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Smithsonian 150th Anniversary Stamp

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
The new Smithsonian 150th Anniversary stamp. It was issued February 7, 1996 with a short ceremony in Baird Auditorium unveiling the stamp. Sheets of the new stamp and envelopes with first-day cancellations were available for sale in the Rotunda of the National Museum of Natural History.

The American journal of philately

Smithsonian Libraries
"A monthly journal devoted to the interests of stamp collectors."

Title from caption.

Description based on: v. 2 (Jan. 20, 1869)

Second series, vol. 1, 1888.

Publication suspended from 1878-1888.

The Jan. issue contains an annual review.

Also available online.

Official organ of the National Philatelic Society of New York, and of the Staten Island Philatelic Society of Staten Island, and others.

Imprint varies: Scott Stamp & Coin Co., Ltd.

Elecresource

Philatelic Covers Presented to Carl H. Scheele

Smithsonian Institution Archives
Digital contact sheet available.

Philatelic covers presented to Carl H. Scheele, Associate Curator of Philately in the Division of Postal History at the National Museum of History and Technology, now known as the National Museum of American History.

Proceedings of the First International Symposium on Analytical Methods in Philately

National Postal Museum
Proceedings of the First International Symposium on Analytical Methods in Philately Edited by Thomas Lera, John H. Barwis, and David L. Herendeen Smithsonian Contributions to History and Technology, No. 57 NOW AVAILABLE. This volume showcases papers presented at the First International Symposium on Analytical Methods in Philately, hosted by the National Postal Museum in November 2012. Readers will find insights to research methods used across the entire spectrum of philatelic interests, from composition and physical characteristics of paper, to the chemistry and mineralogy of printing ink, to determining the genuineness of stamps, overprints, and the uses of adhesives on cover.

Commemorative Cover, Millennium Midnight

National Air and Space Museum
To celebrate the turn of the millennium, the Isle of Man Post Office issued a commemorative first day cover featuring three postage stamps inspired by astronomy. The stamps depict the night sky over the Isle of Man, as well as a clock and a time-date label. In sequence, they represent a minute before midnight December 31, 1999; midnight; and a minute after midnight on January 1, 2000. Each stamp is cancelled at the matching time, making the third one the first postage stamp issued in the world at the turn of the millennium. The third stamp in the set also shows the orbital track of the International Space Station over the island. The Isle of Man Post Office consulted with NASA in developing the stamp design and arranging for one of the first day covers to be flown on Space Shuttle mission STS-105 to the International Space Station in 2001.

After the mission, the Isle of Man Post Office donated the flown-in-space Millennium Midnight cover to the National Air and Space Museum.

Commemorative Cover, "2001: A Space Odyssey"

National Air and Space Museum
As a millennium project, the Isle of Man Post Office issued a commemorative cover focused on space exploration. The envelope was illustrated in tribute to Sir Arthur C. Clarke's "2001: A Space Odyssey" and featured a special issue Millennium Midnight stamp. The stamp depicted the night sky and orbital track of the International Space Station over the island, with time and date indicating a minute after midnight on January 1, 2000. A limited edition of 2001 envelopes bearing the stamp, some autographed by Sir Arthur, were cancelled on January 1, 2001. The Isle of Man Post Office consulted with NASA in developing the stamp design and arranging for one of the autographed envelopes (#2001 in the series) to be flown on Space Shuttle mission STS-105 to the International Space Station in 2001.

After the mission, the Isle of Man Post Office donated the #2001 envelope to the National Air and Space Museum.

Die Handstempel-Ausgabe von Libau / Alexander Bungerz

Smithsonian Libraries
Advertising matter: p. 29-32.

Also available online.

Elecresource

Envelope, Amelia Earhart, Signature

National Air and Space Museum
Envelope sent from Earhart to Crome, June 29, 1937.

Amelia Earhart became one of the most famous female aviators in history after her nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic on May 20-21, 1932, the first for a woman, in her bright red Lockeed Vega 5B (located in the Museum's Pioneers of Flight gallery). Other record flights include the first solo transcontinental flight by a woman from Los Angeles to Newark in 1932, the first solo flight by anyone from Hawaii to the United States mainland in 1935, the first nonstop flight from Mexico City to Newark in 1935, and the first altitude record in the Pitcairn autogiro. Earhart also served as founding member and president of the Ninety-Nines, the original women pilots organization, and toured the country delivering lectures, wrote several books about her flying experiences, and was very active in generating support for women in aviation. Although her disappearance during an around-the-world flight in 1937 has spawned innumerable theories, her true legacies as a courageous and dedicated aviator and an inspiration to women remain strong today.

This envelope, addressed to Ernest A. Crome, was postmarked on June 29, 1937 in Darwin, Australia, during Earhart's attempted around-the-world flight. It was signed by both Earhart and the flight's navigator, Fred Noonan, and is believed to be one of the last pieces of mail that was sent before their disappearance. Crome donated it to the Museum in 1976.

Amelia Earhart is probably the most famous female pilot in aviation history, an accolade due both to her aviation career and to her mysterious disappearance. On May 20-21, 1932, Earhart became the first woman, and the second person after Charles Lindbergh, to fly nonstop and solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Flying a red Lockheed Vega 5B, she left Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, Canada, and landed about 15 hours later near Londonderry, Northern Ireland. The feat made Earhart an instant worldwide sensation and proved she was a courageous and able pilot. Then, on August 24-25, she made the first solo, nonstop flight by a woman across the United States, from Los Angeles to Newark, New Jersey, establishing a women's record of 19 hours and 5 minutes and setting a women's distance record of 2,447 miles.

Born in Atchison, Kansas, on July 24, 1897, Amelia Earhart displayed an independent style from childhood, including keeping a scrapbook on accomplished women, taking an auto repair course, and attending college (but never graduating). She attended her first flying exhibition in 1918 while serving as a Red Cross nurse's aide in Toronto, Canada. She took her first flight in California in December 1920, with veteran flyer Frank Hawks, and declared, "As soon as I left the ground, I knew I myself had to fly." Her first instructor was Anita "Neta" Snook who gave her lessons in a Curtiss Jenny. To pay for flight lessons, Earhart worked as a telephone company clerk and photographer. Earhart soloed in 1921, bought her first airplane, a Kinner Airster, in 1922 and wasted no time in setting a women's altitude record of 14,000 feet. In 1923, Earhart became the 16th woman to receive an official Fédération Aéronautique Internationale pilot license.

Earhart moved to east to be near her sister and mother, and, after a second year at Columbia University in New York City, began working in Boston at the Denison Settlement House as a social worker with immigrant families. In the spring of 1928, she was flying at Dennison Airport, and had joined the local National Aeronautic Association, when she was offered the opportunity of a lifetime: to become the first woman to fly across the Atlantic as a passenger.

Amy Phipps Guest owned the Fokker F.VII Friendship and wanted to make the flight but when her family objected, she asked aviator Richard Byrd and publisher/publicist George Putnam to find "the right sort of girl" for the trip. On June 17, 1928, Earhart and pilots Wilmer Stultz and Lou Gordon departed Trepassey, Newfoundland and, though promised time at the controls of the tri-motor, she was never given the opportunity to fly the aircraft during the 20-hour 40-minute flight to Burry Point, Wales. She did get in the pilot's seat for a time on the final hop to Southampton, England.

The dramatic 1928 flight brought her international attention and the opportunity to earn a living in aviation. Putnam became her manager and she began lecturing and writing on aviation around the country. In August of 1929, she placed third in the All-Women's Air Derby, behind Louise Thaden and Gladys O'Donnell, which was the first transcontinental air race for women (from Santa Monica, California to Cleveland, Ohio) and a race she helped organized. This race, closely followed by the press and by the public who flocked to the stops along the way, proved that women could fly in rugged and competitive conditions.

A few months after the Derby, a group of women pilots decided to form an organization for social, recruitment, and business purposes. Ninety-nine women, out of 285 licensed U.S. female pilots, became charter members, inspiring the organization's name The Ninety-Nines (99s); Earhart became their first president. Female pilots were keenly aware of the lack of social and economic independence for all women and were determined to help one another.

In 1930, after only 15 minutes of instruction, Earhart became the first woman to fly an autogiro, made by Pitcairn and featuring rotating blades to increase lift and allow short takeoffs and landings. Earhart set the first autogiro altitude record and made two autogiro cross-country tours, which were marked by three public "crack-ups," as she called them. Though Earhart was the most famous woman pilot, she was not the most skilled.

Determined to prove herself, Earhart decided to fly the Atlantic Ocean again, but this time alone. She thought a transatlantic flight would bring her respect, something other women sought, too - Ruth Nichols made an attempt in 1931, crashing in Canada, but she was planning another attempt when Earhart succeeded. During her 2,026-mile nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic on May 20-21, 1932, Earhart fought fatigue, a leaky fuel tank, and a cracked manifold that spewed flames out the side of the engine cowling. Ice formed on the Vega's wings and caused an unstoppable 3,000-foot descent to just above the waves. Realizing she was on a course far north of France, she landed in a farmer's field in Culmore, near Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Acclaimed in London, Paris, and Rome, she returned home to a ticker tape parade in New York City and honors in Washington, D.C. By July and August she was back in the Vega for her transcontinental flight.

On January 11-12, 1935, Amelia Earhart became the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to the U.S. mainland, this time in a Lockheed 5C Vega. Although some called it a publicity stunt for Earhart and Hawaiian sugar plantation promoters, it was a dangerous 2,408-mile flight that had already claimed several lives. Of that flight she remarked: "I wanted the flight just to contribute. I could only hope one more passage across that part of the Pacific would mark a little more clearly the pathway over which an air service of the future will inevitably ply." Later that year, Earhart made record flights from Los Angeles to Mexico City and from Mexico City to Newark, New Jersey. She also placed fifth in the 1935 Bendix Race. Earhart was a two-time Harmon Trophy winner and was also the recipient of the U.S. Distinguished Flying Cross.

Earhart became the first woman vice president of the National Aeronautic Association, which authorized official records and races. She persuaded the organization to establish separate female records because women did not have the money or planes - and thus the experience - to fairly compete against men for "world" titles. Earhart served as a partner in the Transcontinental Air Transport and Ludington Airlines and lobbied Congress for aviation legislation. She promoted the safety and efficiency of air travel to women, on the premise that they would influence men. She tirelessly lectured across the country on the subjects of aviation and women's issues and wrote for Cosmopolitan and various magazines. She wrote about her flights and career in 20 Hours and 40 Minutes, The Fun of It, and Last Flight, which was published after her disappearance.

Earhart married George Putnam in 1931 - hesitantly - on the condition that they would separate in a year if unhappy. Though some called it a marriage of convenience, they remained together.

Earhart designed a line of "functional" women's clothing, including dresses, blouses, pants, suits, and hats, initially using her own sewing machine, dress form, and seamstress. Though "tousle-haired" and rather thin, she photographed well and modeled her own designs for promotional spreads.

Earhart also designed a line of lightweight, canvas-covered plywood luggage sold by Orenstein Trunk of Newark, New Jersey. Earhart luggage was sold into the 1990s and featured an Amelia Earhart luggage key, prompting some people to believe they possessed her "personal" aircraft or suitcase key.

In 1935, Earhart became a visiting professor at Purdue University at the invitation of Purdue president Edward Elliott, an advocate of higher education for women, especially in engineering and science. Earhart, a former premedical student, served as a counselor for women and a lecturer in aeronautics. Elliott was also interested in supporting Earhart's flying career and convinced Purdue benefactors to purchase a twin-engine Lockheed 10-E Electra for her. Many companies contributed their latest aviation technology to her Flying Laboratory.

Earhart decided to make a world flight and she planned a route as close to the equator as possible, which meant flying several long overwater legs to islands in the Pacific Ocean. On March 20, 1937, Earhart crashed on takeoff at Luke Field, Honolulu, Hawaii, ending her westbound world flight that had begun at Oakland, California. The Electra was returned to Lockheed Aircraft Company in Burbank, California, for extensive repairs. On June 1, 1937, Earhart began an eastbound around-the-world flight from Oakland, via Miami, Florida, in the Electra with Fred Noonan as her navigator. They reached Lae, New Guinea on June 29, having flown 22,000 miles with 7,000 more to go to Oakland. They then departed Lae on July 2 for the 2,556-mile flight to their next refueling stop, Howland Island, a two-mile long and less-than-a-mile wide dot in the Pacific Ocean.

Unfortunately, due to various circumstances, Earhart and the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Itasca, anchored off shore of Howland, could not complete any direct two-way radio communication and neither Earhart nor Noonan were competent at Morse Code. However, the Itasca did receive several strong voice transmissions from Earhart as she approached the area, the last at 8:43 am stating: "We are on the line of position 156-137. Will repeat message. We will repeat this message on 6210 kilocycles. Wait. Listening on 6210 kilocycles. We are running north and south." Earhart and Noonan never found Howland and they were declared lost at sea on July 19, 1937 following a massive sea and air search.

Earhart's disappearance spawned countless theories involving radio problems, poor communication, navigation or pilot skills, other landing sites, spy missions and imprisonment, and even living quietly in New Jersey or on a rubber plantation in the Philippines. The most reasonable explanation, based on the known facts of her flight, is that they were unable to locate Howland Island, ran out of fuel, and ditched into the Pacific Ocean.

Earhart's disappearance remains one of the great unsolved mysteries of the 20th century, and it often overshadows her true legacies as a courageous and dedicated aviator and as an enduring inspiration to women.

Les timbres-poste suisses, 1843-1862 / P. Mirabaud, A. de Reuterskiold

Smithsonian Libraries
Also available online.

Elecresource

Kurzgefasste Beschreibung der Essays-Sammlung von Martin Schroeder, Leipzig / beschreiben von A. Reinheimer

Smithsonian Libraries
Added English title page: Concise description of the collection of essays of Martin Schroeder, Leipzig.

"Zusammengestellt in den Jahren 1893-1902"--Title page of booklet.

Also available online.

Elecresource

The golden state scientist

Smithsonian Libraries
Title from cover.

"A monthly journal devoted to zoology, geology, archaeology, botany, numismatics and philately."

"Edited and published by E.M. Haight."

"Subscription price 50 cents per year in advance."

Only issue published: Vol. 1, no. 1 (Oct. 1886).

Advertisements on inside and back of wrappers.

Also available online.

SCNHRB copy (39088012980520) in original yellow printed paper wrappers; cardboard covers with reproduction of cover title on front.

Elecresource

3c Byrd Antarctic Expedition II autographed souvenir sheet

National Postal Museum
The 3-cent blue Byrd Antarctic Expedition souvenir sheet (Scott number 735) is imperforate, consists of six stamps, and bears plate number 21184. The Post Office Department issued it in 1934. It was produced by flat plate printing in ungummed panes of twenty-five souvenir sheets consisting of six imperforate stamps. These panes were cut into single souvenir sheets for sale at the National Stamp Exhibition in New York City on February 10-19, 1934. Stamps in these panes were of the same design and dark blue color as the sheet stamp originally issued in 1933 for use on mail from Byrd's base, Little America in the Antarctic.

Postmaster General James Farley provided uncut press sheets to selected friends and family, thus creating potentially scarce combinations of gutter pairs and blocks.

Due to the complaints of stamp collectors, the POD later issued a special printing of uncut panes, commonly called 'Farley's Follies', for sale to the public. The Scott catalog company assigned number 768 to these reprinted souvenir sheets. However, this caused serious problems for stamp collectors who could not determine the difference between Scott catalog numbers 735 and 768.

Barbara A. Hansen wrote in the Bureau Specialist: "Since the original issues automatically had their gutters destroyed when the panes were separated, it was impossible to form gutter blocks and gutter pairs. . .until after the reprints of 1935 were released. This constitutes the only major difference between the two listings." She continued, "It is absurd to call anything. . .768. . .unless it shows a full gutter."

Stamp identification aside, the notable aspect of this piece is that it bears the autograph of Admiral Richard E. Byrd, the organizer and leader of Antarctic Expedition II. This autographed souvenir sheet is from the collection of Malcolm MacGregor, who compiled a voluminous collection of autographed stamps from around the world, coupling philately with philography or the collection of autographs. He bequeathed his collection, consisting of thirty-three volumes of autographed stamps and covers, to the Smithsonian Institution Division of Philately, which took possession from his estate on January 27, 1984.

Catalogue of the philatelic library of the Earl of Crawford, K.T., by E.D. Bacon

Smithsonian Libraries
The foundation of this collection was the library of the late John K. Tiffany of St. Louis, acquired by the late Earl of Crawford in 1901. Enlarged and improved by important additions up to the time of his death in 1913, it was by him bequeathed to the British Museum.

This edition consists of 300 copies.

Published also with title: Bibliotheca Lindesiana vol. VII. A bibliography of the writings, general, special and periodical forming the literature of philately ... [Aberdeen] Aberdeen University Press, 1911.

Also available online.

NPM copy 39088007361967 is part II only (col. 429-924) and includes additional pages of annotations and printed material.

Elecresource

130 lire Arms of Pope Pius IX single

National Postal Museum
The Vatican Post commemorated the first centenary of the death of Pope Pius IX (1792-1878) with a multicolor series of three values. It issued the stamps on May 9, 1978, the opening day of "Pope Pius IX Philatelic Exhibition," which was held in Rome.

To commemorate the centenary and the philatelic history of the Pontifical States, the exhibition took place May 9-14, 1978. The Italian Philatelic Association of Rome, with the cooperation of the Vatican and Italian Postal Administrations, sponsored the exhibition. The exhibits were appropriately named the "Alberto Diena Philatelic Exhibition," homage to the late Dr. Diena, an eminent scholar of all aspects of Pontifical States philately. The exhibition was devoted exclusively to rare stamps and covers of the Pontifical States period.

Although the three values have a basic common design, consisting of a floral design incorporating two scrolls with the inscription "Pius IX 1878-1978," each stamp's central design varies. The 130-lire stamp shows the pope's coat of arms. The 170-lire stamp shows the pope's seal, used in the "Bull" defining the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception. The 200-lire stamp features a portrait of the pope from a painting in the Vatican Apostolic Library. "POSTE VATICANE" appears under the floral design at the bottom of each stamp, and the value is located directly above the word "POSTE."

The stamps, designed by P.N. Argittu, are vertical in format, measure 30 x 40 mm, and have a perforation of 13 1/4 x 14. The total printing amounted to 1,150,000 complete sets, distributed in sheets of forty stamps. The State Polygraphic Institute, Rome, printed the stamps in rotary photogravure on white glossy paper.

References:

Lopreiato, Joseph. "Pope Pius IX - Death Centenary 1878 - 1978." Vatican Notes 27, no. 2 (September - October 1978): 7.

Lopreiato, Joseph. "Exhibition Honors Pius IX and Dr. Alberto Diena." Vatican Notes 27, no. 2 (September - October 1978): 8.

200 lire Pope Pius IX single

National Postal Museum
The Vatican Post commemorated the first centenary of the death of Pope Pius IX (1792-1878) with a multicolor series of three values. It issued the stamps on May 9, 1978, the opening day of "Pope Pius IX Philatelic Exhibition," which was held in Rome.

To commemorate the centenary and the philatelic history of the Pontifical States, the exhibition took place May 9-14, 1978. The Italian Philatelic Association of Rome, with the cooperation of the Vatican and Italian Postal Administrations, sponsored the exhibition. The exhibits were appropriately named the "Alberto Diena Philatelic Exhibition," homage to the late Dr. Diena, an eminent scholar of all aspects of Pontifical States philately. The exhibition was devoted exclusively to rare stamps and covers of the Pontifical States period.

Although the three values have a basic common design, consisting of a floral design incorporating two scrolls with the inscription "Pius IX 1878-1978," each stamp's central design varies. The 130-lire stamp shows the pope's coat of arms. The 170-lire stamp shows the pope's seal, used in the "Bull" defining the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception. The 200-lire stamp features a portrait of the pope from a painting in the Vatican Apostolic Library. "POSTE VATICANE" appears under the floral design at the bottom of each stamp, and the value is located directly above the word "POSTE."

The stamps, designed by P.N. Argittu, are vertical in format, measure 30 x 40 mm, and have a perforation of 13 1/4 x 14. The total printing amounted to 1,150,000 complete sets, distributed in sheets of forty stamps. The State Polygraphic Institute, Rome, printed the stamps in rotary photogravure on white glossy paper.

References:

Lopreiato, Joseph. "Pope Pius IX - Death Centenary 1878 - 1978." Vatican Notes 27, no. 2 (September - October 1978): 7.

Lopreiato, Joseph. "Exhibition Honors Pius IX and Dr. Alberto Diena." Vatican Notes 27, no. 2 (September - October 1978): 8.

170 lire Seal of Pius IX single

National Postal Museum
The Vatican Post commemorated the first centenary of the death of Pope Pius IX (1792-1878) with a multicolor series of three values. It issued the stamps on May 9, 1978, the opening day of "Pope Pius IX Philatelic Exhibition," which was held in Rome.

To commemorate the centenary and the philatelic history of the Pontifical States, the exhibition took place May 9-14, 1978. The Italian Philatelic Association of Rome, with the cooperation of the Vatican and Italian Postal Administrations, sponsored the exhibition. The exhibits were appropriately named the "Alberto Diena Philatelic Exhibition," homage to the late Dr. Diena, an eminent scholar of all aspects of Pontifical States philately. The exhibition was devoted exclusively to rare stamps and covers of the Pontifical States period.

Although the three values have a basic common design, consisting of a floral design incorporating two scrolls with the inscription "Pius IX 1878-1978," each stamp's central design varies. The 130-lire stamp shows the pope's coat of arms. The 170-lire stamp shows the pope's seal, used in the "Bull" defining the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception. The 200-lire stamp features a portrait of the pope from a painting in the Vatican Apostolic Library. "POSTE VATICANE" appears under the floral design at the bottom of each stamp, and the value is located directly above the word "POSTE."

The stamps, designed by P.N. Argittu, are vertical in format, measure 30 x 40 mm, and have a perforation of 13 1/4 x 14. The total printing amounted to 1,150,000 complete sets, distributed in sheets of forty stamps. The State Polygraphic Institute, Rome, printed the stamps in rotary photogravure on white glossy paper.

References:

Lopreiato, Joseph. "Pope Pius IX - Death Centenary 1878 - 1978." Vatican Notes 27, no. 2 (September - October 1978): 7.

Lopreiato, Joseph. "Exhibition Honors Pius IX and Dr. Alberto Diena." Vatican Notes 27, no. 2 (September - October 1978): 8.

Get Your Burning Questions Answered, It's #AskaCurator Day

Smithsonian Magazine

Curators across the globe, from the McDermott Gallery (@McDermottGallry) in Cambodia to the Sierra Leone National Railway Museum (@SLRailwayMuseum) in West Africa, are participating in #AskaCurator Day. Launched in 2010 by museum consultant Jim Richardson and currently overseen by MuseoMixUK founder Mar Dixon, #AskaCurator Day provides instant access to curators of cultural venues and their wide breadth of knowledge. All that’s required is a Twitter account, the tag #AskaCurator, and a question on art, history, science, or whatever else pops into your noggin.

As Dixon told the Guardian, “It's a win-win for everyone involved, and a free for all in every sense” because it eliminates any nervousness someone might feel approaching a curator and gives curators a better sense of what the general public would like to know more about.

Last year's #AskaCurator Day proved highly popular, especially for Smithsonian museums. The Institution's curators fielded such questions as “How big is the Earth in comparison to the Sun?”, “Is the first light bulb still working?”, “What’s the best quality a curator can have?”,  and “How do you go to the bathroom in space?”.

This year, among the experts participating are:

  • At the Postal Museum (@postalmuseum), historian and curator Nancy Pope and curator of philately Daniel Piazza are ready to tackle pretty much any postal-related question you may have. Pope will be fielding questions in all areas of postal history; however, her particular interests are transportation and technology history. As for Piazza, he will serve as an excellent resource for philatelic (stamp-related) questions.
  • Simon Rettig, curator of the Freer | Sackler’s (@freersackler), will be on hand to talk about the new nasta’liq exhibition.
  • At the National Museum of African American History and Culture (@NMAAHC), seven curators on topics ranging from photography to music to slavery will all be standing by, ready to answer your questions.
  • Curators from the American History Museum (@amhistorymuseum) are scheduled throughout the day. Check out the O Say Can You See blog for the full list, but the topics covered will include photography, digitization, country music, the museum's LGBT collections, money, baseball cards and much more.
  • The National Museum of Natural History is well-represented, with five curators from Rogers Archaeology Lab (@archaeologylab) and curator Nick Pyenson of Pyenson Lab (@pyensonlab) available to answer questions pertaining to the fields of linguistics, physical anthropology, cultural anthropology, archaeology, and marine biology and evolution.
  • Also fielding questions are curators from the National Air and Space Museum (@airandspace), and the National Museum of African Art (@nmafa).

“It’s wonderful to shine a spotlight on how museums engage with the community through technology,” says Sarah Sulick, the public affairs specialist who will be working the @smithsonian account for #AskaCurator Day. “At the Smithsonian, we like to think of every day as ‘Ask a Curator Day’ since our hundreds of social media accounts put you in touch with countless experts on topics as varied as art, history, science and culture.”

Not a fan of social media? You can always submit your questions to “Ask Smithsonian.” Your question may even be featured in our magazine or one of our Ask Smithsonian videos, so ask away!

Increase and Diffuse Knowledge for the Holidays With These Smithsonian Curated Books

Smithsonian Magazine

One of the most cherished of American traits is the quest for knowledge. When Englishman James Smithson endowed the United States with his great fortune, he had never visited America, but he knew that the new Republic was a place where the great engines of industry would generate a growth in ideas and require an ongoing thirst for knowledge among its populace. His funds to “found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge” today endows a host of scientists, historians, educators and scholars, many who contribute to Smithsonian.com in our popular Curators’ Corner. We asked Smithsonian scholars to make book recommendations to our readers for this holiday season of gift giving; and here is what they offered.

Ryan Lintelman, curator, entertainment, National Museum of American History

Born to Run

Springsteen fans like myself couldn't wait to get their hands on The Boss' epic memoir, Born to Run, and it didn't disappoint. In 510 pages of compelling prose that's part confessional, part stage banter, Springsteen lays bare his soul, reflecting on mental illness, family, faith and redemption, as well as the details of his career in Rock.

Colonial Spirits: A Toast to Our Drunken History

A whimsically illustrated, thoroughly entertaining history of early American drinking and its relevance to the development of the nation, including immigration, war, temperance, and the Founding Fathers. Colonial Spirits: A Toast to Our Drunken History by Steven Grass includes recipes so that aspiring mixologists can whip up glasses of history at home.

David Ward, senior historian, National Portrait Gallery

Wonders Will Never Cease

How is it that I am just learning about Robert Irwin? His magical novel Wonders Will Never Cease about England, in the late 15th century, and the dynastic struggle between the houses of York and Lancaster (as well as the usual problems with the French) against the backdrop of the mythic past of Arthurian England. The main character is Anthony Woodville who rises—literally—from the dead after being “killed” in battle to become an observer of his own life as a knight, courtier and inadvertent myth maker. Amazingly readable.

Hitler: Ascent

Overall, as an historian, I have been interested in the two great themes of modern times: slavery (and freedom) in the 19th century and the Holocaust in the 20th. The first of this German historian/journalist’s two-volume biography of Adolph Hitler, Volker Ullrich is instructive in showing how a particular historical circumstance combined with a messianic new-style of populist politics led to the destruction of democracy in Germany.

Grand Illusions: American Art and the First World War

Frederic Church: The Art and Science of Detail

On cultural history, I learned much from David Lubin’s Grand Illusions, a sweeping yet incisive survey of the impact of World War I on more than just America’s art and artists (the chapter on plastic surgery is fascinating), Grand Illusions as well as from my friend Jennifer Raab’s more specialist, yet still accessible, study Frederick Church: The Art and Science of Detail and the meaning of 19th-century landscape paintings.

The Swimmer: Poems

The Hatred of Poetry

I didn’t read as much poetry this year as I would have liked but can recommend one of my favorites, John Koethe for his latest book The Swimmer. A former philosophy professor, Koethe surveys the hidden world of appearances in daily life in a style that I envy for having the smoothness of a powerful river. I also enjoyed arguing (on Smithsonian.com) with poet and novelist Ben Lerner’s polemical The Hatred of Poetry.

Chris Wilson, director, program in African American culture, National Museum of American History

White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America

Nancy Isenberg’s account is a fascinatingly relevant look at American history through the lens of class, arguing that to really understand ourselves we have to work to challenge the myth that anyone can be anything in this country.

March, Book Three

In his final installment of his Civil Rights Movement memoir in which he looks at the tumultuous years 1963- 1965, Congressman John Lewis deftly and artfully illustrates what we attempt to teach the public at the Smithsonian with regard to the Movement—successful activism isn’t just passion and protest, it is also—and sometimes chiefly—strategy, organization, coalition building, logistics and day to day work at the grass roots.

The Underground Railroad

In my work with film and theater as a public historian, I always look to what can be best achieved through artistic exploration of the past. The stirring images and scenes in The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead bring a new understanding to the experience of American slavery beyond what can be discovered from scholarship alone. “Truths” are not always facts and I found so many relevant emotional truths in this novel that are just as important for us to tackle.

Paul Gardullo, curator, National Museum of African American History and Culture

The New Mutants: Superheroes and the Radical Imagination of American Comics (Postmillennial Pop)

I love books that begin with a subject that we think we know but then completely throws me for a loop. Ramzi Fawaz's book does just that. It provides a strikingly new view of looking at the real power and impact of comics, their seriousness and their subversiveness. It provides a pantheon of alternative heroes and heroics, rewarding readers with the multidimensionality of this 2D world. What's incredible is that it does so without sacrificing any of the fun and joy of why we devour comics.  

Citizen: An American Lyric

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape

I missed so many books this year in the run up to opening of our museum in September. I really want to read Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad and Marlon James A Brief History of Seven Killings, but they sit, still unopened and set aside. Most of the life changing books for me that first come to mind are all releases from last year–but tremendous they are. Here is a mighty trio:  Claudia Rakine's Citizen; Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy and Trace: Memory, History, Race and the American Landscape by Lauret Savoy (a current Smithsonian Institution Senior Fellow). These three provided me with profound ways to think deeply about our past, present, future, about myself, about others and about the places that shape us as individuals and communities.

Amy Henderson, curator emerita, National Portrait Gallery

Peacock & Vine: On William Morris and Mariano Fortuny

Prolific critic, author and Booker Prize-winner A.S. Byatt explores the lives and designs of two of her favorite artists, Morris and Fortuny. She argues that “their revolutionary inventions…inspired a new variety of art that is as striking today as when it was first conceived.”

The French Chef in America

The grand-nephew of Julia Child, writer Alex Prud’homme collaborated with her on her best-selling memoir about her life in Paris. In this follow-up, he writes about her life from 1963 to her death in 2004—years when she became an iconic celebrity figure  in American culture.

Sweet Dreams and Flying Machines: The Life and Music of James Taylor

Mark Ribowsky chronicles the life of “America’s Troubador” from his youth, through his major hits in the early 70s to his career today. He also tracks the generational shift in rock artistry and the transformation of the music industry in the post-Beatles decades.

The Art of Rivalry: Four Friendships, Betrayals, and Breakthroughs in Modern Art

Sebastian Smee explores the rivalry, friendships and connections between eight of the most famous artists of the modern era. His objective is the show that the art of rivalry is “the struggle of intimacy itself: the restless, twitching battle to get closer to someone…balanced with the battle to remain unique.”

Kenneth Clark: Life, Art and Civilisation

A wonderfully written biography by James Stourton of one the great figures of the 20th-century art world. Delicious stories about everyone from the Bloomsbury set to Bernard Berenson to such major artists as Henry Moore. Clark was best known for his British TV series “Civilisation” and his biographer happily wraps him in the cloak of connoisseurship—an interpretation now out of fashion, but one that previously set all the rules about how art itself was to be viewed.

Doug Herman, geographer, National Museum of the American Indian

Hawaiki Rising: Hokule'a, Nainoa Thompson, and the Hawaiian Renaissance

For all the armchair voyagers out there wishing they could travel around the globe with the Polynesian sailing vessel Hokule'a, this one I can heartily recommend, it’s a great read!

Bill Pretzer, curator, history, National Museum of African American History and Culture

We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation

Executive Director of the Center for Diversity in the Arts at Stanford University, Jeff Chang provides trenchant essays exploring the idea of “diversity,” the roots of student protest, changing notions of Asian American identity and the impact of a century of segregated housing.

Power to the People: The World of the Black Panthers

Published on the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party’s founding, Power to the People is an insider’s chronicle of that iconic revolutionary organization by Bobby Seale and Steven Shames. Seale was co-founder along with Huey Newton of the Black Panthers; Shames was a student at UC Berkeley who became the preeminent photo-documentarian of the party. Shames provides memorable images while Seale offers colorful commentary.

North of Dixie: Civil Rights Photography Beyond the South

Mark Speltz, senior historian at the toy and publishing company American Girl, has assembled an eye-opening collection of images of the Civil Rights Movement from the American North and West. The emphasis is on the everyday foot soldiers who protested segregation, police violence and job and housing discrimination in cities from Los Angeles to Philadelphia, a timely reminder that race has always been a national, not sectional issue.

Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy

University of Michigan professor Heather Ann Thompson reconstructs the events of the 1971 uprising at New York’s Attica Prison, the subsequent lengthy legal proceedings, both criminal and civil, and the decades of official miscalculations and cover-ups that continue to this day. Thompson explains how she knows what she knows and even explores her own methodological and ethical quandaries…a master historian discussing her craft and illuminating the crisis of prison reform.

Nancy Pope, curator, postal history, National Postal Museum

Wings Across America: A Photographic History of the U.S. Air Mail

Before his death, Jesse Davidson amassed an extensive and wonderful collection of photographs from the early years of the airmail service. This book allowed him to share the photographs with the world

R.F.D. Country! Mailboxes and Post Offices of Rural America

Everyone has a mailbox, but some rural Americans have taken those plain looking boxes and surrounded them with the most interesting objects and creatures.

Letters From the Sand: The Letters of Desert Storm and Other Wars

The American military has long recognized the crucial importance of mail to their personnel’s morale. Letters maintain essential connections between men and women overseas and family and friends back home.

An American Postal Portrait: A Photographic Legacy

Photographs from the U.S Postal Service and the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum are used to tell an engaging story of America’s postal service.

Every Stamp Tells a Story: The National Philatelic Collection (Smithsonian Contribution to Knowledge)

Cheryl Ganz, a former chief curator of philately for the National Postal Museum, edited this collection of stories about stamps and stamp collecting, a companion guide to the museum’s William H. Gross Stamp Gallery.

Scott Wing, research geologist, National Museum of Natural History

Atmosphere of Hope: Searching for Solutions to the Climate Crisis

The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World

Lisa Kathleen Graddy, curator, political history, National Museum of American History

Dead Presidents: An American Adventure into the strange Deaths and Surprising Afterlives of our Nation’s Leaders

Both thoughtful and laugh out loud funny, Dead Presidents by Brady Carlson takes readers on a tour of the tombs, monuments, and museum of the nation’s deceased leaders with commentary on how they died, what we remember about them, and how their memory is being used by the rest of us.

When Women Win: Emily’s List and the Rise of Women in American Politics

A lively "backstage” political story about Ellen Malcolm’s creation of Emily’s List and some of the key campaigns it fought to put women in the United States Congress. A great read for political junkies.

Peter Liebhold, chair, division of work and industry, National Museum of American History

Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, And the Future of Food

GMOs are a complicated and largely misunderstood topic. This is a great book that the activists and big ag dislike.

Born in the Country

This book, written two decades years ago, still resonates with a fresh, accurate and surprisingly eye-opening look at the real rural history of the United States. Not a romantic journey.

Bad Land: An American Romance

A friend told me I had to read this book; she was right. Turns out that many pioneer farmers were not very good at their job. Good book if you want color and no footnotes.

Scraping By: Wage Labor, Slavery, and Survival in Early Baltimore

Brilliant look at slavery and the antebellum working class in the United States.

Empire of Cotton: A Global History

A classic story retold with nuance and thought.