Don Shares His Recent Visit To The National Postal Museum & William Gross Stamp Gallery

Posted by Don Sundman on 18th Mar 2024

Whenever I’m in Washington, DC, (like I was on March 17, 2024) I visit our museum for stamp collectors – the Smithsonian National Postal Museum (NPM). It’s right next to Union Station and just a few blocks from the US Capitol.

There’s a welcome desk just past the security guards. It’s staffed by a very friendly museum staffer. She was terrific – full of helpful advice that’s especially useful to first-time visitors.

Historic Washington, DC, post office is now the lobby of the National Postal Museum.

After that, I entered the lobby of the historic post office. It’s beautiful. I always turn left into the “World of Stamps,” on my way to the Gems of American Philately Gallery. Both are part of the William H. Gross Stamp Gallery.

World of Stamps display featuring lots of giant postage stamps.

I walked toward the Rare Gems, then detoured to the little theater on the right. I watched a short film telling an abbreviated story of the first US Airmail stamp, the 1918 Inverted Jenny (#C3a). I’m one of the three collectors in the video telling the story of that stamp. At the time of filming, I owned the unique Inverted Jenny Plate Number Block. Dan Piazza (curator of stamps at the NPM) and Bill Gross join me in telling the story of the famous rarity. Or do I join them? Bill Gross is famous in the financial and stamp worlds for his $12 million gift to the NPM. That’s why we have the wonderful Gross Stamp Gallery.

Heading into the Gems of American Philately.
Gems of American Philately.
Famous Hawaiian Missionary stamps.
The Inverted Jenny display is the best part of the Gems of American Philately!

Next, I looked at the rarest stamps. I saw a folded letter addressed to John Hancock. It was postmarked July 4, 1776, in Philadelphia – the very day the Declaration of Independence was signed. Then I looked at four Inverted Jenny stamps (worth millions) on loan from Bill Gross and a Pony Express cover delayed a year by Indian attacks. Wow, talk about history! I finished up with an envelope postmarked on the Moon dated August 2, 1971.

Envelope visitors are given to hold their stamps.

I continued my walk and came to the Free Stamp Table. Hundreds of stamps lay on the table as four eager visitors picked through them. They examined each stamp and either put it aside to take with them or replaced it in the pile. Every visitor can take six stamps to start their own collection. Mystic gives stamps to this initiative and we have for 11 years. I love that people get to leave the museum with stamps in their pockets.

Me with the Benjamin K. Miller plaque recognizing Mystic’s contribution.

Next on my tour was the gallery with the National Stamp Collection, Postmaster Generals Collection, and famous Benjamin K. Miller Collection. Mystic sponsored displays for both the Postmaster Generals Collection and Miller Collection. I took a selfie next to the plaque. I’m proud of how Mystic supports the NPM and has for decades.

The Miller Collection has a 1¢ Z-Grill stamp (worth $3-$5 million). It’s the most valuable single US stamp, with just two known. One is the Miller stamp on display, the other is in Bill Gross’s personal collection. Gross is selling his 1¢ Z-Grill this summer (2024). It’s the same stamp I bought in 1998 for $935,000 – the highest price paid for a single US stamp at the time. I traded the 1¢ Z-Grill with Bill Gross for the Inverted Jenny Plate Number Block in 2005.

Entryway to the National Stamp Salon.
Interactive touch screen in the National Stamp Salon.
Pull-out drawers for stamps in the collection
Close-up of drawers. It’s hard to see, but in person, drawer #239 is more worn than the others – it contains the famous 1¢ Z-Grill!
Inside the 1¢ Z-Grill drawer. Look closely and you’ll spot the famous stamp (worth $3-5 million) in the center of the second row from the bottom.

I spent some more time looking at other great stamps before heading back to the main gallery. The four visitors I saw earlier were still sorting through the pile of free stamps. They’d been there for over 15 minutes, so I stopped to talk with them. I asked what stamps they picked and why. It was a mix of answers – country, design, and topic. They were surprised to talk with an actual stamp collector.

Visitors picking out their six free postage stamps to take home.

I left them to their fun and popped downstairs to see more of the museum. I took another selfie next to the statue of a mailman. The model for the statue was Allen Kane, director of the NPM at the time. Allen was thrifty to a fault and didn’t want the museum to pay for a model, so he was the model. They covered him in plaster, stuck straws up his nose to breath, and left him standing there for 45 minutes!

Me with the Allen Kane mailman.

You can see why I try to stop by the NPM anytime I’m in Washington. There are plenty more neat exhibits I didn’t mention here, especially in the Atrium. It’s something I think everyone should see at least once, whether they’re a stamp collector or not. It’s well worth an hour or two of your time. Admission is always free, so consider stopping by if you’re ever in the area. Who knows? You might even see me there!