Royal subjects

A new exhibit at the National Postal Museum chronicles the history of the Royal Mail, which is celebrating its 500th anniversary this year.

The history of postal reform in the United Kingdom is chronicled in a new exhibit at the National Postal Museum in Washington, DC.

“From Royal Mail to Public Post” explains how the postal system began in 1516 as a closed network available only to King Henry VIII and high-ranking public officials.

Postmen were royal messengers who carried official writs, summonses and orders for the government. During the next three centuries, a series of reforms gradually opened the Royal Mail to public use.

The exhibit features original documents from 1635 and 1840, pivotal years in the network’s expansion and evolution.

The display also includes the earliest known example of the world’s first stamp, the Penny Black, dated April 10, 1840.

The museum’s site has more information about the exhibition, which is open through Jan. 16.