The National Postal Museum Library is one of the largest and most important research facilities for the study of philately and the history of postal services in the world. The National Postal Museum and its Library opened in July 1993, and the National Philatelic Collection and related materials from the National Museum of American History comprise the main body of its core collections. The National Postal Museum Library contains extensive runs of major American philatelic journals and major subject-oriented journals published elsewhere. The collection of monographs on philately and postal history is nearly complete, with emphasis on materials in the English language and those of special importance.
Although the National Postal Museum Library focuses mainly on philately and postal service in the United States, the collections are international in scope. In particular, Canada, Great Britain, Germany and France are well represented. With more than 5,000 books, 6,000 serial titles, manuscript files, photographs and many auction and priced catalogues, the collection also includes major archival holdings, including files from the United States Post Office, the Highway Post Office, the Aerial Mail Service, the Railway Mail Service, and the Panama Canal Zone Post Office.
In addition, the NPM Library contains material from several important private libraries acquired entirely or in part over the past century, including:
- Joseph B. Leavy – the first “government philatelist” of the National Philatelic Collection
- Dr. Thaddeus P. Hyatt – a leading student and collector of worldwide material concerning the movement of mail
- Frederick J. Melville – Great Britain’s greatest writer, editor and publisher of philatelic literature from the 1890s to the 1940s. Acquired originally by the Library of Congress in 1947, large portions were transferred to the Smithsonian Institution in the 1950s.
- George T. Turner – collector of one of the greatest private philatelic libraries
- Henry W. Holcombe – a leading student, collector and writer about U.S. revenue stamps, especially private die proprietary stamps
Special materials worthy of note include:
- U.S. philatelic “small journals” – an outstanding collection (ex-Turner) of short-lived journals published by enthusiasts and optimistic philatelists
- “Philatelic incunabula” – so-called by philatelic bibliophiles, published during the pioneer period of philately (1861 – 1879). This is one of the most complete collections of this material in the world (ex-Turner and Melville).
- Melville Books – a complete collection of all the recorded publications of F.J. Melville, with special editions, addenda and related items (ex-Turner and Melville).
- J.W. Scott Pricelists – in 1867, Scott published his first catalogs as one-page pricelists, and they evolved into the Scott Catalog, which continues to this day. The NPM Library holds pricelists No. 3 (the earliest known Scott catalog), 7 and 11.
The National Postal Museum Library has individual items of special importance, including:
The Frank A. Bellamy inter-leaved copy of The Catalogue of the Earl of Crawford’s Library. Marginal notes and inter-leaved pages record the library of Frank A. Bellamy, one of the most extensive philatelic libraries in Great Britain.
- Oscar Berger-Levrault’s [List of stamps] (1861) – the first philatelic publication, one of four copies known, all are in museums.
- Edward H. Mason’s Essays for United States postage stamps – one of the ten inter-leaved copies used by Mason, that contains photographs of items in his collection.
- William R. Rickett’s Philatelic literature bibliography index – a complete copy of the privately published index (401 pages) and only three complete copies are acknowledged.
- C. Schmidt’s Die Postwertzeichen der Russichen Landschaftsaemter (2 vols.) A typed edition, with photographs inserted in the text.
- Otto Friedl’s Sizilien Platten – a complete set (in photographic reproduction) of plating studies for the Sicilian “Bomba Heads” in the collection of Baron Alphonse de Rothschild.
- A. M. Tracy Woodward’s Postage stamps of Japan and Dependencies (1928) – one of philately’s rarest books. The library has two copies–one a regular edition, the other a reviewer’s copy.
- John K. Tiffany’s Philatelical library, a catalogue of stamp publications (1874) – a bibliography of the earliest publications on philately.
- John K. Tiffany’s Philatelical Index – Part I (1880) – a unique publication indexing passages in all stamp journals referring to U.S. postage stamps.
- Charles H. Coster’s The United States locals and their history (1877) – the first major work on the private local posts in the United States.
- John Wilson’s The Royal Philatelic Collection (1952) – the library holds both an original edition and sectional editions.
- E.D. Bacon’s Catalogue of the Philatelic Library of the Earl of Crawford, K.T.(1911) – an original edition with supplement and addenda; the 1991 reprint of the Bacon copy from the British Library with shelf marks and marginalia.
- F. Fournier’s Album de Fac-Similes (1928) – prepared by the Union Philatelique de Geneva, it contains mounted forged stamps, cancels and related postal items created by this master forger. ***MOVED TO THE DIBNER LIBRARY***
- The work of Jean de Sperati (1955) – prepared by the British Philatelic Association, a volume of plates illustrates forged stamps and postmarks created by this master forger.
- Letter copy books of Butler and Carpenter, important security engravers and printers of U.S. postage stamps, revenue stamps and especially private-die proprietary stamps – a typewritten transcription in 19 volumes (ex-Turner) of the original correspondence, formerly in the collection of Hiram E. Deats.
- Edward S. Knapp Collection – a special set of ten volumes of photographs of one of the most important collections of philatelic Americana, given to the Smithsonian Institution in 1941 by the Philatelic Research Laboratories, Inc. The original collection was broken up and sold at auction in 1941 – 1942.
The National Postal Museum Library has a large collection of stamp auction catalogues, especially of U.S. and London houses, from the 1920’s to date. A special collection of “name” auction sales is housed separately. Sales of particular importance are catalogued and shelved among the monographs. The library has extensive runs of the most popular catalogs (i.e. Scott, Minkus, Stanley Gibbons, Yvert & Tellier) and numerous specialized catalogs.
The major archival collections include:
- Post Office Department files of the Third Assistant Postmaster General, including original letters sent to various post office officials and replies discussing stamp issues and related postal subjects. Especially strong from 1920 to 1970, the files are organized by Scott number and subject.
- Other Post Office Department publications – press releases, reports of Postmasters General and other post office officials, documents concerning National Airmail Week (1938), records concerning the development of the zip code system, etc.
- Records of the Railway Mail Service, the Highway Post Office, and the Canal Zone Post Office Department
- More than 10,000 photographs from the Post Office Department and from other public and private collections concerning all aspects of mail handling and transportation
- An outstanding collection of articles, pamphlets and letters documenting the operation of mail services in the United States and elsewhere, originally collected by Dr. Thaddeus P. Hyatt and supplemented with material from other sources
- Original artwork submitted by private citizens in the design competition for postage stamps commemorating the centenary of the Civil War
- Original manuscripts, photographs and other documents concerning the work of Henry W. Holcombe on U.S. revenue stamps, especially the private die proprietary stamps
- Photographs of special philatelic collections, including original album pages of U.S. Postmaster provisionals, carriers, and locals of John B. Boker
- Original album pages of the A.M. Tracy Woodward collection of Japan and Dependencies
- Original album pages of the Rogers Liberia collection
- Pamphlets, letters, stamps and related materials from the National One Cent Letter Postage Association (ex. Dr. Thaddeus P. Hyatt)
File card collections include:
William R. Ricketts – original index cards for his bibliography of articles on U.S. Postmaster provisionals, carriers, locals and Sanitary Fair stamps, published in theUnited Stamp Company Herald (1912-1914) and reprinted in the Philatelic Literature Review (1990)
William R. Ricketts – original index cards for his bibliography of articles on U.S. stamps reprinted as the “Ricketts Index of United States and Possessions” in thePhilatelic Literature Review (1995-1997)
George T. Turner – original index cards indexing philatelic journals from the U.S., Canada, Great Britain and the colonies. Used in the update of Chester M. Smith’s “List of philatelic journals” (unpublished), the original cards have additional information about the journals, their editors and publishers.
- George T. Turner – card catalog of the George T. Turner’s philatelic library. It was the most complete private philatelic library ever assembled, and the catalog contains important notes about various publications.
- Ralph Kimble – a subject index to articles appearing in major philatelic journals from 1935 to 1950. Several index portions were published in the American Philatelist.
- Stamp Advisory Committee of the U.S. Post Office Department – working papers, letters and other documents created and used by the Stamp Advisory Committee from 1957 to 1967.