Postal pilgrimage

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In an era of instant communication, the old-fashioned stamp still has a huge following. More than 50,000 people are expected to attend theWorld Stamp Show in New York, running May 28-June 4. The once-a-decade event includes rare stamp displays like the One-Cent Magenta fromBritish Guiana, which sold in 2014 for a record $9.5 million. “Before the Internet, stamp collecting was a way to learn about the world,” says Ken Martin of the American Philatelic Society, adding that many people now collect for relaxation or investment. But if you can’t make the show, he shares some favorite stamp sites withLarry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.

Post-a-Nut
Hoolehua, Hawaii
Why bother with a postcard? This Molokai post office provides visitors free coconuts to address, stamp and mail — no packaging required. The fruits are piled up in a plastic postal bin for the picking and the postmaster even supplies Sharpies for addressing and decorating. Depending on the size of the fruit, postage may run about $20, Martin says. 808-567-6144; usps.com

Smithsonian National Postal Museum
Washington, D.C.
From the world’s rarest stamps to the surprisingly daring accomplishments of the U.S. Postal Inspection Services, visitors are amazed by the topics covered at this museum next to Washington’s Union Station, which attracted more than 350,000 visitors last year. “It’s the Smithsonian in all its glory,” Martin says. Current exhibits include PostSecret, a global Internet-based art project that collects anonymous confessions submitted on postcards. postalmuseum.si.edu

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Smallest post office
Ochopee, Fla.
The tiny shed near this Everglades community once held irrigation equipment for a tomato farm. But after the town’s post office burned down in 1953, it was repurposed to handle mail. The 7-by-8-foot post office attracts visitors eager to send postcards. “You’re not going to get more than five people in there at the same time,” Martin says. 239-695-4131; paradisecoast.com

B. Free Franklin Post Office and Museum
Philadelphia
Don’t look for a ballpoint pen or an American flag at this post office. The clerks dress in colonial garb and work exclusively with quill and inkwell. And since the flag hadn’t been created when Benjamin Franklin served as the first Postmaster General, you won’t find it flying outside. Collectors come for the unique “B. Free Franklin” hand-stamped postmark, which is believed to be Franklin’s protest against British rule. 215-599-0776; uwishunu.com

Pony Express National Museum
St. Joseph, Mo.
Long before overnight mail, galloping horses were the quickest way to deliver a package, and the Pony Express could get mail to California in under two weeks. “It saved a huge amount of time,” Martin says. At the museum, kids can sort mail, try on Western clothes and see the original stables. 816-232-8206, ponyexpress.org

Museum of Stamps and Coins
Monaco
While mostly remembered for marrying Hollywood star Grace Kelly, the late Prince Rainier was also an avid stamp collector who personally approved the stamp designs released by his tiny principality. He founded this expansive museum which tracks the country’s history through its stamps, from its royal family to Grand Prix racing. 212-286-3330;visitmonaco.com

Postal History Foundation
Tucson
See a 19th-century frontier post office made from a mail-order kit at this museum with historic postal memorabilia and exhibits. You’ll also find Mexican stamps and a working post office, which receives more new U.S. postal issues than any in the state.520-623-6652; postalhistoryfoundation.org

American Philatelic Center
Bellefonte, Pa.
The leading stamp collecting society brings the hobby alive at this restored 19th-century match factory that was once a stop on the New York-to-Chicago airmail route. Highlights include an 1860 post office and general store on loan from the Smithsonian, along with postal rarities. “There’s a lot of interest even from people who aren’t stamp collectors,” Martin says. 814-933-3803; stamps.org

National Postmark Museum
Bellevue, Ohio
For some collectors, stamps are just the start. This museum strives to preserve an example of every unique stamp cancellation, about two million and counting. “There’s not a right way or a wrong way to collect. Each person decides what’s best for them,” Martin says. Highlights include first-day covers, an envelope postmarked on a stamp’s first day of issue. postmarks.org

Spellman Museum of Stamps and Postal History
Weston, Mass.
This gallery on the Regis College campus claims to be the nation’s first devoted to stamp collecting. “It has lots of aspects of a bigger museum, but on a smaller scale,” Martin says. It was founded by a former New York archbishop, whose career spanned the golden age of stamp collecting in the 1930s, and has more than two million artifacts, including President Dwight Eisenhower’s stamp collection. Visiting children receive a free packet of stamps. 781-768-8367; spellmanmuseum.org

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