Postal History and Philately Research Guide

Welcome to the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives' Stamp Collecting and Philately Research Guide. This is a comprehensive list of freely-available resources for students and researchers to learn more about the many fields within the discipline and some of its major personalities. Please feel free to Contact Us with suggestions for additional resources or with questions.  See links to specific guide categories below:

Top Resources

  • SIRIS:  The Smithsonian Libraries catalog, offering in-depth catalog records on the most important books.
  • Smithsonian Institution Collection Search Center:  The Collection Search Center allows users to freely search over ten million records, including two million online media files, for books and objects.

Internet Resources

  • American Airmail Society:  Promotes aerophilately through its publications, member auctions and an annual meeting held at stamp shows. It also holds a major airmail show at the American Philatelic Society headquarters in Belefonte, PA. One most important contribution by the Society has been the American Air Mail Catalogue which covers all areas of aerophilately.
  • American Philatelic Research Library (APRL):  The APRL, the library of the American Philatelic Society, has one of the world's largest collections of philatelic literature. Six times the size of the NPM library in DC, its nearly three miles of shelving contain more than 23,000 book titles and 5,700 journal titles.
  • American Topical Association:  The American Topical Association (ATA) was founded in 1949 and is now the largest philatelic society devoted specifically to topical stamp collecting. Serving almost 3,000 members worldwide, it is the best source of information, fellowship and authority in this field.
  • Duck Stamps:  The primary purpose of the National Duck Stamp Collectors Society (NDSCS) is to promote and encourage the collecting and study of migratory waterfowl hunting and conservation stamps. The NDSCS is the only stamp collecting society devoted exclusively to duck stamps.
  • First Day Covers:  Devoted to the advancement of First Day Cover collecting. Founded in 1955, the society has a membership of approximately 1,500 active first day cover collectors. The AFDCS holds a national annual convention (Americover) and publishes a journal (First Days).
  • Tedesco Index:  The Index of Literature in the English Language that Describes Postage Stamp Forgeries, Fakes, Reprints, fraudulent postal markings, and other obliterations.
  • Indians at the Post Office:  This virtual exhibit shows murals depicting American Indians’ political, economic and cultural lives. Their ability to rise above the mainstream non-Native world is exceptionally shown. I recommend turning the page, looking at the art, putting yourself in the artist’s shoes, and imagining how you would paint them.
  • Metered Mail:  The Meter Stamp Society is dedicated to the collection of metered and digital postage stamps. These include topical slogans on postage meter stamps, computer vended postage (CVP), framas, photostamps and similar items.
  • Ernesto Cuesta:  Annotated bibliography of Cuban philatelic literature. 
  • Stamp Collecting for Novices:  A thematic bibliography for beginner stamp collectors.
  • Stamp Collecting Software and Resources:  This is one in a series of articles published to provide a unique insight into how we incorporate technology into philately.
  • Stamp Libraries and Museums:  A detailed list, with hyperlinks, of all the worldwide philatelic centers.
  • Stamp Shows:  A current up to date list, with hyperlinks, of all the worldwide stamp shows with dates and locations.
  • The Story of Our Post Office:  Link to the digital version of one of the seminal works about US postal history.
  • US Postal Bulletins / PLandRs:  A fully searchable database of the U.S. Postal Bulletins that were produced from 1880 until the present day.


  • National Postal Museum:  The National Postal Museum opened in 1993 after a joint agreement between the Smithsonian Institution and the United States Postal Service. From 1914-1986 the building served as the main DC post office, right next to Union Station. The National Postal Museum offers exhibits tracing the history of the postal system in the United States. It houses nearly six million postal-related items — mostly stamps, but also postal stationery, greeting cards, covers and letters, mailboxes, postal vehicles, handstamps, metering machines, patent models, uniforms, badges, and other objects related to postal history and philately. 


  • American Philatelic Society:  Founded in 1886, with nearly 28,000 members in more than 110 countries, the APS is the largest, non-profit organization for stamp collectors in the world.
  • Postal History Foundation:  Located in Tucson, the mission of the Postal History Foundation is to promote an appreciation of stamp collecting and postal history through the preservation of philatelic and postal history collections, literature and documents, and the enhancement of youth education using stamps as teaching tools.
  • Royal Philatelic Society of Canada:  Canada's national stamp club since 1887.
  • Royal Philatelic Society of London:  The oldest philatelic Society in the world, established in 1869. Important research guides.
  • Spellman Museum of Stamps and Postal History:  In 1960, the National Philatelic Museum in Philadelphia, aligned with Temple University, was dissolved and most of its equipment, literature, and philatelic holdings were transferred to the newly incorporated Cardinal Spellman Philatelic Museum on the campus of Regis College in Massachusetts.
  • Wineburgh Philatelic Research Library:  Located in Texas, founded in 1976. This collection has holdings in Confederate postal history. The library is also home to the records of the Texas Philatelic Association.

Smithsonian Institution Resources

U.S. Government

  • Bureau of Engraving and Printing, U.S. Department of the Treasury: The Bureau of Engraving and Printing took over production of postage stamps for the United States government in 1894. The United States Postal Service switched to private postage stamp printers in 2005, ending 111 years of production by the Bureau.
  • Historical Postal Rates: Rates for Domestic Letters, 1792-1863, Rates for Stamped Cards and Postcards, Postage Rates for Periodicals, Number of Postal Employees Since 1926, etc. 
  • Library of Congress:  The Library of Congress occupies three buildings on Capitol Hill. The Thomas Jefferson Building (1897) is the original separate Library of Congress building. (The Library began in 1800 inside the U.S. Capitol.) The collection of more than 164 million items includes more than 38 million  books in 470 languages; and the largest rare book collection in North America. The Library’s Geography and Map Division has early post route, railroad, and other historical maps. Some of these maps have been digitized and can be viewed or downloaded from their website. 
  • National Archives and Records Administration:  The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is the nation's record keeper. Of all documents and materials created in the course of business conducted by the United States Federal government, only 1%-3% are so important for legal or historical reasons that they are kept by us forever. The National Archives houses postal records prior to 1971. Some of the records most useful in researching local postal history have been reproduced on microfilm, including National Archives Microfilm Publication M1131, Record of Appointment of Postmasters, October 1789–1832; Publication M841, Record of Appointment of Postmasters, 1832–September 30, 1971; and Publication M1126, Post Office Department Reports of Site Locations, 1837–1950. 
  • NARA Record Group 28 [POD]:  Journals containing orders of the Postmaster General, 1835-1953. Letters sent, 1789-1952. Letters received, 1837-43. Letters sent by the private secretary, 1867- 1901. Letters sent by the administrative assistant, July-December 1929. Letters sent by the executive assistant, 1930-35. Postage stamp printing contracts, 1850-1906. Correspondence files of Postmaster General, 1969-70. Publications providing details of a wide span of postal activities, 1961-71. Subject files of the Post Office Department Planning Committee, 1966-68.
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of the Interior:  One of the easiest ways to support bird habitat conservation is by buying Federal Duck Stamps -  created to protect habitat for birds. Federal Duck Stamps are conservation revenue stamps; 98 percent of the purchase price goes directly to help purchase conservation easements for the National Wildlife Refuge System. 
  • United States Postal Inspection Service:  U.S. Postal Inspectors are federal law enforcement officers who carry firearms, make arrests, execute federal search warrants, and serve subpoenas.
  • United States Postal Regulatory Commission:  An independent federal agency that provides transparency and accountability of the USPS's operations. Originally created in 1970 as the Postal Rate Commission, setting the rates for different classes of mail by holding hearings on rates proposed by the USPS.
  • USPS Annual Reports:  Financial reports filed with the Postal Regulatory Commission as required by the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006.
  • USPS Corporate Library:  The Postal Service’s Corporate Library has a collection of historical material, including the Annual Report of the Postmaster General since 1789, Postal Laws and Regulations since 1794, the United States Official Postal Guide from 1874 to 1954, and the Postal Bulletin since 1880. While the library does not lend out its historical material, its collection is open to the general public during regular business hours. The library also has secondary sources on postal history, its strength. It is twelve times the size of the NPM library in DC.
  • USPS Forms and Pubs:  Your official source for Postal Service directives.
  • USPS History:  In the more than two centuries since Benjamin Franklin was appointed our first Postmaster General in 1775, the Postal Service has grown and changed with America.
  • USPS Postal bulletin:  The official source of updates to USPS policies and procedures.
  • United States Postal Service:  We are more than 500,000 employees delivering 160 billion pieces of mail and generating $65 billion in revenue.
Last Updated October 6, 2023