PCA Forges Partnership with National Postal Museum
A chance meeting at the Washington, D.C., Pen Show has led to a new partnership between the Pen Collectors of America and one of the nation’s leading museums for the preservation of the history of written communications, namely the Smithsonian National Postal Museum.
The 75,000-square-foot National Postal Museum, a part of the Smithsonian Institution, is on the lower level of the historic City Post Office Building nestled between the Capitol and the distinctive Beaux-Arts style Union Station in the Northeast quadrant of Washington, D.C. The PCA will co-host a Family Festival during National Letter Writing Month on May 29, 2010 (Memorial Day weekend).
As part of this inaugural event partnering the Postal Museum and the PCA, members of the PCA will join museum volunteers and staff to educate and give museum visitors an unusual educational experience. The Postal Museum atrium will feature activities including handwriting demonstrations, Pens For Kids workshops, understanding the history of filling systems, contemporary pen design, engineering of fountain pens filling systems, Pennant giveaways and, in culmination, visitors will link to the museum’s historical exhibits through a period Scavenger Hunt. The scavenger hunt will add the story of pens in America to the exhibitions, which focus on postal history and philately (stamp collecting).
Since 1993 the Postal Museum has told the story of postal and philatelic history. It is dedicated to the preservation, study, and presentation of postal history and philately, showcasing more than 5.9 million objects in its collection. With the event next May, the PCA will join the Smithsonian’s Secretary’s mission to “Inspire Generations through Knowledge and Discovery.” Erin M. Blasco, Public Programs Coordinator for the museum notes that adherence to high standards is critical when the Institution considers an organization or fellow museum to join them in a public program experience. The PCA joins the list of organizations that have partnered with the museum to present high quality education programs, including the US Postal Service and the American Philatelic Society.
How the partnership began
A discussion at the PCA Booth during the D.C. Pen Show began with a chance meeting with Postal Museum docent and pen collector, Tadas Osmolskis. During a family program about Victory Mail, Osmolskis decided to bring in some pens from the WWII era that could have been used to write V-Mail. He also brought in vintage ink that was marketed specifically for V-Mail use. The “Write Your Own V-Mail” station at the program came to life with the addition of historic pens. Grandparents shared memories, kids experienced a new sense of importance to their correspondence and, through it all, Osmolskis was there to explain how the pens worked and changed over time. It was a perfect example of how he and the other volunteers and staff members at the Postal Museum are keepers of decades of stories that are represented by the exhibits throughout the museum. As is typical for the Smithsonian, exhibits are presented in a thought-provoking manner that goes beyond old papers and artifacts. Like a good letter, the exhibits in the museum tell stories.
There are, of course, larger than life exhibits of mail carrying vehicles of all sorts and ages. In the atrium, above the exhibits and visitors below, all, hang three planes suspended flight above the rafters. Below that, is a more earthbound exhibit of a horse with a red stagecoach pausing on its route while a nearby Railway Post Office car allows for hands-on exploration and a nearby Alaskan dogsled is filled with mailbags for distant villages and settlements. All so real you can almost hear the clomping of hooves and whirling propellers. Exhibit rooms are filled with Victory Mail from WWII, letters Amelia Earhart carried across nations and oceans, railroad postal carriers with their beloved canine mascot, Pony Express riders, and priceless philatelic collections—including hand-drawn Depression-era stamp designs from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Guarding it all is, of course, the watchful bi-focaled eyes of Benjamin Franklin, a colonial-era postmaster and lifelong proponent of an efficient postal system in the colonies and, eventually, the new nation.
As pen collectors well know, any communication that ends with a stamp often features a pen, ink and stationery. Once the stamp is placed on the envelope, a tale begins as the words leave the hands of their writer and venture to the eyes of their recipient. The opportunity to join in and enrich the story told by the Smithsonian Postal Museum is both an honor and a privilege that the board of the PCA believes will encourage our members with the promise we are making fountain pen history, their use, and collecting enjoyment relevant to new audiences and younger generations.