Stamp Museums: Philately on Display Throughout the World
Philately unites people from all walks of life and is a hobby for people of all ages, which is probably why it is so popular. Whether you just started collecting stamps or have been collecting them for years, you are not alone. In the United States, more than five million people are estimated to collect stamps. Even some famous people throughout history — President Franklin Roosevelt, Warren Buffett, James Earl Jones, Jacques Cousteau and John Lennon — are known as avid stamp collectors.
No matter how involved you are in the philately world, learning more about stamps and the postal system in general is a great way to expand your knowledge about your hobby. Stamp museums are just one way to do that, and a trip to one of these museums can inspire you to expand your collection even more.
Museums dedicated to philately give you a chance to experience firsthand some of the rarest and most valuable stamps ever created. Many of the museums not only display the stamps themselves, but they also display detailed information that tells the story of stamps throughout history.
You will often see other philatelic artifacts to expand your knowledge of stamps as well. Because postage is often reflective of historical events and history in general, many of the museums present their artifacts in a way that showcases this history.
If you are not sure where to find all of these philatelic treasures, rest assured as you can locate many stamp museums all over the world. Some focus only on stamps and pieces of mail, while others take a broad approach by incorporating all of postal history or communications in general. Explore these 12 stamp museums and philatelic libraries as a guide for planning your next family vacation.
1. Smithsonian National Postal Museum: Washington, DC
If you are a stamp collector or love postal history, the Smithsonian National Postal Museum needs to make it on your bucket list. It is the largest postal museum in the United States.
A trip to this museum in Washington, D.C. gives you a chance to visit the largest gallery in the world devoted to philately. The William H. Gross Stamp Gallery features six thematic areas with thousands of pieces on display. You will see stamps that have never been on public display before. The windows in this 12,000-square foot gallery feature giant reproductions of 54 U.S. stamps with a historical perspective to reinforce the idea of stamps representing the country’s history.
The Gems of American Philately exhibit is the place to see very rare and high-value stamps, and many stamps in this display touch on key events in U.S. history. Read about the specific stamps on the detailed displays and learn more about stamp design and production in this area.
For instance, the 1918 Inverted Jenny stamp is among those on display in this section of the museum. These stamps were incorrectly printed with an upside-down airplane in one of the most famous printing errors. Since only one sheet of these stamps was sold, it is quite rare and quite famous.
You can also wander through the National Stamp Salon to browse the 275 pullout frames featuring numerous stamp collections, with tens of thousands of stamps and pieces of mail in the mix. Find out more information about specific stamps or collections with the interactive touchscreen links on the displays. This area also has displays featuring medals, dies, hand stamps and other items that chronicle the history of stamps and stamp making.
The National Stamp Collection within the National Stamp Salon is a carefully curated collection of stamps and pieces of mail — 4,000 in total — that tells the story of the United States. The items are divided into 10 chapters to explain our history starting from before the United States was a nation to our current time.
If you have a budding philatelist with you, stop by the Connect With U.S. Stamps exhibit, which highlights the history of stamp design and production. The many interactive displays, including an option to curate your own stamp collection virtually, help engage kids and adults alike. You also get a chance to design your own stamp in this area.
The Stamps Around The Globe exhibit features a stamp from every country that has ever produced stamps, with over 700 in total. Some stamps on display are from countries that no longer exist, making them extra special. You will also find displays of rare stamp collections featuring scarce and famous stamps from around the world.
For a truly rare glimpse at stamp history, make sure you check out the British Guiana one-cent magenta stamp. This is the only surviving one of its kind and always breaks records when it sells. The special magenta one-cent and four-cent stamps were printed in 1856 while British Guiana waited for postage to arrive from England. While many of the four-cent stamps survived, this is the only one-cent version left, making it the most famous stamp in the world.
You can also learn more about mail markings throughout history in the aptly named Mail Marks History exhibit. This area displays examples of markings on mail throughout history and what those markings mean.
Stop by the Postmaster’s Suite to visit the current rotating exhibit. These exhibits run varying lengths of time and usually have a specific focus. Examples of exhibits that have been in the Postmaster’s Suite include Pacific Exchange: China and U.S. Mail, Freedom Just Around the Corner and Fire & Ice: Hindenburg and Titanic.
Continue perusing one of the most awe-inspiring postal museums to see planes and coaches used in mail delivery, a V-mail display and many exhibits that cover the history of mail.
2. Canadian Museum of History — The Canadian Stamp Collection: Gatineau
The Canadian Stamp Collection is part of the Canadian Museum of History. This stamp exhibit features every stamp ever issued in Canada — more than 3,000 stamps. The collection aims to walk through Canadian history via stamps, starting with the Three-Penny Beaver stamp from 1851.
The displays share little-known facts and stories about not only the stamps, but also about other philatelic creations as well.
3. U.S. Postal Museum: Marshall, Michigan
Travel to Marshall, Michigan to see the second largest postal museum in the United States. This museum focuses more on the postal system as a whole rather than just on stamps, so keep this in mind if you are looking for a museum with a massive rare or valuable stamp collection.
This postal museum is located inside a working post office in Marshall. During a 1987 historic home tour, the postmaster at the time decided to put postal artifacts on display inside the post office. People thought it was a museum, and the idea of an actual postal museum was born. The postmaster put collected postal artifacts on display permanently in the basement.
The museum features six rooms of post office memorabilia, along with three mail buggies and three vehicles. This museum is only open by appointment.
4. American Philatelic Society Library: Bellefonte, PA
If you are interested in doing research related to philately, the American Philatelic Society Library in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania is a good place to start. It is the largest philatelic library open to the public in the United States.
Philatelic libraries house collections of literature, including books and journals, about stamps and the history of the postal service. For those who don’t live nearby, the library allows you to borrow materials by mail. You can also request a photocopy or scan of a passage from certain materials.
Visiting this philatelic library is a great way to expand your knowledge about your own stamp collection or the subject of philately in general.
5. Spellman Museum of Stamps and Postal History: Weston, MA
Venture on to the Regis College campus to find the Spellman Museum of Stamps and Postal History, also known as the Cardinal Spellman Philatelic Museum. This museum houses over two million items related to philately. The artifacts are in large part from the personal collection of Cardinal Francis Spellman, as well as donations from other collectors, including Dwight D. Eisenhower and General Matthew Ridgway.
The goal of the Spellman Museum of Stamps and Postal History is to educate and teach through their philatelic exhibits. The museum hosts several programs for children.
Spellman collected stamps as souvenirs and as a way to document human history. The National Philatelic Museum in Philadelphia dissolved in 1960, and the Cardinal Spellman Philatelic Museum — at that point a newly formed and independent non-profit, received a large portion of the philatelic holdings and literature. Ground was broken for the Spellman Museum in 1961, and the museum opened in 1963.
6. Museum of Philately of Oaxaca: Oaxaca, Mexico
What started as a temporary exhibit at the Institute of Graphic Arts in Oaxaca blossomed into a separate and permanent museum dedicated to philately. The museum is located in a house in the city’s historical center. The house was remodeled to create the space for the museum.
The Museum of Philately of Oaxaca takes great measures to ensure the stamps, letters and other artifacts in the museum are preserved and cared for in a way that makes them last. The goal is to unite people through culture and art, while preserving the history of the items in the museum.
The museum features more than 200,000 items related to philately and the postal service, and it hosts both permanent and temporary exhibits, all related to the postal service. You can see letters written by Frida Kahlo, the famous Mexican artist, on display in the museum as well as a host of other philatelic treasures.
7. A. S. Popov Central Museum of Communications: Saint Petersburg, Russia
While not solely dedicated to philately or the postal service, the A. S. Popov Central Museum of Communications has quite an impressive collection of philately-related items. The exhibits in the museum cover the history of communication, including the history of the postal system.
The museum has a large collection of stamps, stamped envelopes and postcards. The museum also houses a specialized research library, featuring 50,000 books and periodicals related to the field of communications.
8. The Museum of Stamps and Coins: Monaco
The Museum of Stamps and Coins documents the history of both coins and stamps in the principality of Monaco. The stamp area of this museum displays stamps from Monaco dating back to 1885. It also shows the machine engraving equipment used to print stamps over the last 60 years.
A rare stamps room holds the most valuable stamps in the Monaco collection. This collection includes Sardinian and French stamps used in Monaco, known as precursors, and the first stamps of Monaco printed under Charles III and Louis II, known as the classics. You will also see philatelic documents in this area, which are some of the rarest in the world.
9. Philatelic Museum: Cyprus
Take in the history of Cyprus through the chronological stamps and philatelic materials displayed in this postal museum. Founded in 1981, this museum chronicles the postal history of Cyprus from the 15th century on.
Wander the main hall to take in stamps from the time of British rule with the oldest series of Cypriot stamps. The 1928 series shows numerous historical figures and places, giving you a greater sense of the history of the island.
For a more modern history of Cyprus, visit the other halls in the museum, where you will discover stamps from 1960 through current times.
In addition to stamps, the museum has air letters, stamp specimens, insured mail envelopes and prepaid response postcards. Check out all of the different postmarks displayed in the museum to see the changes over the years. While you are there, check out the scales, sealing wax and philatelic literature available for visitors to peruse.
10. Postal and Telegraph Museum: Madrid, Spain
Travel to Madrid, Spain to see the impressive collection of philatelic items in the Postal and Telegraph Museum. The museum documents the history of philately through its displays, and the stamps in this collection date back to the end of the 18th century and go forward to modern times.
The museum also houses rare stamps for you to explore, along with historic documentation. The building has a specialist library for your exploration and learning as well.
11. China National Post and Postage Stamp Museum: Beijing, China
Located in Beijing, the China National Post and Postage Stamp Museum offers more than 100,000,000 pieces for display. The museum focuses on the history of the Chinese postal system, but it also includes foreign stamps from over 200 different countries and regions.
The stamps displayed in this museum date back to the Qing Dynasty. The museum also provides information on the origins and development of the postal system in China.
12. The Postal Museum and Mail Rail: London, England
Starting in 2017, the Postal Museum and Mail Rail will take visitors on a trip through British history via the postal system. The nearby Mail Rail will give visitors a chance to travel through the tunnels of the private underground railway used by the postal service.
Plan Your Philatelic Trip
With philatelic museums showcasing valuable stamp collections around the world, you have a wide range of possibilities for your next trip. Whether near or far, you are sure to come across amazing new philatelic discoveries along the way. From rare stamp collections to early stamp printing tools, you will have an even better understanding and appreciation of your stamp collecting hobby after a trip to one of these amazing stamp museums.