US Stamps

By Charles Snee

New book 'Every Stamp Tells A Story' salutes our nation’s stamp collection

December 18, 2014 11:31 AM

  • Every Stamp Tells a Story introduces in an engaging manner our country’s stamp collection, which is housed in the Gross gallery of the Smithsonian National Postal Museum.

A copy of Every Stamp Tells a Story: The National Philatelic Collection recently landed on my desk.

Edited by Cheryl Ganz, the curator emerita of the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, the book pulls back the curtain on our national stamp collection and reveals the treasures contained therein.

Some 20,000 objects from the collection are now on display in the William H. Gross Stamp Gallery of the National Postal Museum.

Richard R. John, author of Spreading the News: The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse, explains in the foreword the purpose of the book: “Every Stamp Tells a Story provides an engaging introduction to the National Philatelic Collection, with a focus on the United States.”

In his review in our Dec. 22 issue, Washington correspondent Bill McAllister calls Ganz’s effort “a good book, filled with a wealth of information about United States stamps” that “attempts to recreate the Gross Gallery in print.”

I concur with McAllister’s first point, but I disagree with the second.

While the Gross gallery certainly is a focal point for our country’s stamp collection, Every Stamp Tells a Story is centered primarily on the stamps and postal history — the collectible objects themselves — not on the space housing them.

More important, the book is organized to appeal to noncollectors.

The 18 chapters are light on text and heavy on illustrations.

The captions accompanying the 121 figures are short and, for the most part, free of philatelic terminology.

McAllister laments “flipping back and forth between pages” to connect chapter text with an appropriate figure.

This is not lamentable, as I see it, but expected when the space devoted to pictures is much greater than that given to the chapter commentaries.

Just 36 of the book’s 132 pages (not including the foreword, preface, index, and so on) are text only.

The rest are filled with colorful pictures.

In fact, a reader can well appreciate the panorama of stamps and covers on display at the Gross gallery simply by looking at the figures, without referring at all to the chapter text.

McAllister concludes his review by observing that “the gallery is so well-done that some readers may find the print version a bit of a letdown.”

For me, the only letdown is a 1918 24¢ Jenny Invert airmail error stamp from the collection, shown as Figure 3, which has a natural straight edge at right that detracts from the eye appeal.

Overall, though, I find Every Stamp Tells a Story an entertaining pick-me-up.

Consider purchasing a copy the next time you visit the National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C.