As it is October, I thought I would share a scary story or, at least a story that was kind of scary for me. I have been told this is one of my better anecdotes, so hopefully it will start to put you in the mood for Halloween – my favorite holiday! It also shows the lengths some collectors will go to in the hunt for better items.
As many of you know, the hunting and fishing stamps issued by Ohio for Pymatuning Lake are the among the rarest and most highly sought after in the fish and game hobby. In the future, I intend to publish a comprehensive series of posts about these fascinating stamps. For now, we just need some basic information to give our story some context.
Pymatuning Lake, actually a reservoir, straddles the upper Ohio – Pennsylvania border. The Lake was constructed as a flood control and recreational project by Pennsylvania. It was formed by damming the Shenango River. The infrastructure was completed in the early 1930s and the lake filled in by 1937.
Ever since the lake opened, it has been a haven for sportsmen. It is filled with largemouth and smallmouth bass, walleye, bluegill, crappie, perch, carp and muskellunge. Ducks and geese also concentrate there in large numbers and it has long been known as the place where ducks walk on the fish. This fact has also turned the lake into a somewhat of a tourist attraction (see Figure 1).
After the Lake was completed, Ohio negotiated an agreement with Pennsylvania whereby residents of Ohio could use the lake for hunting and fishing. Pennsylvania had no problem with this. However, there was one condition that would prove to be be of historic importance for stamp collectors.
At the time, Pennsylvania charged it’s residents one dollar more than Ohio for both hunting and fishing. In order to make things fair for everyone using the Lake, Pennsylvania asked that Ohio issue special $1.00 stamps to make up the fee difference.
Only Ohio residents intending to hunt or fish on Pymatuning Lake were required to purchase the special stamp and affix it to their licenses. Therefore, relatively few were printed and issued. The hunting stamps conveyed the right to hunt waterfowl only and so, for many seasons, the number of stamps issued was in the low 100s.
As reported by fish and game Hall of Famer E.L. Vanderford in Ducks Unlimited Magazine (1986), the Pymatuning hunting stamps were the first state issued waterfowl stamps in the U.S. – 12 years before the South Dakota resident waterfowl stamps became the first required to hunt waterfowl statewide and 34 years before California issued the first pictorial stamp in 1971 (see Figure 2).
For decades, the only recorded example of any Pymatuning stamp was the 1938 waterfowl stamp in the E.L. Vanderford collection. The stamp was discovered by state revenue specialist Terry Hines and subsequently traded to Van for several federal duck stamps that he was missing (see Figure 3). The first Pymatuning fishing stamp was, in fact, issued in 1938 (see Figure 4).
Years after Van’s article was published in DU Magazine, the first of three recorded examples of the undated Pymatuning waterfowl stamp was discovered. Research indicated the undated stamps were issued late in 1937, shortly before the waterfowl hunting seasons (see Figure 5).
In 2010, the third undated stamp was found used with a 1937 federal waterfowl stamp on a 1937 Ohio Resident Hunters and Trappers License, confirming the year of issue. This license is now in the Csaplar exhibit.
In 1992 I began a quest to level the playing field for exhibitors of fish and game stamps. At that time, Van allowed me to acquire the 1938 stamp for my exhibit. Soon after, I began a concerted effort to see how many different Pymatuning stamps I could add to the exhibit.
It is at this point where we begin our story.
The Thrill of the Hunt
In order to unearth more Pymatuning stamps and additional information about them, I began to travel from California to various collectible shows in Ohio and Pennsylvania. These consisted primarily of antique, gun and license shows. Here I met collectors who specialized in collecting hunting and fishing licenses and stamps that were issued by the two states.
I always brought plenty of business cards and handed them out freely. With the help of contacts that I made at the shows, I was soon able to acquire a couple of previously unrecorded stamps.
I also started to visit all of the towns around the lake, meeting with people from all walks of life trying to get a lead on a new stamp (see Figure 6 – click to enlarge). If I developed a good feeling about the town, I literally went door-to-door… but that is another story.
As I added more Pymatuning stamps to the exhibit, they helped it to do better both in terms of awards and in recognition for our hobby. This provided me with the incentive to make an even bigger effort to acquire the remaining unrecorded stamps. This is when I began to run ads in newspapers throughout Ohio and Pennsylvania: Wanted to Buy Pymatuning Hunting & Fishing stamps.
The Phone Call
One day I received a phone call from a man who told me that he lived in southeast Ohio, near the West Virginia border. He told me that he was trapper by trade, a collector of Ohio and West Virginia Hunting, fishing and trapping licenses and stamps – and he had a 1941 Pymatuning fishing stamp.
I found it hard to understand him over the phone but I eventually determined that the stamp had belonged to his father and was still affixed to the original license he used to fish on Pymatuning Lake back in ’41. He told me the stamp was blue.
At first he was only interested in finding out how much I thought the stamp was worth. He was not interested in parting with it. A couple of years passed. Then the exhibit started to become part of the conversation for the Grand Award at national shows. I began to offer generous sums to those people who had items I thought might help secure the coveted award for our hobby.
One time I was getting ready to fly to Ohio for a big sporting collectibles show and I thought I would try the trapper again. This time, I made him a much larger offer than before. There was a long pause and he finally agreed to sell it to me. I was elated!
A Little Unsettling
My travel plans had me flying into Cleveland the day before the show. I was supposed to get down to the guy’s house late in the afternoon – but that did not happen.
My flight was delayed and the drive took longer than I thought. The weather was bad and it was before GPS; this delayed me even more as I kept having to stop to study my map. By the time I arrived, it was getting dark.
He lived on a ranch in an isolated, hilly area near the West Virginia border. As I drove up, I could just make out a number of rusted-out old trucks scattered around the yard, surrounded by several dilapidated out buildings. It reminded me of an early scene from the movie Deliverance, which I had recently watched (see Figure 7).
When I got out of the car, I could make out several shadowy figures crossing between the vehicles and the buildings, too short to be human. This was a little unsettling. I walked up the wooden stairs to the porch of a weathered old house that had seen better days.
A porch light was on. Seeing no doorbell, I knocked, waited, then knocked again. This went on for several minutes. I could see lights on inside the house in two separate rooms but could not tell if anyone was home.
As I started to think I might have driven 2 1/2 hours for nothing, I detected a noise coming from within. The door swung open and a huge bear of a man stood before me in the doorway. He was mainly silhouetted but the porch light revealed he had dark hair about an inch long covering most of his body. He was wearing only his white underpants.
He was rather gruff, perhaps irritated that I was delayed. He then backed up as to welcome me in. There was a living room to the left and I could see a large, threadbare couch with a large depression toward the right side. I pictured this large, hairy man sitting there night after night – watching television in his white underpants.
Let’s Go Down and Look For It
He motioned for me to go right, into a messy kitchen with a round table in the center of the room. Above the table there was a single bare light bulb hanging from a long wire. As I sat down, I saw that there were about a half dozen large black and white hornets circling the bulb (as in Figure 8). He did not seem to care, so I tried to remain nonchalant.
He then left to put some clothes on. When he returned he was wearing pants and an old style white tank top undershirt with something wrapped around his arm. I felt more at ease, until I saw the blood.
He was seated across from me, with his elbows on the table and his upper right arm was wrapped with a makeshift bandage that appeared torn from an old sheet or pillowcase. The bandage was pretty bloody and and soon drops of blood began to emerge from the bottom and fall onto the table. Over the course of a ten minute conversation, the dripping got worse.
Noticing that I was now staring, he informed me that he kept pet deer in his yard and that on occasion they “acted up”, forcing him to take refuge under one of the vehicles. On this particular day, he had remained under a truck for 1 1/2 hours late in the afternoon before making it into the house. He said that one of the deer had gored him, creating the wound.
When he finally got inside, he stitched his wound the best he could. The whole time he was telling me this, the hornets kept circling closer to my head and I was now starting to feel kind of anxious. Then he told me he had misplaced the stamp.
That snapped me out of it, allowing me to refocus on the prize, “What do you mean?”… “I can’t find the Pymatuning stamp.” Silence. I was processing. “Where did you last see it?”… “In a box down in the basement.” More processing.
Then I said, “Well, let’s go down and look for it – I will help you.” Silence (if you don’t count the buzzing and dripping). After some time and without saying another word, he got up from the table and walked to a door behind him and off to the right. I instinctively got up and followed, leaving my briefcase next to the table.
He opened the door and flipped a light switch. This revealed a long flight of badly worn wooden stairs that led down into a dimly lit basement (see Figure 9). I could barely make out many piles of boxes, with narrow pathways in between. He started down the stairs and I gamely followed.
I pulled the door behind me as I had seen a cat when I first entered the house and didn’t know if it was allowed downstairs. After the door closed, I could no longer see where I was stepping.
I must have become panicky as I suddenly heard the theme song from Deliverance start to play in my head. Then the basement light flickered and went out. Come on – really?!!
Click to start the song below, adjust the volume on your computer and continue reading:
A Dedicated Collector
I heard swearing from the darkness in front of me, felt the stairs shake beneath and then felt a large hairy body (which I could now tell was also warm and sweaty) momentarily press me against the wall as he made his way past me, back up the stairs.
I was alone in the dark for a matter of seconds – just long enough to ask myself, how bad did I want this damn stamp, anyhow? When he opened the door at the top of the stairs, light poured down on me and in that instant I came to a decision; I wanted it bad enough to go on. A dedicated collector.
He pressed me against the wall for a second time as he passed, this time with a flashlight in hand. As I waited on the stairs, he replaced the bulb in the light fixture and the basement was, once again, dimly lit. I continued on down the stairs and asked which box the Pymatuning stamp was in.
“I don’t remember – I think one of those.” He motioned to about a dozen boxes located behind us, under the stair case. The stairs blocked some of the light so it was even darker in that area of the basement. As I followed him under the staircase, I could feel the resolve leaving my body.
Searching For Treasure
At night in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, an hour off the main road, under a staircase in a dimly lit basement with a large mountain man standing behind me holding a flashlight – I began searching for treasure.
As we started looking through the boxes, I saw they were filled with old licenses, game laws and contemporary licenses with lots of stamps on them. I soon forgot about the creepy surroundings and started to enjoy myself, in the moment.
It seemed like he had more West Virginia than Ohio stuff. In the second box, I discovered a couple of great items, two of the first West Virginia National Forest hunting license stamps; one used on the business card of a State Conservation Commissioner and the other used on a union card. Both of the stamps were serial numbered (rare) and the usages were very unusual (see figures 10 and 11).
I was also able to acquire several recent (early 1990s) West Virginia non resident licenses that were loaded with fish and game stamps ( see Figures 12 and 13).
After searching half the boxes, I was getting tired and still had to drive back to Cleveland for the show the next day – so we had to stop. We never found the 1941 Pymatuning fishing stamp.
The trapper ended up being a pretty nice guy and told me he felt bad about misplacing the stamp. He allowed me to buy everything else I wanted for a fair price and I managed to find my way off his property and back onto the main highway.
By the time I worked up the nerve to go back and try again – several years later – he had already died of a heart attack. I was eventually able to acquire two 1941 Pymatuning fishing stamps, one on license and one off. The color was blue, just like he said it was (see Figure 14).
Although I was unable to acquire another rare Pymatuning stamp for my exhibit, the West Virginia pieces were a nice consolation. I also left with a good story! It took many more years, but the exhibit finally won a Grand Award and made it into The Champion of Champions in 2000.
I have told this story for years, often before large groups at meetings and shows. Most people find it to be pretty funny. In no way was it intended to offend anyone. If I did, I sincerely apologize.
We would like to wish everyone a happy and safe Halloween! The blog will return next month.