Postage stamps and museums do mix: the 1¢ Magenta goes on display
The announcement in the June 22 Linn’s that the British Guiana 1¢ Magenta will be on display at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum until November 2017 brought to mind an editorial in this publication in 1985 by former Linn’s editor-publisher Michael Laurence. He expounded that “stamp collections and museums don’t deserve each other.”
The convergence of several museum-related happenings, mostly negative, gave Laurence cause to speak out in defense of stamps and stamp collections everywhere. His message was loud and clear: “Stamps don’t belong in museums.”
The Benjamin K. Miller collection, one of the most outstanding collections of United States stamps ever assembled, was donated to the New York Public Library.
While on public display, several items from the collection were stolen, including a 1918 24¢ Inverted Jenny. The theft occurred in 1977, prompting the library to remove the collection from public view for several years.
As collectors and dealers around the world prepared for Ameripex 86, one of the greatest international stamp exhibitions ever held, the Smithsonian Institution announced that the National Philatelic Collection would not participate.
Laurence referred to the museum’s decision as “a fit of bureaucratic petulance.” The dispute was over the Smithsonian’s demands: that bullet-proof glass protect the exhibit, that guards be placed around the frames 24 hours a day, and that the show pick up the tab for the elaborate security.
In his editorial, Laurence made compelling arguments to discourage collectors from donating rare stamps to museums.
Fortunately, times have changed, and in recent years, collectors and museums have come together to share the world’s most remarkable stamps with the public.
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Under the guidance of former curator of philatey W. Wilson Hulme II and current museum director Allen Kane, the National Postal Museum has made giant strides in providing public access to many of the true gems of philately.
Hulme was instrumental in bringing to the museum select items from Queen Elizabeth II’s Royal Philatelic Collection and the United States Postal Service’s Postmaster General’s Collection.
After being forced into hiding for three decades, rarities from the New York Public Library’s Miller collection were placed on public view at the NPM beginning in 2007.
Kane was the driving force behind the creation of the museum’s William H. Gross Stamp Gallery, which has been described as “the largest and most innovative stamp display in the world.”
And now the crown jewel of philately, the British Guiana 1¢ Magenta, has pride of place in the Gross gallery, in the longest and most publicly accessible showing of the stamp ever.
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