'Stamps Take Flight' Exhibit from Postmaster General's Collection Showcases World's Rarest 'Uncollectibles' at National Postal Museum
One-of-a-kind priceless "uncollectible collectible" envelopes and stamps -- ranging from the first U.S. airmail delivery nearly 150 years ago to lunar postmarks -- are now showcased in the Postmaster General's Collection housed at the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum in Washington, DC. The collection is a major component of the Museum's "Stamps Take Flight" exhibit that highlights the history of U.S. stamp-making.
The "Stamps Take Flight" exhibit includes historic one-of-a-kind treasures from the National Postal Museum:
"Stamps Take Flight" will be on view in the Philatelic Gallery of the National Postal Museum through March 19, 2006. The National Postal Museum is located at 2 Massachusetts Ave. N.E., in the Old City Post Office Building across from Union Station. The museum is open daily, except Dec. 25, from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. For more information visit http://www.postalmuseum.si.edu/.
- The Postmark from the Moon. The Apollo 15 Mail Pouch, inkpad and the postmarked envelope -- as evidenced by fingerprints of lunar dust when postmarked on the Moon's surface.
- The "Top Secret Stamp," known as the Project Mercury stamp, celebrated John Glenn's 1962 orbit of the earth. It was issued at the same time as the event it celebrated and designed and printed in total secrecy in case the mission failed.
The Apollo 15 mission was the first to include the Lunar Rover, a wheeled vehicle that greatly expanded the range of lunar exploration. During their three days on the Moon, astronauts Dave Scott and Jim Irwin went on three excursions with the Rover.
At the end of the third trip, before re-entering the lunar module, Scott took out this cloth pouch. The envelope in the pouch carried two die proofs of the eight-cent 1971 stamps honoring the 10th anniversary of the space program (one shows the Rover). The stamps were issued the same day on Earth with a first-day ceremony at Florida's Kennedy Space Center.
Scott canceled the die proofs with a cancellation device and ink pad from the pouch, producing a postmark that reads UNITED STATES / ON THE MOON / AUG. 2 1971 / FIRST DAY OF ISSUE. The postmark was faint enough that he tried again directly below it. Scott also added dusty "thumbprints" with his space suit glove. These may be the smudges on the left side.
The Apollo 15 crew included Colonel David Scott, the mission commander; Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Worden, the command module pilot; and Colonel James Irwin, the lunar module pilot. All three were U.S. Air Force officers. As in other Apollo missions, two astronauts (Scott and Irwin) landed on the Moon; Worden stayed in orbit in the command module.
The cover was canceled on the Moon by astronaut Dave Scott on August 2, 1971, during the Apollo 15 mission. It carries two advance, hand-perforated die proofs of stamps celebrating the U.S. space program.
This mail pouch and stamp pad went to the Moon and back on the Apollo 15 mission; the cancellation device is a duplicate. The original reportedly was left on the Moon in the section of the lunar lander that remained behind.
The "Top Secret" Stamp
On February 20, 1962, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. Minutes after his safe return, the Post Office released the Project Mercury stamp -- the first U.S. commemorative stamp issued at the same time as the event it celebrated. It had been prepared in complete secrecy in case the mission did not succeed.
To keep the project quiet, the stamp's designer worked from home while claiming to be on vacation. The picture engraver also gave the impression he was on leave, but came in at night. Another engraver did the lettering on weekends.
At the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, a rumor was spread that a new multicolor Giori press was locked away for printing test runs of multicolored money. In fact, the new press was being used to print the Project Mercury stamp -- well before John Glenn's mission took place.
Just over 400 people knew the secret; about half of them postal inspectors. As the day approached, stamps were sent in sealed packages to 305 post offices, still a mystery even to the postmasters themselves.