Eyewitness to History: First day cover of Joseph Priestly

Eyewitness To History

NORTHUMBERLAND, NORTHUMBERLAND COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — The United States Postal Service traces its history back to the founding of the United States nearly 250 years ago.

Elvis, dinosaurs, civil war generals, Roberto Clemente and James Dean are just some of the U.S stamps that have been issued. More than 38 years ago, a chemist, philosopher, theologian, and more, who during his life lived along the Susquehanna river, joined the group.

In 1983, philatelists, those who collect stamps, came from all over the region and beyond to the borough of Northumberland.

“It took 250 for the U.S. Postal service to recognize his talents. Who is he? Sue miller knows,” said Debbie Dunleavy of Newscene 22.

“He discovered oxygen. Brought carbonated water to life. He was a minister, a statesman, but most of all Joseph Priestly was the father of modern chemistry. He spent ten years of his life on the banks of the Susquehanna in Northumberland. And on this day (April 13, 1983), the town was into a stamp collector’s dream. For on the anniversary of his 250th birthday, the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp bearing his portrait. First-day postmarks were being tacked on to the tiny mailers (zip code 17857). Some people bought one, some sheets. The ceremonies took place in the brilliant sunshine behind the Priestly house. On hand were many notables. Lester Kieft, the retired Bucknell University professor, who worked for ten years to get this stamp issued. And a president’s grandson was also in attendance. David Eisenhower is on the Pennsylvania museum commission. And even descendants of the noted scientist,” said Sue Miller of Newscene 22.

“I am his four greats-grandson actually. I am actually a chem-a geo-chemist, yes, matter of fact,” said Priestly Toulmin who is the fourth generation to Joseph Priestly.

“But why did the England-born scientist choose Northumberland for his studies? As he said in his memoirs: “My son, settling in this neighborhood will be less exposed to temptation. And more likely to form habits of sobriety and industry.” and from Joseph Priestly’s accomplishments, Northumberland served him well, and it is only fitting that they turn out today (April 13, 1983) to Honor him,” said Miller.

The Joseph Priestly House is part of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, run by volunteers, is opened on weekend afternoons and by appointment. A quick search for a “First day cover of Joseph Priestly” on eBay resulted in a wide price range from $2.50 to $22.99.

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