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W.W. Wilson Hulme II, 60; stamp historian, curator at National Post Museum

January 18, 2007|Matt Schudel | Washington Post

W. Wilson Hulme II, a leading collector and historian of postage stamps who became the first curator of philately at the National Postal Museum, died Jan. 10 of a heart attack while on museum business in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He was 60.

A stamp collector since childhood, Hulme had a career as a Navy officer and corporate executive before joining the postal museum, a branch of the Smithsonian Institution, in 2002. In the years since, he raised the profile of the museum -- housed in the old City Post Office Building near Union Station -- and of philately, the study of stamps.

With a philosophy of "accessing the inaccessible," Hulme put rare collections on view and put the postal museum at the center of the stamp-collecting world.

Last year, it drew more than 500,000 visitors.

Under his guidance, the museum displayed Queen Elizabeth II's Royal Philatelic Collection in 2004. A year later, he engineered the purchase of John Lennon's childhood stamp collection. He arranged the museum's current exhibition of the New York Public Library's Benjamin K. Miller Collection, which has not been seen in public for 30 years and contains the rarest stamp in the United States, the One-Cent Z Grill.

Hulme was a specialist in U.S. stamps of the 19th century, including stamps of the Confederacy. The country's first official stamps were not issued until 1847. He did pioneering research on techniques used to separate stamps and became the nation's foremost expert on stamp perforations, which appeared in 1857. (Before then, stamps were cut or torn from a larger sheet.)

"The postal museum has a wall full of the most glorious stamps and envelopes with stamps," said Janet Klug, president of the American Philatelic Society, "but they weren't showing them until Wilson got there."

Because stamp collecting is seen as the most popular hobby in the world, Hulme sought to attract collectors in greater numbers and to show myriad ways that the mail touches our lives.

Among other items, he acquired several mailboxes damaged in the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001.

Woodrow Wilson Hulme II was born in Dallas and grew up in Ardmore, Okla. He was a 1968 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and received a master's degree in engineering from Michigan State University in 1969. He served in the Navy until 1976, commanding nuclear submarines and reaching the rank of captain.

He then became an executive with Frito-Lay Inc. and Van den Bergh Foods Ltd., a division of Unilever. From 1997 to 2001, he was vice president of operations for Nabisco International in East Hanover, N.J.

Throughout his life, Hulme collected stamps and was a member of philatelic groups. He did research around the world, wrote dozens of articles and became recognized as a primary authority on so-called classic U.S. stamps, issued before 1894. At his death, he was president of the U.S. Philatelic Classics Society Inc.

"Somewhere along the line, people started thinking of stamp collecting as somewhat stodgy," Hulme said when the postal museum bought Lennon's collection. "That's what has made John Lennon's stamps so much fun. John Lennon could never be described as stodgy."

Hulme, who lived in Morristown, N.J., is survived by his wife, Susan Hulme; his mother, Anna Ruth Hulme-Shedd of Ardmore, Okla.; a sister; and a brother.

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