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Website of the Week — National Postal Museum


Time again for our Website of the Week, when we showcase interesting and innovative online destinations. This week we visit the website of a popular Washington museum that brings little bits of paper to life.

POPE: "The National Postal Museum is one of the Smithsonian Institution museums. The website reflects both exhibits and activities the museum does physically in the [museum's exhibition] space, as well as activities and exhibits that exist only on the website itself."

Nancy Pope is a curator at the National Postal Museum, online at postalmuseum.si.edu.

The physical museum, located in Washington's former main post office building, includes not just a world-class collection of stamps, but also tells the story of how the nation’s mail is moved and the impact it has on our lives. Many of the museum's exhibits are presented online, often enhanced with additional information, and there are web-only features, too.

As any collector will tell you, the stamps issued by a country are an important reflection of the nation's life and culture.

POPE: "Countries use stamps to basically serve as an icon of what the country believes itself to be: what is important at that time for that country. It's almost like advertising themselves."

And that changes over time. Pope points out that early U.S. stamps typically featured presidents. Later stamps highlighted historic events, national parks or institutions like the girl scouts. Fast-forward to 2007: next year's stamps will include tributes to jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald, stained glass artist Louis Comfort Tiffany, and animated characters from Disney films.

The National Postal Museum website also focuses on the process of moving the mail, where technology has long played an important role. Today that can be seen in bar codes and in the scanners that read hand-written addresses. Early in the last century, it was the Post Office Department that created the basis for the American civil aviation industry.

POPE: "They set up beacons so you could fly at night, set up a system of telegraphs, of weather reports. It's an incredible creation of a transcontinental flyway that then establishes a standard that airlines can use when they start up."

Nancy Pope of the National Postal Museum, where they don't forget that the technology and the stamps are just ways of delivering messages, and you can read some of that mail -— from immigrants writing home from America or soldiers writing home in wartime 3 at postalmuseum.si.edu, or get the link from our site, voanews.com.

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