The Library History Buff

Promoting the appreciation, enjoyment, and preservation of library history



 Postal Librariana

Library History

United States Libraries on Stamps

Postage stamps are devices for indicating prepayment of a fee for postal services.  Great Britain issued the first adhesive postage stamp in the world in 1840.  The United States government issued its first postage stamps in 1847.   Postage stamps have developed into a method of honoring and commemorating individuals, institutions, and events.  Libraries and library people have not been frequent subjects for postage stamps. This is especially true in the United States. When libraries and library people are depicted on postage stamps it is often in recognition of something that has little to do with the role of libraries or library people in our society. Collecting postage stamps related to libraries and library people is one category of bibliophilately and is also a facet of postal librariana. Other pages on this website provide an introduction to library people on postage stamps, include stamps depicting library people from the United States and library people from the world, and include stamps that depict archives and archivists. I have been a proponent of a stamp honoring America's public libraries. I have an extensive collection of libraries on stamps from other countries and will be adding them to the website as time permits.

America's Libraries - The Stamp

In 1982 under the leadership of Elizabeth Stone who was the President of the American Library Association, the library community succeeded in getting a stamp issued which honored all of America's libraries.  The stamp was issued at the ALA Conference in Philadelphia on July 23, 1982. It was one of two library stamps issued in 1982. The other stamp was the Library of Congress stamp (see below). I have created philatelic exhibits featuring the First Day Covers of the two stamps. I also wrote an article for the August 2007 issue of  American Libraries about the two stamps. Scott Catalogue #2015.



Library of Congress

This stamp of the Library of Congress was issued during National Library in 1982 on April 21. It was one of two stamps issued in 1982 (see above) . It is Scott Catalogue #2004.




This stamp was issued on April 24, 2000 to commemorate the bicentennial of the Library of Congress. It is Scott Catalogue #3390.





It is difficult to see the Jefferson building of the Library of Congress on this stamp which was issued in 2003 to commemorate the District of Columbia. It is located to the right of the Washington Monument and the Capitol on th stamp. Scott Catalogue #3813.




This stamp is included in this collection because the Library of Congress was located in the United States Capitol for most of its first 100 years. The first Capitol in which it was located was burned by the British in the War of 1812. There are several stamps depicting the Capitol. This one is Scott Catalogue #992.



National Archives and Presidential Libraries

Issued on April 16, 1984 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the National Archives. Scott Catalogue #2080.






Issued on August 4, 2005 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Presidential Libraries Act of 1955. The USPS issued the stamp simultaneously at the 12 official presidential libraries of the National Archives plus the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids which is separate for the presidential library in Ann Arbor. At each location there was a first day of issue ceremony. Click here to see more about these ceremonies. Scott Catalogue # 3930.




Thomas Hart Benton mural "Independence and the Opening of the West" in the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum. Stamp issued on May 8, 1971. Scott Catalogue #1426.




Smithsonian Institution

The "Castle" was the first building of the Smithsonian Institution which was created in 1846. The building was built to house a library in one wing. Library leader Charles Coffin Jewett was the first Assistant Secretary in charge of the library. There was talk that the Smithsonian Institution might even play a role as a national librarian, but this was not part of the vision of Joseph Henry, the first Secretary of the Smithsonian.  Henry eventually fired Jewett over disagreements about the role of the library. The entire book collection of the Smithsonian was transferred to the Library of Congress in 1866 after fires in the Smithsonian building took place. This stamp is one of three that feature the "Castle" of the Smithsonian. It was issued in 1946 on the centennial of the Smithsonian. It is Scott Catalogue #943. The other two stamps are #1838 and #3059.

New York Public Library

In 2000 the USPS issued a stamp for pre-sorted standard mail based on one of the lions in front of the New York Public Library. Because the USPS has a policy against honoring individual local institutions, the stamp was to be issued with out any reference to the New York Public Library.   However, the NYPL required that "The New York Public Library" be added to the stamp because the lion is trademarked. Because of its widespread use by bulk mailers, it was one of of the most prolific of all library stamps. The 2000 stamp is Scott Catalogue #3447. Additional minor variations of the stamps are listed as #3447a and #3769.


This stamp commemorating the 500th Anniversary of the Gutenberg Bible is based on a mural in the New York Public Library. It was issued in 1952 and is Scott Catalogue #1014.





The Maldive Islands issued this stamp depicting the New York Public Library as part of a souvenir sheet in conjunction with the Postage Stamp Mega Event in New York City in 1992.  It is Scott Catalogue #1788.



This stamp is part of a set of postage stamps relating to New York City issued by Grenada Grenadines in 1986. It depicts the Croton Reservoir in 1875. The reservoir was located on the site which was to become the location of the New York Public Library. Parts of the reservoir are still located beneath the library. The stamp is Scott Catalogue #727



A second stamp in the 1986 Grenada Grenadines set depicts the New York Public Library building on 5th Avenue. It is Scott Catalogue #728.




In 2009 the Union des Comores issued this stamp of a painting of the New York Public Library by Colin Campbell Cooper.  It was part of a souvenir sheet which included other paintings by Cooper.





Stamps which are designed to look like postage stamps but are not are called "Cinderellas" by stamp collectors. This example of a Cinderella depicts the New York Public Library, and was part of a set of stamps showing New York City scenes produced by Eaton's Fine Letter Papers. 



New York Mercantile Library

Undoubtedly the most unusual stamps related to America's libraries are the delivery stamps of the New York Mercantile Library (now the Mercantile Library Center for Fiction). In 1866 the MLNY initiated a home delivery service for its members. Members pre-paid for home delivery service by purchasing adhesive delivery stamps which were then affixed to a book request form. The delivery stamps are listed as local stamps by the Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers with the numbers 105L1, 105L2, 105L3, 105L5, and 105L6. There is also a postal card with an image of the 105L6 delivery stamp on the back listed as 105LUX1. The stamp shown here is Scott# 105L3. To find out more about the Mercantile Library and its delivery stamps click here.

Low Library of Columbia University

The Low Memorial Library at Columbia University opened in 1897. It was funded with a $1 million grant from Columbia President Seth Low. Because of the historic and architectural nature of the library it has been used on stamps which honor significant anniversaries of Columbia University.

This stamp was issued in 1954 for the bicentennial of Columbia University. It is Scott Catalog #1029.




This stamp was printed on a United States Postal Service postal card, and was issued on March 25, 2004 for the 250th anniversary of Columbia University. The USPS has created a tradition of honoring academic institutions on their bicentennial on postal cards. It is Scott Catalogue #UX405.




This stamp which depicts President Dwight Eisenhower in front of the Low Memorial Library was issued by Ajman in 1970. Eisenhower was President of Columbia University after leaving the service after World War II and before running for President in 1952. It is Minkus Catalog #542. The Scott Catalogue often excludes stamps from countries that generate stamps primarily for sale to stamp collectors and not for use in their postal system. Serious philatelists look down on these stamps, but for collector of library stamps they are desirable.






New York University Library

This building was designed by architect Stanford White as the library for New York University. It is now part of the Bronx Community College. Click here to read a NY Times article about the building. It was issued as part of a set of architecture stamps in 1981. It is Scott Catalogue #1928.





United Nations Dag Hammarskjold Library

The United Nations moved to its permanent site on the East River in New York City in 1950. The Library for the United Nations moved into an existing building referred to as the “Manhattan Building in 1951. It remained in this building until 1959. The Manhattan Building is the small building to the right of the Secretariat Building. The stamp to the left was issued in 1951 and is Scott Catalogue #10. It also appeared on #2.




The new Dag Hammarskjold Library of the United Nations was dedicated on November 16, 1961. The Library is the building at the bottom of this stamp which was issued by the United Nations in 1968.  It is Scott Catalogue #187.  Because the library is part of the UN complex in New York which has been featured on many stamps worldwide, it appears on more postage stamps than any library in the world.





Library Company of Philadelphia

The Library Company of Philadelphia was founded by Benjamin Franklin and his associates in a group called the Junta in 1731.  It was the first of the subscription or membership libraries in the United States. More philatelic items related to the Library Company can be found here.

The Library Company moved to the Pennsylvania State House (now known as Independence Hall) in 1740.  It stayed in this location for 34 years. Independence Hall has appeared on several U.S. postage stamps. This one was issued in 1974 and is Scott Catalogue #1546.



In 1773 the Library Company rented two rooms in Carpenter’s Hall.  When the Continental Congress convened in Carpenter’s Hall in 1774, Members of the Congress were given access to the Library thus making it the first “library of congress”. This is part of the set which included the stamp above.  It is Scott Catalogue #1543.



In 1790, the Library Company moved into its own building called Library Hall on Fifth St. where it stayed until 1880. Library Hall is depicted on this Virgin Islands stamp issued in 1973. It is Scott Catalogue #253.





Boston Public Library

Although state legislation enabling the establishment of a public library in the City of Boston was passed in 1848, the Boston Public Library was not officially established until the city passed an ordinance in 1852.  The library didn't actually open to the public until 1854. The establishment of the Boston Public Library was an immensely important event in the history of America's public libraries.  More artifacts relating to the Boston Public Library can be seen here.

This meter stamp includes a pictorial image of the Boston Public Library. It was used in 1954 on the centennial of the opening of the library.



This stamp depicts a mural in the Boston Public Library - “Galahad’s Departure” by Edwin Austin Abbey. It is part of a set of stamps honoring illustrators which was issued on February 1, 2001. Scott Catalogue #3502k.






A "Cinderella" stamp depicting the Boston Public Library.






Other Libraries on Stamps

The Redwood Library and Athenaeum in Newport, RI was established in 1747 by Abraham Redwood and a group of his friends.  It is the oldest surviving circulating library in its original building in the U.S. The USPS issued a postal card showing the Redwood Library in 1999 to celebrate its 250th anniversary (two years late). It is Scott Catalogue #303.




This image was on a stamped postal card which was issued on the sesquicentennial of the University of Wisconsin - Madison in 1999. It shows several buildings that housed the library of the University in its early years.  The building in the lower foreground was actually built to serve as a library. More about the early history of the library can be found here. The postal card is listed as UX301 in the Scott Catalogue.





The Princeton University Library, along with the rest of the college, was located in Nassau Hall, the college’s first building, for almost a half a century. The stamp was issued in 1956 and is Scott Catalog #1083.




Exeter Academy Library in Exeter, NH. This stamp was part of the Modern American Architecture set issued in 2005. It is Scott Catalogue #3910k.






Polonia Archives, Library and Museum in Orchard Lake, Michigan. Issued by Poland on June 29, 200l. Scott Catalogue #3584.





Personalized Stamps

Several companies (Zazzle, PhotoStamps, Endicia) can now provide customized postage.  You could create your own stamp with a picture of your library on the stamp. This is a personalized stamp I created using PhotoStamps that depicts the Eager Free Library in Evansville, Wisconsin. More about the library can be found here.




Baraboo Public Library (Wisconsin)




Fowler Branch of the Fresno County Library in California




Special Libraries Association 100 Years





American Philatelic Research Library 40 Years. This is a pictorial permit stamp.






 Postal Librariana

Library History

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Last updated: 12-19-10  © 2005-2010 Larry T. Nix
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