Allan Lee’s collection of maps on stamps represents thirty-four years of collecting passion. The intensive historical and cartographic research that he and his assistant, Wilfrid Webster (d. November 1975), conducted took years to compile, document, and authenticate. Lee traveled to 110 countries and corresponded with their national libraries and archives in this pursuit. He even “[read] Captain Cook’s log book to determine if some of the discoveries attributed to him were accurate. Some were not.” It is the completeness of the collection and this level of research that makes his work absolutely unique.
When the twenty-six volume collection was donated to the Smithsonian in 1977, Lee had amassed every known stamp (almost 7,500 examples) listed by Scott Catalogue through 1973 [some were actually issued as late as 1975-76]. Lee had also acquired “every other map stamp that is known to me with the exception of a label used on the flight from London, Canada to London, England and some Essays which are known to exist but which I have never seen.” The volumes contain not only regular federal issues but also essays, locals, semi-officials, revenues, railway, telegraph, military, and even some fantasy stamps. Almost all are in mint condition; most have never been hinged. Only three rare and unusual covers are part of the collection.
He then arranged these stamps into topical areas for interpretation: e.g. Political Disputes, Islands, Errors & Varieties, Genesis of the U.S.A., Old Maps, Routes, World Maps, Hemispheres, Continents, Nations, and Oceans. One of these was ‘Maps and Their Elements’ which comprises all of Volume 6. Lee used 185 international stamps to illustrate map projections, scale, relief, rhumb lines, portolanos, aerial surveying, compass roses, orienteering compasses, and map symbols. His final authoritative source for cartographic information in this text was Richard R. Furno of the Cartographic Division, National Geographic Society.
For expediency Lee’s last three topics have been dropped from this exhibition. His original text for the first seven topics has been minimally edited (only when necessary to aid readability); and his illustrative examples of stamps have been limited to one or two where he had four to eight per topic.