National Postal Museum Opens “From Royal Mail to Public Post” Exhibition

[NPM October 21 Press Release]

National Postal Museum Opens
“From Royal Mail to Public Post” Exhibition

Observing the 500th Anniversary of the United Kingdom’s Royal Mail

“From Royal Mail to Public Post” opened today, Oct. 21, at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum. The exhibition, open through Jan. 16, 2017, chronicles postal reform in the United Kingdom.

The United Kingdom’s postal service, Royal Mail, observes its 500th anniversary in 2016. To mark the occasion, the National Postal Museum is presenting a temporary display of original documents from 1635 and 1840, pivotal years in the expansion and evolution of the country’s postal network. The exhibition includes the earliest known example of the world’s first stamp, the Penny Black, dated April 10, 1840, from the archives of leading British postal reformer Robert Wallace. These important documents chronicling postal reform in the United Kingdom are on loan from the private collection of British businessman and philatelist Alan Holyoake.

First Proof of Penny Postage Stamp Cover. Presented to Mr. [Robert] Wallace by the Right Honourable the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Francis Thornhill Baring, April 10, 1840. Loan from Alan Holyoake. Photo courtesy National Postal Museum.
First Proof of Penny Postage Stamp Cover. Presented to Mr. [Robert] Wallace by the Right Honourable the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Francis Thornhill Baring, April 10, 1840. Loan from Alan Holyoake. Photo courtesy National Postal Museum.

In 1516, King Henry VIII knighted a government clerk named Brian Tuke and gave him the title Governor of the King’s Posts. Tuke developed a system of post roads connecting London with the four corners of England. This was a closed system, available only to the king and high-ranking public officials. Its postmen were royal messengers who carried official writs, summonses and orders for the government. For the next three centuries, however, a series of reforms gradually opened the Royal Mail to public use.

The National Postal Museum is devoted to presenting the colorful and engaging history of the nation’s mail service and showcasing one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of stamps and philatelic material in the world. It is located at 2 Massachusetts Ave. N.E., Washington, D.C., across from Union Station. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). For more information about the Smithsonian, call (202) 633-1000 or visit the museum website at www.postalmuseum.si.edu.

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