Welcome to the new website/blog/forum, Waterfowl Stamps and More. This website is the culmination of nine months of work on the part of myself and many talented people, especially my son, Eric and my website developer, Kaiya Kramer. In a broader sense, it it the culmination of over 50 years of stamp collecting, researching, writing and exhibiting – most of this focussed on my chosen area of specialization, waterfowl stamps. I am looking forward to sharing the things that I have learned with you in this blog, as well as keeping you informed on new discoveries and current events as they relate to the waterfowl stamp hobby.
I also want to take this opportunity to introduce you to related collecting areas such original art, prints, gun and powder advertising covers and fish and game stamps in general. Until now, fish and game stamps has been perhaps one of philately’s best kept secrets. It may surprise you to know there are over 15,000 different stamps that have been printed and issued by all levels of government; federal, state, local, tribal and military. The common denominator is that the vast majority of these stamps were issued for the purpose of licensing sportsmen to hunt or fish for various species of wildlife. The field is truly vast and rich and my experience has been that there is something of interest for just about everyone who has inherited the “collector gene”.
Starting next week, we will explore this area together through the blog and forum on this website. I shall introduce you to new topics weekly and with your feedback, we will have a dialog that defines both the basics and the nuances of fish and game stamps. I shall attempt to answer your questions and invite additional commentary and input from all of you with knowledge to share. Hopefully, you will find the experience enjoyable and rewarding. It is my belief that by increasing our frame of reference we can better appreciate the items we collect and perhaps, inspire new collectors to join us. It is an exciting prospect.
As I have been working toward the launch of this blog, I have had many ideas for the first post. Then, as so often happens, life got in the way and changed my plans. My father, Angelo John Torre, Jr., passed away a few days ago. It was sudden and unexpected and I am still processing my feelings. I have decide to talk about my father and his extraordinary support of my stamp collecting hobby. You will learn a little more about me in the process and I can provide both recognition for the role my father has played in my life and my gratitude for his love and support. For you see, with out my father to guide me – not only would there be no website, but the waterfowl stamp bobby would be very different than it is today.
I was first introduced to the hobby of stamp collecting as a six year old boy. It seems times were tough and my parents had decided my father should sell a large portion of what remained of his personal stamp collection (after he previously sold his complete sets of the 1869 pictorials and Trans Mississippis to buy a washer, dryer and refrigerator shortly after being married). My father had been collecting stamps all of his life, started by his mother who was also a collector. As my father was also a part time stamp dealer, his collection was pretty good. We all piled in the family car and headed to the nearby city of Santa Rosa, California. It was there that my father had made an appointment to show his collection to the biggest dealer in the area.
I was in the back seat, sitting next to a box with the stamp albums. I asked if I could look at them and was told “yes, if you are very careful”. The albums, still containing complete sets of the Columbians and all the rest of the commemoratives (except the Trans Miss), the airmails, including the zepps, special deliveries and duck stamps made short work of me. I was captivated by these brightly colored miniature works of art – seduced and smitten for life in less than an hour’s drive.
Apparently, my parents did not get the price they were hoping for and the collection made the return trip to Healdsburg with us. Not knowing the stamps had any significant value, I asked if I could have the collection for myself. They did not laugh, but instead told me they would “think about it”. Over the next several months I inquired several more times until one day, upon returning home from school, I found the albums piled on top of my bed. My heart raced for a a brief period of time, until I discovered that all but a few of the treasures had been removed.
When I asked my parents why they took the stamps out of the albums before giving them to me, they indicated the stamps had value and that if I wanted them, I would have to work hard for them. They proposed a deal whereby whenever I brought home a good report card from school – I would be rewarded with a group of stamps. The better the report card, the better the group of stamps. This was a genius stroke on the part of my parents as I became very motivated and made sure to study hard and make high marks every period. This continued through junior high. In addition to my new found lust for stamps and the resulting motivation, the very process of collecting of stamps served me well in school. Not only did I do quite well in every subject related to geography and history, the point total I achieved in 7th grade history stood for over thirty years.
As I grew older, I sought out additional means to support my habit. I learned that you could recycle used aluminum cans for a penny apiece and my father soon volunteered to drive me around the county roads (after working a full day at his job) once or twice a week. He helped me to collect the cans, smash them (by jumping on them which was pretty fun), bag them and drove me to the recycle center where I would receive my pay. On weekends my father would drive me at first to the stamp shops in Santa Rosa where I could buy stamps for my collection and then, for many years, all the way to San Fransisco where I was able to buy from the stocks of larger dealers. San Fransisco was an hour drive in each direction and my father drove me most weekends. Often my mother and sister would come along and we would tun it into a family outing, taking in Golden Gate Park and the Aquarium, Playland or the Zoo.
To supplement my aluminum can income, my grandfather on my mother’s side showed my how to make a noose out of a long piece of grass and catch lizards. My grandparents also had a ranch and occasionally I was able to catch a Gopher snake or King snake. At this point, it was legal for pet stores to buy reptiles from people off the street and resell them as pets. I would spend one day most weekends catching lizards and snakes and then my father would drive me to to the pet stores in Santa Rosa, where I would receive five cents for each lizard and two dollars for each Gopher or King snake. My father’s weekends were pretty much filled with supporting my habit.
When I was ten years old, I was able to return the favor, in part, to my father. After school one day, myself and a few friends were exploring in the hills behind the elementary school and stumbled upon the old city dump for the town of Healdsburg. The dump was used from the turn of the century to about the 1920s. It was on this day that we discovered something new to collect – old bottles. We picked up everything that was on top of the ground and started to dig. For months we dug nearly every day after school and unearthed a great deal of treasure in the form of antique bottles, many of which were made in different colors of glass and some of which had the name of the product and company that sold or distributed it embossed on the glass.
This was all great fun until summer approached, then it got hot and the ground got hard. We had a difficult time making our way down through the hardened layers of soil. We needed man power and solicited the help of our fathers. Being a collector, my father became very enthusiastic about digging for old bottles. I introduced him to bottle collecting and it was this hobby that would ultimately define him in the collecting world. He would one day assemble the finest collection of antique whiskey bottles extant.
At this point, my dad began driving us all over northern California in search of places to dig bottles. For three years we drove a at least two days a month to a site along the Novarro River, along the California coast about two hours drive, north, from Healdsburg. During the 1870s and 1880s there had been a thriving lumber camp at the site and the now marshy area was dotted with old wells, out houses and dumps filled with old bottles from the lumber camp era. We would get up early in the morning, arrive at daybreak and start to dig. I would dig for about an hour, then get tired and spend the rest of the day building dams and forts with my friends – and working at my new enterprise.
It turns out the marshy area was a haven for garter snakes and on every trip I would fill a five gallon bucket. My father then drove me to the pets stores and I was payed a dollar for each snake! This provided a pretty good income for a preteen and I put it all into my stamp collection.
When I was eleven years old my father did two things for me that “leveled me up” in the the stamp collecting hobby. My grandparents on my fathers side had a restaurant and resort on the Russian River called Angelo’s (for over 50 years). When I was eleven my father asked my grandfather If I could start working weekend evenings as a dish washer. My father was already helping out tending bar on weekend nights and began to take me with him to work. During holiday and summer breaks I was able to work more. Soon, I was taking home a paycheck for $700 – 1,000.00 a month – all of which went into stamps.
In addition, my father would frequently have us leave for work early and he would drop me off at the home of the legendary stamp dealer Gilson Willets, of Flying Horse Stamp Company fame. Willets was now retired and living on the Russian River with his lovely wife, Bunny. It was Mr. Willets that filled me with stamp lore and greatly kindled my passion for stamp collecting. He still had some great stamps he had saved and over the years, he allowed me to acquire them from him.
One day when I was twelve, I brought home my report card and received in my group of stamps an unused thirty cent Columbian in very fine, never hinged condition! Previously, the groups of stamps had always consisted of more common, inexpensive stamps. I looked up the value and was excited to find it listed for a significant sum. I immediately asked my father if he would drive me to a nearby stamp dealer, where I planned to trade the rare stamp for a lot of more common stamps to fill my albums. My father quietly agreed and off we went.
After taking part in my first big stamp trade, we left with several stock pages of beautiful stamps. My father asked me if I was satisfied with the trade and I beamed in the affirmative. After a pause, he asked if I was interested in his opinion. I replied “Sure”. It was at this point that I learned that rare stamps were hard to come by and that more common stamps could be had at just about any time. The fact that my father allowed me to mess up on my own before telling me, burnt this lesson into my memory for life.
When I was sixteen, I was into sports, cars and girls but managed to spend a fair amount of time collecting and now started dealing in stamps. As a dealer, my father had specialized in duck stamps but at this point I was interested in all high quality U.S. stamps, including duck stamps. This was the speculative 1970s and the stamp business was flourishing.
I now owned a car (my father loaned me the money to buy it and I paid him back), and was able to drive myself to stamp shops and shows in Santa Rosa and San Fransisco. My father still accompanied me to WESTPEX, the biggest show on the west coast and located for decades in downtown San Fransisco. My father had attended every show since its inception in 1960, and started taking me with him when I was seven. Now I was taking him.
I was now a busboy at the restaurant and making good money in tips, much of which (not all of it any more, thanks to my car and dates) went into stamps. It was at this point when I asked my parents if they would let me fly to New York on my own, to attend stamp shows and visit the big stamp dealers. My mother was reluctant but my father convinced her I would be OK. I soon had their permission and set off for the action – NYC.
I would try to squeeze in, either before or after the shows, a visit or two to see the big dealers. I would look through their stocks, buy and sell stamps and act as a sponge absorbing their philatelic knowledge. I quickly struck up a friendship with the venerable NYC stamp dealer Leo Scarlet. Leo took a liking to me and one day offered some some advice that would change my life and the waterfowl stamp hobby forever.
He told me that “In this day and age, if you don’t specialize in something – you will never get anywhere”. He then asked me if I had to pick a specialty area, what would it be? It did not take me long to answer “duck stamps”. I had long been enamored with the beautiful, oversized works of art. Also, the fact that they were my father’s favorites was not lost on me.
I left New York with the biggest decision of my young life. After discussing it with my father, we agreed that at the next INTERPEX show in New York (then the largest stamp show in the country), that I would sell my entire collection of high quality U.S. stamps and put all of the money into duck stamps. This was not an easy choice to make. With the help of my father, I was able to build by the time I was a teenager a surprisingly good collection of U.S. stamps. Both of us had put in countless hours to make this happen and now I was going to take something of a risk by selling everything and putting all the money into a relatively obscure “back of the book” area of philately. But I had faith in Leo’s advice and believed in the future of duck stamps – and so that is what I did.
Did I ever regret my choice? I admit I missed some of my stamps and the memories interwoven with them. I still remember my father driving me to San Fransisco when I was seven and helping me to pick out the nicest used Scott #24 (1857 one cent) that I have ever seen to this day, with my aluminum can money. I had to pick up over 700 cans to pay for that one stamp. I remember Gilson Willets allowing me to acquire several gem 1869 pictorials from him that he had saved his entire life.
I remember the zepp set I put together at three different Richard Wolffers Auctions with the tip I money I made working as a busboy (my father drove me to San Fransisco for the auctions). In those days, the beautiful Graf Zeppelin set was much admired and highly coveted. Long before the days of grading stamps, my set was considered one of the finest and I sold the high value alone for $5,000.00, to a dealer in the 1970s. I loved that stamp, perfectly centered with huge “jumbo” margins and deep, rich color.
But no, I have no regrets. None whatsoever. I love what we now correctly refer to as waterfowl stamps. Further, my passion for waterfowl stamps led me to fish and game stamps in general. I enjoy all the research, writing and exhibiting. Most of all, I have discovered that my calling in life is to build collections, both for myself and for others. I have become pretty good at it and this has provided me with a strong sense of accomplishment and self worth. For this, I am grateful.
It has only been a few days, but I already miss my father terribly. None of this would have been possible without his love, patience, advice, confidence and the hundreds of hours he spent in support of a child’s dreams. He missed seeing this website launch by four days. That is unfortunate, especially since all of the work I have put into it took my time away from spending it with him at (what I could not know) was the end of his life.
I dedicate this website to you, dad. Thank you for everything. I love you – rest in peace.