife, Queen Elizabeth. The block of four 1 1/2 -penny stamps shown here is from a commemorative series that was officially issued the day after the coronation.

This unique cover has a Buckingham Palace cancellation and four date stamps from the day of the coronation. It is signed by the king and queen, and is hand-illuminated with the royal coat-of-arms.

The envelope was displayed at the 1939 World’s Fair and later presented to the people of the United States.

* The Earliest Inverts – In 1869 the Post Office launched a series of 10 stamps illustrated with symbols and scenes from American history. For the first time, four of the designs used two colors.

To produce these bicolor stamps each sheet had to be run through the printing press twice, and some were turned in the wrong direction the second time. This resulted in upside-down images on a few sheets, making them the first U.S. inverted stamp errors or “inverts.”

* Hawaiian Rarities – Missionaries from New England first came to the Hawaiian Islands in 1820. As the American community in Hawaii grew, the island kingdom established mail service to the United States.

Stamps to facilitate this service are known to collectors as “missionaries.” Because Hawaii was a foreign country at that time, complex rates applied with fees going to Hawaii, the ship carrying the letter, and the United States.

The first 13-cent “missionary” stamps, issued in 1851, simplified matters by covering the entire postage. However, the original stamp was inscribed “Hawaiian Postage,” causing postmasters to question whether U.S. postage was included.

A new 13-cent stamp was issued, inscribed “H.I. & U.S. Postage.” The covers on view provide examples of both 13-cent stamps.

Location. The National Postal Museum is located at 2 Massachusetts Ave. N.E., in the Old City Post Office Building.

The museum is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Admission is free. Take Metro to Union Station.

For information about the museum, call 202-357-2700 or visit www.si.edu/postal.

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