National Postal Museum opens ‘From Royal Mail to Public Post’ exhibition

Celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the U.K.’s Royal Mail

On Oct. 21, an exhibit entitled “From Royal Mail to Public Post” opened at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum. The exhibition, open through Jan. 16, 2017, chronicles postal reform in the U.K.

The U.K.’s postal service, Royal Mail, observes its 500th anniversary this year. To mark the occasion, the National Postal Museum is presenting a display of original documents from 1635 and 1840, which were pivotal years in the expansion and evolution of the country’s postal network.


The exhibition includes the earliest known example of the world’s first stamp, the Penny Black, dated April 10, 1840, from the archives of leading British postal reformer Robert Wallace. These important documents chronicling postal reform in the U.K. are on loan from the private collection of British businessman and philatelist Alan Holyoake.

In 1516, King Henry VIII knighted a government clerk named Brian Tuke and gave him the title Governor of the King’s Posts. Tuke developed a system of post roads connecting London with the four corners of England. This was a closed system, available only to the king and high-ranking public officials. Its postmen were royal messengers who carried official writs, summonses and orders for the government. For the next three centuries, however, a series of reforms gradually opened the Royal Mail to public use.

The National Postal Museum is devoted to presenting the colourful and engaging 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. N.E., in Washington, D.C., across from Union Station. The museum is open daily (excluding Christmas) from 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

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