US Stamps

Lera to retire as research chairfor National Postal Museum

October 28, 2014 12:45 PM

Thomas Lera, the Winton Blount research chair at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum, will retire Nov. 1.

Lera transformed the museum’s scientific direction and established the museum as a global leader in scientific analysis in stamp collecting since his appointment as research chair in 2007.

According to a press release from the National Postal Museum, Lera will continue to work with the museum after retirement,

Museum Director Allen Kane said he is arranging to retain Lera’s services for several years through a contractual agreement to allow him to complete many of the scientific studies already in progress as well as several in the planning stages.

In announcing Lera’s retirement, Kane paid tribute to his contributions, including co-chairing eight symposiums, publishing more than 50 articles and five books and creating a top philatelic scientific laboratory.

“Tom demonstrated to the world how nondestructive analysis of stamps and covers can answer questions on pigments, inks and gums,” said Kane. “His imprint on the hobby has been enormous, evidenced by Sotheby’s three-hour visit to the museum to study the 1-cent magenta British Guiana under Tom’s guidance.”

The Smithsonian recently recognized Lera’s work by awarding a Secretary’s Research Prize for his book, The G.H. Kaestlin Collection of Imperial Russian and Zemstvo Stamps.

Smithsonian Institution Secretary G. Wayne Clough works with the Smithsonian Congress of Scholars to present annual research prizes that recognize and promote excellence in scholarship across the institution. Lera was among 10 recipients this year.

Lera’s work at the National Postal Museum has influenced other organizations.

After spending time with Lera in the museum’s laboratory, expertizing services such as the Philatelic Foundation in New York and the Vincent Graves Greene Philatelic Research Foundation in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, purchased similar equipment to aid in their expertizing and research. Lera also worked with the Royal Philatelic Society of London on their Video Spectral Comparator 6000.

John Barwis, president of the U.S. Philatelic Classics Society, said: “The past two years have seen a dramatic increase in philatelists’ use of technology to understand how our country’s classic postal issues were made.

“Assumptions about ink and paper that have been held for almost 100 years are being examined and corrected, adding an entirely new and exciting dimension to the hobby we love. Without the availability of the equipment in the lab, and Tom’s expertise, most of the analytical work we have done would not have been undertaken, due either to prohibitive costs or to lack of technical knowledge.”

In addition to continuing his role of scientific analysis of stamps at the museum during his retirement, Lera is committed to write and/or complete work on three books that have already been accepted for publication.

He also will continue his work in supporting cave preservation.

The National Postal Museum is devoted to presenting the 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. NE, Washington, D.C., across from Union Station.

The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). The museum’s website is