The Smithsonian Institution was established in 1846 “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men” by James Smithson, a British scientist, through a grant from his estate in 1836. Originally known as the “United States National Museum,” the museum’s name was officially changed to the Smithsonian Institution in 1967 although it had been known by that name almost since the beginning.
U.S. postage stamps have commemorated the Smithsonian Institution on three occasions. Each of the stamp designs depicts the main building, known as ‘The Castle’, from the same perspective but the production methods differ.
The August 10, 1946 issue (domestic first class letter rate of 3 cents) commemorated the 100th anniversary of the museum and the stamp design is from an official photograph taken by F.B. Kestner, Smithsonian photographer.
Photographic Origin for the Stamp Design
Three Cent Issue
Announcement cards were sent to news sources, publications and collectors advising of the date of issue and background information for the issue.
1946 Issue Announcement (front)
1946 Announcement (rear)
The second commemorative issue (domestic first class letter rate of 15 cents) was part of a set issued to honor U.S. architectural achievements and included three other institutions. This depiction is a wonderful line drawing design that, in my opinion, is the most attractive of the designs.
Fifteen Cent Issue
The commemorative issue of 1996 (domestic first class letter rate of 32 cents) honored the 150th anniversary of the institution. Although an interesting representation, the lack of detail somehow detracts from the aesthetic of what I envision as an institution documenting history.
Thirty-two Cent Issue
Even though postage stamps are subject to the quality control systems and procedures of security printers, accidents and happenstance produce oddities/errors, some escaping the production facilities to our philatelic joy such as this dry printing. (Perhaps the machine was in economy mode? OK that doesn’t really happen.)
In the following instance, the perforation machine was out of alignment and text for the design now appears at the top of the stamp rather than the bottom. It wouldn’t be too noticeable other than the text was slightly clipped at the top. Additionally and more importantly, this issue happened to be a se-tenant, with the stamp for the Penn Academy, Philadelphia stamp above it. By shifting the perforation upwards, the Penn Academy text now appears on the Smithsonian stamp – a wonderful fluke of luck for those of us loving such things.
A variety of such a mis-perforation results in missing text, making it appear the red color has been omitted during the press run. The actual case is that the margin above this position on the sheet was blank.
Errors such as these are often overlooked by the stamp’s purchaser and can be used for mailing as this example demonstrates. It went through the mail un-noticed and eventually landed in the collection.
Smithsonian Issue Error Used on Cover
It’s another of my favorite items for all of these reasons.