I got married three weeks ago! Just one of several unusual experiences from a recent trip to America – and no, Elvis and Vegas were NOT involved!
I also contrived to put my future wife into close proximity with large amounts of stamps and instead of being ordered to tidy them away I was instead told how much she had enjoyed the entire experience!
We both live in the North West of England, just 10 miles or so from the Sandafayre offices in Cheshire but instead of a traditional British wedding day we had opted to take an American road trip from Washington DC to New Orleans. We planned to spend a couple of days in the capital and follow a meandering route to take in the Blue Ridge and Smokey Mountains down, eventually, to New Orleans.
Roughly halfway we stayed for a couple of nights in North Carolina and took our vows in the gardens of a pretty Guest House at a beautiful town called Asheville. That evening we enjoyed an intimate dinner at the famed Biltmore Estate. Weddings at the opulent Biltmore are renowned for their grandeur, size and incredible cost so when we arrived at the restaurant in our wedding finery the Maître d' nearly had the vapours as he hadn’t been warned of a wedding that day!
I digress, we began the trip by spending two days in Washington, the weather was atrocious with constant heavy rain. It was the day of the yearly “March for Science” which had taken on some additional political significance with a great deal of anti- Trump sentiment being expressed. As we were from the UK and didn’t have a ‘dog in the fight’ one way or the other we simply wanted to find something interesting to do away from the demonstrators, preferably indoors.
Well, this played into my hands. The Smithsonian Postal Museum beckoned, I promised we didn’t have to stay there too long, it was away from the march, and it was dry, and well, it was dry… So in we went; a grand building and not too many people, my stoic fiancée by my side we waited for a small group to pass through a metal detector. Then we entered a very beautiful interior, warm and inviting with a library- like hush. We stepped into the first room to be assailed by a magnificent video display of stamps. It was really very good, a visual treat as the stamps grew, faded, changed and morphed into new stamps. An expensive and eye-catching introduction to stamp design, I was enchanted.
There was simply too much for me to do it all any justice. Yes, I expected to see some amazing stamps, and I did. The British Guiana 1c black on magenta, the US “Inverted Jenny”, the Hawaiian Missionary’s but I have to say that even those incredible stamps paled alongside the sheer investment and quality of the entire Museum experience. It was modern and exciting with kids sorting stamps they could take for free, or picking their favourite stamp images on giant screens and emailing themselves their final ‘collection’ whilst us older folk could gaze upon philatelic collections and historic displays without being disturbed whilst still sharing the same space with the youngsters.
Old mail- carrying biplanes hung from the ceiling, a full- size reproduction of a railroad sorting carriage you could walk inside, draws you could pull open which lit up to reveal rare and unusual postal items (I particularly liked the ancient Italian cover with sketches of gallows as a threat to thieves plus stirrups to denote the letter should be carried by fast horse service and “Cito, Cito, Cito” to ensure the rider made haste) Amazing stamp collections were available to inspect, beautifully displayed behind glass to be pulled out and admired. A metal box filled with mail thrown from a ship passing the Hawaiian Islands, a ‘rolling pin’ for adding pre-cancels to sheets of Canal Zone stamps… and on and on.
The rarities were accessible without being put at risk. Several of the world’s greatest philatelic treasures were in darkness until you approached them, then a soft light would activate until you moved away. The world’s most valuable stamp, the aforementioned British Guiana 1c black on magenta required you to press a button to illuminate it – but oh so accessible, no guards, no special rooms to file into. I am biased of course but possibly the best museum experience I’ve had.
The future Mrs Green (now the actual Mrs Green) really enjoyed it! It was genuinely fascinating to anyone with a sense of history and an appreciation of human endeavour, whether by those early pioneer post masters, or pilots, or the collectors whose efforts made the whole experience possible. I’d like to think that my personal tour- guiding helped but to be honest half the time she wandered off and found things that interested her. There was even a display of mail from a female helicopter pilot writing home from Gulf War 1 and items flown by Amy Johnson and Emelia Earhart with much background information.
I felt I had taken advantage for long enough and we left after a couple of hours and almost immediately regretted it as we both got very cold and wet. Next we alighted upon the famed Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, which we both found rather disappointing in comparison to the compressed human history we had just left behind. The following day with improved weather and no demonstrators we enjoyed the grandeur of the various Washington Monuments, the most powerful of which was probably the Vietnam Memorial but we both agreed that the Postal Museum had been the surprise winner of our first day!
Vincent Green (recently wed)