A gem in Boston: the Spellman Museum of Stamps & Postal History

We've looked at collections stored in stamp museums before, notably the Royal Philatelic Collection and collections stored in the British Library, such as the Tapling collection.

But it's high time to look across the pond from Britain to the United States for great stamp museums, and you don't have to cross much of the nation to find one.

The Spellman Museum of Stamps & Postal History on the campus of Regis College is one of two institutions of its kind in the country, and whilst it might not be as famous as the Smithsonian, it has been going from strength to strength.

Founded in 1960, the museum brought together the collections of Francis Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York, and the National Philatelic Museum in Philadelphia. Spellman himself declared:

"Stamps are miniature documents of human history [...] these vignettes give a vivid picture of the world, its occupants and their multifarious endeavors."

First tagged Transorma Stamp

It has since swelled to over two million items, drawing in collections such as two belonging to the late John S Stark of Cincinnati, Ohio: 'Luminescent US Stamps' and 'The Ohio Presidents.'

Of the former, Stark had written in 1965 in Luminescent US Stamps, "This collection was assembled initially as reference material for research into the luminescent properties of certain U.S. stamps.

"The technique for photographing stamps as they appear when viewed with ultraviolet light was developed and refined as a result of this research."

The museum also holds an example of the first 'tagged' stamp. Machines were designed, first in the Netherlands, to read stamps automatically, and for this a trigger in the stamp itself was required.

The test stamp was made from laminated paper having an aluminium foil centre ply that interrupted a short wave radio beam to trigger the machine.

Another highlight is a pair of stamps marked with a surcharge to recognise the first solo air-crossing of the Atlantic. Lindbergh made extended Goodwill Tours of the United States and Latin America.

Costa Rica Red Lindbergh surcharge stamp pair

On January 7, 1928, Costa Rica was the first of several Latin American countries to issue a stamp honouring him with a surcharge was printed on the 12c Christopher Columbus stamp. There is even material donated by President Dwight D Eisenhower.

The Spellman is not merely a sleepy archive however. It is always looking for a new theme or exhibition to turn members of the public on to stamps, balancing history with pure fun.

In Spring last year, they held a Holocaust Remembrance Philatelic Exhibit, presenting a unique insight into the individual views of WWII atrocities and their aftermath through the mail of those involved.

On the other hand, their recent July 4 celebrations included various children's games such as stamp hunts, and in September they will be celebrating Harry Potter on stamps. A little more magic and scampering could be just what the hobby of philately needs.


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