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Weston stamp museum celebrates royal wedding

Posted by Sarah Thomas  April 25, 2011 09:49 AM

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The April 29 wedding of Prince William and his fiancee, Kate Middleton, will grace magazine covers, newspapers, and television screens - and now, the Spellman Museum of Stamps and Postal History in Weston.

The museum recently premiered an exhibit on stamps commemorating British royal weddings, including that of William and Kate, and will toast the new couple on their wedding day with grape bubbly and free British stamps for all children who visit the museum.

"Stamps are miniature images of history," said George Norton, curator of the museum, which is on the campus of Regis College and also functions as a working post office. "They document important images and occasions, and they do it in a way that is economical and accessible for anyone who wants to collect them."

The exhibit, which will run through the end of May, covers many of the most romantic moments of the Windsors throughout the 20th century.

The earliest stamp on display, dating from 1948, commemorates the silver anniversary of the wedding of George VI and his wife Elizabeth, better known as the Queen Mum. Cinema lovers will remember George VI as the monarch played by Colin Firth in the 2010 Oscar-winning film "The King's Speech." Helena Bonham Carter played his wife.

"If you listen closely, there's a reference to stamp collecting in the film," said Norton. "King George VI mentions to his speech therapist that his father encouraged him to collect stamps rather than build model airplanes."

In reality, George VI's father, George V, was a passionate stamp collector, and enhanced Great Britain's Royal Philatelic Collection into one of the finest stamp collections in the world. It is still maintained by Prince William's grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II.

There's a commemorative stamp from Elizabeth's wedding to Crown Prince Philip as well, along with those of Princess Anne and her first husband Mark Phillips.

And, of course, there's Charles and Di.

"When Prince Charles and Princess Diana married, there were commemorative stamps issued by Great Britain as well as all the remaining colonies and many former colonies," Norton said. "Every country interpreted the occasion differently."

Much of that variety is on display at the Museum. The Grenadines of St. Vincent puts Diana in her historical context, displaying her coat of arms as well as a 15th-century Princess of Wales. Niue seems to be one of the few countries that tried to ensure Prince Charles got as much camera time as his more glamorous other half.

"Tuvalu is interesting, because they tried to use different colors on their stamps. Other countries chose different sizes and shapes," Norton said. "Tens of millions of these stamps were issued, so people can really appreciate the variety of styles."

Already, Great Britain and New Zealand have issued commemorative stamps featuring William and Kate, which were released on April 21. Since the details of Kate's wedding dress are being kept tightly under wraps, the stamps feature engagement photos of the pair.

"The royals manage their image as tightly as they can in this day and age," Norton said. "After the wedding, I think we can expect more commemorative stamps that will show the dress, the ceremony, the spectacle."

They won't, however, be issued by the U.S. Postal Service, despite our colonial past or great interest in the ceremony. Norton explained that most American stamp designs go through the Citizen's Stamp Advisory Council, which makes recommendations to the Postmaster General on subjects for future stamps.

"The lead time on American stamps can be quite long, between one and two years," Norton said. "If there's a group that knows they want a commemorative stamp, they usually contact the Citizen's Stamp Advisory Council well in advance."

And, Norton says, we shouldn't expect commemorative stamps when Sasha and Malia get married - or even for Barack and Michelle's silver anniversary in 2017.

"It is the policy of the U.S. Postal Service not to have the face of a living American on a postage stamp," Norton said.

Attending the exhibit Friday was the Yee family of Needham, enjoying their last day of spring vacation.

"We wanted something interesting for the kids," said mother Ping Yee. "They got to draw their own stamps, and we've enjoyed ourselves."

Sarah Thomas can be reached at sarrah.m.thomas@gmail.com.

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