An Important Story to Tell – Part Two; Finding the Golden Thread

On the flight back, I started to get really excited about the military exhibit. The forerunner section seemed full of compelling possibilities and – if not done right – potential pitfalls. I placed a call to a long-time friend who is a national and international judge that I respect and trust. After discussing Will’s new exhibit at length, he had some reservations.

Beyond the fact judges could not be expected to be familiar with the material, he was concerned they would not appreciate a two frame forerunner section for a five frame exhibit – especially one featuring so many non-stamp licenses. He had a good point; admittedly, the balance seemed a little out of wack. Fortunately, there was a mitigating solution.

One of the most interesting aspects about the development of the early military F&G licenses and stamp program is that servicemen often did not have to purchase either a license or Form 3333; it was provided gratis for their service. Of particular interest to philatelists, after obtaining the license he/she was then required to purchase a new federal migratory bird hunting stamp each year – leading to to some spectacular federal usages!


Bolstering the Forerunner Section

After relaying my friend’s comments to Will, he asked me to reach out to the fish and game community to help him bolster the forerunner section. He desired to obtain more early federal stamp usages by active military personnel and veterans – preferably some really good ones displaying multiple stamps.

Several collectors helped; allowing Will to acquire some of the very best pieces from their personal collections. Tim Hickey and his father, Tom, have long specialized in federal ducks used on license. Tim contributed many key items, including 1) the first federal duck (RW1) on a Form 3333 issued at Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD (see Figure 15).



Figure 15. Exhibit page showing examples of the first federal migratory bird stamp used on a Washington Hunting and Fishing License issued at Fort Lewis and a Form 3333 issued at Aberdeen Proving Ground.




2) Arguably the most spectacular federal Form 3333 usage extant (military or otherwise). The hunter, George Fleck, obtained a Form 3333 in 1934 to which he started affixing duck stamps every year. After placing RW1 and RW2 on the front, he turned the blue card over and placed RW3-5 on the back. This where it really gets wild; he then cut out a piece of white card stock such that when it was folded it was the same size as the 3333 and affixed duck stamps from the next four years (RW6-9). Finally, he cut another piece of card stock (orange) and affixed the next five duck stamps (RW10-14) for a total of 14 stamps in all (see Figure 16).



Figure 16. The George Fleck Form 3333, ex Hickey.



And 3) A New York Hunting and Fishing License issued in 1940. The hunter, D.K. Gerhing (unlike Fleck) did not hunt for waterfowl every single year. However, between 1940 and and 1946 he affixed five different federal ducks to the front – making it the highest number of different federal migratory bird hunting stamps affixed to a license that has been recorded (see Figure 17).



Figure 17. The L.K. Gerhing License, ex Hickey.



Now seeing that the exhibit had the potential to be to be something special, I decided to let Will acquire a favorite piece from in my own collection; an Idaho resident Hunting and Fishing License with RW13-16 affixed (RW16 is on the back, visible in the upper left corner – see Figure 18).



Figure 18. Idaho Hunting and Fishing License with RW13-16 affixed, ex Torre.



Westpex 2023

Going into Westpex, Will’s forerunner section to the military adhesives would feature all of the pieces shown above plus a Form 3333 bearing intact RW8, 10 and 11 (less than 10 stamps total from these years recorded on then blue card); a selection of licenses permitting U.S. personnel to hunt and fish in occupied lands following WW2 as well as the earliest recorded hunting and fishing license from Fort Knox (in a metal Frame) in addition to the Fort Knox button.

Not just a powerful group, but all the pieces necessary to tell the early part of Will’s story prior to the first military adhesives being issued at VAFB. Will’s research showed that the “forerunner” to PTSD, referred to as “Battle Fatigue” was a serious issue following WW2. Therefore, in the second half of the second frame (following WW2 in the storyline) Will included several references to this fact and it tied in nicely.

Following our effort to improve the balance between the non-stamp licenses and stamp usages – there were 29 licenses showing fish and game stamp usages spread across 31 exhibit pages for an average of almost one per page.

After helping Will write a synopsis for the new exhibit, I emailed it to a few judges for peer review prior to submitting it to the Westpex exhibits chairman for distribution to the jury. Ron Lesher, a noted revenue specialist, had some excellent constructive criticism. Despite the power in the first two frames he was also concerned about acceptance for the two-frame forerunner section by the judges.

His concern was for the buttons and remaining non-stamp licenses. Ron explained that Will needed to address the issue directly, in the synopsis. He informed us that he had published an article in the American Philatelist (February 1998; pages 149-151), wherein he expanded the international definition of revenues to include licenses. According to Ron Lesher licenses are, in fact, a very important part of revenues.


The jury at Westpex enjoyed the military exhibit, scoring it at 85 points – enough to earn Will a gold medal its first time out. Much to our relief, the judges very much appreciated the forerunner section (see Figures 19 and 20).



Figure 19. The military exhibit was awarded its first gold medal at Westpex 2023.


Figure 20. The beautiful Westpex gold medal!



However, as the vast majority of the text in the first two frames discussed the licensing and philatelic aspects of the material and much of the text in the following three frames focussed on the mitigating aspects of the military license and stamp program as it regarded PTST and related mental illness – the judges perceived the forerunner frames and the military adhesive frames of the exhibit as having two (disjointed) storylines. In hindsight, this impression was helped along by my recommendation to have the headings in two different colors.

The Bottom Line. As much as they liked the exhibit and believed it contained an important story, they were unable to discern a golden thread. This was a little disappointing, however, since Will had already made the decision to get feedback from at least two juries before redoing the exhibit – we would stick to the plan.


GASS 2023

Will decided to next show the exhibit at the Great American Stamp Show (GASS) in Cleveland,  Ohio. Sponsored by the American Philatelic Society and the annual highlight on the exhibiting calendar (in the absence of an international event), the show could be expected to feature an accomplished jury comprised of judges with diverse areas of expertise. Hopefully, this would include revenue stamps.

One of the constructive comments made by the Westpex jury pertained to how Will could improve the military exhibit short of a complete rewrite – improve the title page. Specifically, they thought the original title page’s featured item was a bit random, in that it referenced a point from well into the exhibit (the European occupation – see Figure 21). A strong case was made for substituting an age-appropriate item – closer to the beginning of his storyline, such as it was.



Figure 21. Title Page used at Westpex 2023.



Fortunately, I had previously placed the perfect piece for the job and after making Will’s need clear to its current owner he agreed to part with it. It was a 1928 California Resident Citizen Angling License overprinted “CIVIL WAR VETERAN” – a spectacular showpiece that fit in perfectly (see Figure 21).



Figure 22. 1928 California Citizen Angling License overprinted “CIVIL WAR VETERAN.”



Other than changing the the featured item on the title page, Will entered the military exhibit into GASS essentially unchanged from Westpex. At the time, both of us may have believed the improved title page and a different jury would produce a different result. We would turn out to be prophetic, however, not in the way we hoped.

In fairness to the GASS jury, the exhibit was far from the best version of itself and there apparently was no revenue specialist to assign to Will’s exhibit. While they loved the new item on the title page, the eye-catching federal usages in the first two frames (and the entire forerunner section in general), like the Westpex jury they detected the disjointed or “two storyline” flaw.

Further, the more utilitarian appearing VAFB stamps and their usages (the focus and real power of the exhibit) was lost on them; they inexplicably deducted 3 points for Rarity – resulting in the exhibit scoring 83 and dropping to a Large Vermeil.


Finding the Golden Thread

Initially, I felt frustrated. I disagreed with both jury’s takes on the exhibit’s “flawed” storyline. Golden thread aside, when I reviewed the exhibit I did not see two storylines – I saw a changing storyline. Unfortunately, Will was not able to adequately articulate the changing storyline on the exhibit pages.

Will’s material was incredible and it was well organized. However, improving the exhibit significantly would require a complete rewrite and, therefore, a complete remount. This was not unexpected; Will’s plan was always included getting feedback from two juries and then redoing the exhibit.

However, COVID had delayed Will’s new exhibit by four years and he was now 86. As redoing an exhibit can be a daunting task for someone later in life, I offered to get more involved and help out. The first thing I wanted to do was review all of his notes and research in order to get a good frame of reference with which to proceed.


Clue #1. What really jumped out at me were Will’s notes discussing “Shell Shock” experienced by American military personnel in WW1 and a reference to an online article published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), From Shell Shock and War Neurosis to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A History of Psychotraumatology (

This suggested Wills storyline regarding the mitigating effects of outdoor activities, specifically hunting and fishing, could extend all the way back to WW1 – the beginning of the exhibit.

Clue #2. Then I took a closer look at the exhibit, trying to ascertain exactly where the judges disconnect in the storyline took place. The first time Will referenced the mitigating effects of hunting and fishing on mental illness was following WW2, midway through the second “forerunner” frame. There were only three of them and they could easily be missed if the judges did not read every single page (which was what happened in Cleveland).

Something else struck me about his section of the exhibit; In the bottom row of the second frame (late 1950s) Will first showed state fish and game stamps and their usages. Issued by California, their intent was to provide hunting and fishing licenses and stamps (read opportunities) to disabled veterans at “NO FEE” (see Figure 23).



Figure 23. 1958 California NO FEE Fishing License & Stamps for Disabled Veterans.



Curious about the timing of this, I conducted an extensive internet search which revealed some game-changing or, in this case exhibit-changing information: In 1958 (the same year California introduced the No Fee licenses and stamps), Congress passed the Engle Act – requiring all military personnel to purchase state hunting and fishing licenses.

Clue #3. After sharing this news with Will, I contacted Ron Lesher to discuss my findings and get more advice. Ron suggested that we next do a complete fee analysis for all of the licenses in the exhibit (analogous to a rate study in postal history) and print it on the pages. His intent was that we would increase points for Philatelic Knowledge.

In so doing we determined that 42 out of the 46 licenses issued prior to the Engle Act were provided to active military and veterans at no fee (NF). Following the Act – not including those provided to disabled veterans at no fee – at least 52 out of the 57 licenses* were issued at fees which rapidly escalated over the years.

*We were unable to obtain fees for the five rare Ft. Leonard Wood licenses – a very remote base located deep in the Ozark Mountains.





It suddenly became clear that Federal, State and Local governments encouraged active military and veterans to participate in hunting and fishing from the beginning (following WW1) by providing them H&F licenses at no fee. When this was no longer possible due to passage of the Engle Act in 1958, the DOD continued to encourage hunting and fishing by means of issuing an increasing number of different fish and game stamps.

Within this context, the stamp program developed at VAFB became part of a much larger (and more compelling) story The Golden Thread.


Florex 2023

As stated above, a good storyline goes a long way towards a successful exhibit. At this point, the forerunner section idea simply went away (along with the troublesome two color heading scheme) and it became part of the main storyline as told in four chapters.

Ron suggested an appropriate new title, U.S. Fish & Game Licenses and Stamps Issued to Active Military and Veterans, and Will agreed to make the change.

In addition to getting rid of the two color scheme for the headings; we also eliminated the shading in the headings – a once effective practice that now seems to be out of vogue. We employed bold blue headings combined with bold red year dates. This red, white and blue effect fit Will’s theme and served to draw the viewer in.

Ron’s idea of printing the fees throughout the exhibit helped equalize the licensing and philatelic aspects between what was formally the forerunner section and the three military adhesive frames. We then wove the expanded mental health mitigating story (the golden thread) from the beginning of the exhibit to the end.

In order to balance the story’s flow we actually removed some of the PTSD references from the last three frames; then removed any extraneous text in order to be concise and to the point. This would help the judges from missing key aspects of the storyline in the limited time allowed each exhibit.

Finally, we created a new Title Page that provided sufficient BACKGROUND for the storyline and greatly curtailed the ORGANIZATION/PLAN (see Figure 24).



Figure 24. Will’s current Title Page  (click to enlarge).



Now the best version of itself, the military exhibit was very well received the next time Will showed it, at Florex in December of 2023. The exhibit was awarded a large gold medal, the Statue of Freedom Award as the best U.S. stamp exhibit and the show’s Reserve Grand (see Figures 25-26). It came close to maximizing points on every line of the evaluation form, finishing with a total of 94.

Will was happy and I was relieved and joyous. We shared in a great sense of gratitude to all of the people (collectors, judges, friends and family) who contributed treasured items from their collections, invaluable advice and unwavering support. Without them, this day would not have been possible – an extraordinary one for our fish and game hobby!



Figure 25. The military exhibit was well received at Florex 2023.


Figure 26. The Florex Reserve Grand Award.


Will was subsequently invited to enter it into the 2024 George Brett Cup, taking place at Rompex (Aurora, CO) in May of this year. There it will represent the fish and game hobby as it competes for “The most outstanding exhibit of 20th century material in the U.S.”

In the meantime we invite you to take a few minutes to scan the following two online articles in order to appreciate why the story is still relevant today…

Why Nature-Based Therapy Is Gaining Traction Among Veterans


…then click on this link to view the exhibit in its entirety, discovering the important story it has to tell. To all current and future collectors thinking about exhibiting a specialized area of F&G stamps,





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