Franklin County Industrial Development director Tim Smith usually thinks big, but this year he is planning a very, very small event. Tim is the former St Albans City Recreation Director responsible for such "Guinness" projects as the World's Largest pancake and the World's Largest ice cream sundae.
THE MOST MINUSCULE PHILATELY
The new and eagerly anticipated Vermont Museum of Minute Stamps opens Sunday in St Albans, Vermont.
"This is the grand opening for the world's smallest permanent gallery of substandard size postage stamps," Tim said. "Many of these stamps use Vermont artworks and were printed right here in Franklin County."
Few Vermonters are aware that the state maintains its own postal service. The Vermont Post Office, which celebrates an anniversary this weekend, has been in continuous operation since April 1, 1777. Although now restricted to moving mail among the state government offices, the Vermont Post Office has taken several bows on the international stage.
Early letter carriers earned no salaries but did receive 2 cents from each recipient of a delivered letter. Since the carriers had to supply the stamps (receipts) for the charges, these frugal Vermonters printed the smallest stamps possible. Early stamps carried only the chop of the carrier. Unwilling to pay for costly perforation, letter carriers scissored the stamps from the densely printed panels. The earliest stamp printer ran a small letterpress operation in a coal shed near the area that became the St Albans railroad tracks.
As our culture grew, Franklin County printers incorporated the wood-engraving technique using English boxwood, chosen for its density and hardness, to add heroic portraits to the stamps. By the mid-19th Century, American illustrators and genre painters such as David Gilmour Blythe created miniature satirical studies of everyday life for each stamp. Vermont stamps have appeared since in triangle, oval, circle, square, and free form shapes including one "large" 1 cm tall piece shaped as a map of Vermont.
By 1800, Vermont was the fastest growing state in the Union with an extensive mail service. In 1860, when St Albans began its rapid growth as a railroad hub, freight trains carried mail to letter carriers throughout the state. At the turn of this century, 23 parallel rail lines crossed Lake Street in the largest rail freight center East of Chicago.
Modeled after the St Albans system, the federal Railway Mail Service delivered most interstate mail until shortly after World War II but the end of Vermont Railway Mail came when Rural Free Delivery became permanent in 1896. That year also marked the end of the Vermont miniature illustrator stamp. The famed 1896 Railway Post in St Albans stamp, the last printed for the Vermont postal service, is included in the museum collection.
Tim Smith found several other strong artistic and historic connections to the Vermont post. Novelist Anthony Trollope became a clerk in the Vermont Post Office as a young man before he entered the civil service in England and may have begun his first novel, The MacDermots of Bally Coran, at the Highgate office. President Chester A. Arthur prosecuted bribe takers in the federal Post Office and attempted to model the national postage after Vermont's system. His support of Vermont stamps failed when Congress enacted the small stamp tariff act of 1883.
"Stamps are valued according to their rarity, condition, and size," Tim said of the local collection. The two-penny 1856 Allen E. Allen stamp brought $3,260,000 at a 1999 auction. The prior world record price was set in 1987 with the sale for $1.1 million of the Vermont two-cent "Lady McGill" stamp, rumored to have been named for letter carrier Allen Allen's Tory great-great-grandmother.
An anonymous patron bequeathed a dozen different 19th Century samples to the museum--these tiny receipts are stored in a single 2 cm square pochette. The collection also includes stamp-imprinted envelopes, first-day covers from each Vermont town, post cards, letter sheets, plate blocks, and complete panes of stamps as they came from the printer.
Because the exhibits are so small, the museum itself is housed in the new three-foot square granite structure in Taylor Park. Entry is restricted to one visitor at a time.
"Security is difficult and important since the stamps are easy to carry off and hard to keep from sticking to visitors," Tim said. "The vapor in a single breath can moisten the glue on over a dozen stamps." Tim has asked that all visitors to the museum on Sunday purchase special Tyvek suits ahead of their visit. The protective suits are available from the St Albans Chamber of Commerce and at the All Arts Council's Guggenheim North Museum.
The Vermont Museum of Minute Stamps will hold grand opening ceremonies on Sunday at 1 p.m. in Taylor Park. Admission is free. Dogs are mostly not welcome.
Despite the fact that this Sunday is also Dick and Anne's wedding anniversary, this column may convince you that your favorite arts council chair has licked a little too much glue. Rest assured that it is (about) April 1
and you have been fooled.
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