National Postal Museum

Housed in the old City Post Office Building, my super amazing girlfriend declared this the “prettiest Smithsonian.”

As you can tell from my myriad blog posts, my super amazing girlfriend and I are working our way through all the Smithsonians. This is a wonderful hobby and I recommend everyone take it up. As you can tell from the title, this of course brought us to the National Postal Museum!

I had myself been to the Postal Museum once before in my ongoing quest to visit a bunch of Atlas Obscura places. This museum is lucky enough to house Owney the Postal Dog, who is a 125-year-old stuffed dog that was once an enthusiastic mascot for the postal service, having trained himself to ride the rails and collect various postal badges. My poor super amazing girlfriend has heard me wonder aloud about this several times at this point, but between Owney, my favorite stuffed goat, and the stuffed mascot of our most recent alma mater (I didn’t know about this one until she told me about it), there must have been a trend at some point to hand beloved animals over to taxidermists once they died. It makes me wonder if, as is the case with all fashion, the great wheel of trends will come full circle once again one of these days and we shall see a resurgence of dead animals gracing our hallways. One can only hope (one way or the other). Anyways here is Owney:

Back to the museum! It is split into two approximately equal parts, with one part residing upstairs and the other downstairs. The upstairs part is all about stamps. Stamps are a pretty robust technology and last time I visited I remember not being so interested in the stamps, but this time I had a new appreciation after seeing the exhibit. The postal museum’s stamp collection is very robust, and going through every single stamp they have on display would take quite a while. I petered out after opening two dozen or so drawers and slide-out displays, but all the stamps are very neat to look at, especially the famous ones like the inverted jenny. Appealing to our Global Affairs hearts, the museum also has a robust display of historic international stamps. Speaking of stamps and international stuff, one time long ago I was in Singapore, having ridden a submarine there. We (the officers and crew) didn’t know we were going to go to Singapore before we set off on this underway, and there is no internet on a submarine, so we were entirely unprepared for what we were going to experience. There was a robust rumor going around that there was a place where you could pay money to fistfight an orangutan. That was, again for better or worse, untrue, but what was true is that the ship had to post a special watch at the “Four Floors of Whores” to keep sailors out of trouble. I relate this to say that when me and a group of my friends saw a sign pointing to the “Singapore Philatelic Museum” we had no idea what kind of wild, depraved, or frightening things we would see there and therefore charted a wide path around it. Later, when we learned what “Philatelic” meant, we were embarrassed. Anyways here is a misprinted stamp I liked from the Congo Free State (only about 40 of the misprinted stamps survive):

Once you get your fill of stamps at the postal museum (and who could, really), you head downstairs where the displays are more about the history of the postal service and how the mail is actually delivered. They had a lot of interesting stuff! I kept teasing my super amazing girlfriend that they have a Massachusetts simulation, which is a little faux-wooded are meant to represent the New York-Boston Post Road circa 1673. They have another display on the history of mail trucks, and a riveting portion on sub-contracting. The postal service apparently sub-contracts out a lot of especially difficult mail delivery, and they have displays of people carrying mail via donkey or sled dog and the like. This portion also include a big-rig truck you can pretend to drive, which is a hoot. All in all, quite the interesting portion and gives you a solid appreciation for the mail.

Having learned a great deal about letters, stamps, mailboxes, and all the other bits that make those things useful, we ticked another Smithsonian off our to-do list and re-emerged into the hot DC sun. Then we got out of the sun and onto the metro to go find a nice cup of tea. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.