Major Cover Show Held at Museum During Postal History Convention

At the National Philatelic Museum in Philadelphia on October 8, the “curtain was rung up” on what perhaps was the first major exhibition in America devoted entirely to covers. The occasion was the initial convention of the Postal History Society of the Americas.

Before describing this grand cover display, it is important that we define the term “Postal History,” because many collectors here in America have a misconception of the term. There are those who hold the erroneous belief that it applies solely to pre-adhesive covers, or stampless covers as they frequently are called. Major Adrian E. Hopkins, Honorary Secretary of the Postal History Society of Great Britain, who was in attendance at the convention, aptly defines the term in these words: “‘Postal History’ had its beginnings in the Bible days and is continuing even to this day; its end is limitless; it will continue until this method of communication will have been superseded by some other vehicle far beyond the imagination of modern man.” The exhibits – all by invitation – carried out this theme.

By using photostatic enlargements, pre-adhesive covers, and stamps on cover, the museum staff prepared a display beginning with the third millennium B.C. and carrying through to the present time. Space does not permit a detailed description of this exhibit, desirable as that might be. Suffice it to state that it covered the development of postal communication down through the centuries. Among the early organized posts we noted Thurn & Taxis, Petite Post of Paris, Dockwra, the Mounted Courier, and the Mail Coach. The Boston Post Road, and Ben. Franklin, First Colonial Postmaster General in America, were noted. In a lighter vein, “Kettle on a Track,” meaning, of course, a steam locomotive, introduced the Railway Post. The final steps in this panorama showed examples of V-Mail, Air Mail, and Experimental Rocket Posts. Current and recent first day U.S. covers were included. Truly, this was an outstanding illustration of Postal History in its correct definition.

The other exhibits in this grand show, while not as extensive, were equally interesting and quite complete within their individual concepts. For example, Ralph Holtsizer, American specialist in the philately of Martinique, exhibited pre-adhesives of that French colony. In his showing we noted two copies of the very rare single line town postmark “La Martinique;” also a cover dated 1734, thirty-two years prior to the introduction of the government postal service.

James Woodward, exhibiting Mexico, included pre-adhesives and the early issues on cover. Of particular interest were two covers dating back to the days of Emperor Maximilian and his expeditionary force. One of these, dated January 15, 1864, was addressed to Lyon, France. The other, dated October 22, 1865, originated in France and was addressed to the Expeditionary Force. Both covers bear the postmark of this outfit which conquered Mexico and set up the Empire of Mexico. Woodward also included in his showing a representative group of the Express Companies, Wells Fargo, Hidalgo, and Mexican National Express.

Joseph Carson, President of the Philadelphia Free Library, and a leading student of early Americana, selected as his subject, “The Postal History of Transatlantic Mail.” This study included six steamship lines, each being set up as a separate unit with its pre-adhesive covers and collateral items. These items included such pieces as Bills of Sale, Bills of Lading, Newspaper Clippings – this reporter noted one dated 1836 – and other items of postal history interest. Discussing a Great Western cover in this exhibit with Major Hopkins, we were informed that this old ship is still afloat, being moored at a port in the Falkland Islands and used as a coal hulk.

Early issues of fabulous Afghanistan on cover were exhibited by Major Hopkins, of Bath, England. These earlies are indeed very rare; seldom do they appear on public view. Numeral sequences on the backs of such covers aroused this reporter’s curiosity; we noted 6-9-1 on one. Hopkins explained that in response to his request, an Afghanistan official in London stated that these are a sort of religious talisman and may be interpreted as “May the Lord protect the bearer of this letter” or “Lord! Hurry! Hurry!” and other similar pleas to their sovereign God. Such pleas are understandable in view of the local conditions prevailing in those days: no railroads, no roadways other than camel tracks, wild mountainous country infested with brigands. Truly a primitive land! Truly a splendid exhibit!

Samuel Paige of Boston exhibited U.S. pre-adhesives; and Herbert F. Darlington of Glen Ridge, N.J., showed U.S. Territorials including numerous Wells Fargo covers. Both these exhibits were well displayed.

From the viewpoint of display, however, the cream of the show was the exhibit of C.P. Mayfield of Riverton, N.J. This consisted solely of U.S. covers, meticulously mounted and annotated on black pages – one cover per page. There was no suggestion of crowding nor detraction from the main object – the cover. The write-up was boxed on the lower part of the page. This arrangement tended to direct the viewer’s eye to the cover, then to the write-up; or vice versa. Aside from the display method, this reporter was attracted to a cover bearing the free frank of Frances Cleveland Preston, widow of President Grover Cleveland. The unusual feature of this was the fact that it was on an envelope typographically addressed to the New Jersey Bell Telephone Company, Princeton, N.J. Such items are rarely seen.

As a feature of the first convention of the Postal History Society of the Americas, this exhibition played its part handsomely, and must certainly have encouraged those whose interest lies in that branch of our philately. That the addition of covers to one’s stamp collection has been increasing at a lively pace during recent years can’t be denied; and this speaks well for the future of Postal History. Thus we are reminded of a remark made by Major Hopkins, principal speaker at the regular monthly meeting of APS Chapter 18, a feature of the convention. Said the Major: “I confidently predict that 25 years from now, no collection will be considered for entry in an important exhibition unless it contains postal history items.” And we add: “Covers form a major segment in postal history.”

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