California Hunting & Fishing Licenses – Part Six

The legislation with the most profound effect on our story in 1918-1919 was not passed in California. It was passed in Congress and is known as The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. With this legislation, the federal government accepted the responsibility for the protection of migratory waterfowl in the United States.

At this time, George A. Lawyer was employed by The Bureau of Biological Survey (forerunner to what is now The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). He held the titles of Inspector, Migratory Game Law from 1916 to 1918 and Chief U.S. Game Warden from 1918 to 1926 (see Figure 1 and 2). In these roles he traveled the country gathering data on migratory birds.



Figure 1. Business card for George A. Lawyer, Chief United States Game Warden.



Figure 2. George Lawyer standing with a 10″9″ shotgun weighing 250 pounds. The gun was used to hunt ducks illegally in 1919-1920. It was capable of killing close to 100 ducks per shot. Photo from the Getty Archives.



Lawyer made a trip to California in 1919 where he was issued a pictorial hunting license. The dazzling license proved to be of historic inspiration – as he is credited with first proposing the selling of federal migratory waterfowl stamps in 1919 to raise funds for waterfowl conservation. He sketched a design for the first federal stamp in the early 1920s and as we shall see, his design was heavily influenced by the 1919 California license that he brought back to Washington.



Part Three of the Halpin Litho Trilogy

In 1918, Halpin Litho produced their third consecutive California fishing license. It features an elegant design consisting of a single fisherman casting at the left with an ornate year date in the center. The citizen angling license (new wording) was printed in black and rose ink on white paper (see Figures 3 and 4). For the first time, the alien license was printed using the same colors of ink (with the year date maybe having a little brown mixed with the rose – see Figure 5).



Figure 3. 1918 California citizen angling license from the sheet format. Halpin Litho imprint is located at the lower left. Note the tip of the rod extends beyond the border at the top center.



Figure 4. 1918 California citizen angling license from a booklet. Note that for this issue, the printers crop marks at the UR and LR have been moved away from the design. This prevented the perforations from showing after being cut from the larger format.



Figure 5. 1918 California alien sport fishing license.



The 1918-19 California hunting licenses were once again produced by Mysell-Rollins. The license is considered to be one of the classics from the pictorial period and features a hunter and his dog in a boat on a marsh setting. On the deck of the boat lay several ducks. A single duck is also incorporated into the upper right border. The background is the same union shield pattern used for the 1914-15 design. The citizen licenses were printed in black and yellow-brown ink on white paper (see Figures 6 and 7). This license was “around” in the 1970s and 1980s but has since become very popular with collectors and is now fairly difficult to acquire, especially in nice condition.



Figure 6. 1918-19 California citizen hunting license from the sheet format. Mysell-Rollins imprint is located above the lower border, in the center.



Figure 7. 1918-19 California citizen hunting license from a booklet. Note the border design on this example was mis-aligned upward in the printing process.



The H.S. Crocker Company

For the 1919 fishing license, the commissioners selected a new lithographer – although the company itself was hardly “new”. The H.S. Crocker Co. is one of the pioneer printing and stationary firms on the west coast and was founded in Sacramento in 1856.

Henry Crocker was born in Troy, New York in 1832. He followed the Gold Rush to California in 1850 with his three brothers, Edwin, Clark and Charles (Charles Crocker became famous as one of the “Big 4” railroad barons). Henry worked in the gold mines until 1856, when he decided to open a print shop in Sacramento, the gateway to the gold fields. He started in a small tent with a wooden sign propped outside that read simply “H.S. Crocker Company Printers.” Finding success, the company soon moved into a larger wooden building.

As millions in gold and silver poured down from the fields on both sides of the Sierras, San Francisco became a large city almost overnight. It also became the center of the west coast printing industry. In 1871, Henry Crocker established his first printing and lithography plant in the city. In 1885 Crocker built an additional five story plant at 741 Harrison Street that was considered by many in the industry to be the finest commercial printing plant in the west (see Figure 8 and 9).



Figure 8. The Crocker building in San Francisco.



Figure 9. Circa 1880s lithograph by H.S. Crocker Co., from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.



In 1890 the business was incorporated under the name H. S. Crocker Company. In 1912 the stationary and publishing company of Cunningham, Curtiss & Welch of San Francisco and Los Angeles was purchased. This gave Crocker three locations; Sacramento, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Henry’s son, Charles H. Crocker, was born in Sacramento in 1865. At age nine he moved with his parents to San Francisco. When he graduated from high school he attended the University of California at Berkeley and received a B.A. in business. He then went to work for his father, starting as an apprentice in the lithography department. He worked his way up through all of the departments in the company (including printing, bookbinding, engraving and stationary) and upon his father’s death in 1904, assumed presidency of the firm.

Charles built the Company into the largest printing firm west of Chicago and one of the largest in the United States. It is a wonder that it was not until 1919 that they produced one of the beautiful pictorial licenses. In 1922 H.S. Crocker purchased the Union Litho Company, adding it to their printing empire.

The 1919 California angling license features the Mt. Shasta Fish Hatchery. The citizen (resident) licenses were printed in black and orange-brown ink on white paper (see Figures 10 and 11). The alien licenses were printed in black and green ink on white paper (see Figure 12).



Figure 10. 1919 California citizen angling license from the sheet format. H.S. Crocker imprint located below the lower border, in the center.



Figure 11. 1919 California citizen angling license from a booklet.



Figure 12. 1919 California alien sport fishing license.



The Louis Roesch Co.

Louis Roesch was another of the pioneering San Francisco lithographers and printers. He was born in Stuttgart, Germany and came to the United States at an early age. The Louis Roesch Company was established in 1879 by Louis Roesch Sr. The company specialized in lithographic poster and label art (see Figure 13).



Figure 13. Advertisement for the Louis Roesch Co., circa 1915-1916.




After the fire in 1906, Roesch built a large plant at 1886 Mission Street. At this plant the company produced fabulous lithography and was responsible for another of the iconic images in Hawaiiana. The Hawaii Promotion Committee selected the Roesch Litho Co. to produce all of their advertising art for the 1915 Mid Pacific Carnival. This included posters, postcards, poster stamps and brochures (see Figure 14). The Roesch image is one of the most popular and frequently reproduced Hawaiian images of all time. It features a lovely bare breasted hula girl waving a lei of flowers over Waikiki Beach, with Diamond Head in the background – Wow!




Figure 13. 1915 Mid Pacific Carnival postcard. Louis Roesch imprint located at lower left.



In 1916 Louis Roesch Sr passed away. An article in The Inland Printer reported the news and stated that his son, Louis Roesch Jr, would be taking over management of the company.

The 1919-20 California hunting license features an intricate series of valley quail heads, each encircled by a border inscribed “FISH & GAME – COMMISSION”. The reverse of the license features new art of a hunter putting out his campfire along with several messages including “HELP PREVENT FOREST FIRES”. The obverse of the citizen licenses are lithographed in black and shades of salmon ink on white paper. The reverse is lithographed in black on white (see Figures 14, 15 and 16).



Figure 14. 1919-20 California citizen hunting license from the sheet format. Louis Roesch imprint is located above the lower border in the left corner.



Figure 15. Reverse of the license above.



Figure 16. 1919-20 California citizen hunting license from a booklet. The ink used is a lighter shade of salmon.



George Lawyer Visits California

When George Lawyer visited California in 1919, he was issued a non-resident hunting license that had been produced by the Louis Roesch Litho Co. The license was lithographed in black and robin’s egg (quail egg?) blue on white paper (see Figure 17).



Figure 17. 1919-20 California non-resident hunting license issued to George Lawyer, Chief United States game Warden.



By this point in time, Lawyer was rapidly coming to the conclusion that the migratory waterfowl situation in the U.S. and Canada was in dire straits. He was probably already contemplating various remedies and upon encountering the California license, was inspired to propose a federal migratory waterfowl stamp. The stamp would serve two purposes: 1) generate badly needed funds to preserve and restore wetlands and 2) have the segment of the population who stood to benefit the most from such a program – waterfowl hunters – foot the bill.

Lawyer was clearly impressed with the eye-catching license. When he returned to Washington, he sketched a proposed design for the first federal license (stamp) and modeled it after his 1919 California license (see Figure 18).



Figure 18. Lawyers hand drawn sketch which he included in his proposal for the first federal waterfowl stamp.



By comparing the license and the sketch, it is possible to see all of the “borrowed” elements; 1) Having the denomination (face value) in the corners, 2) Having “FEDERAL HUNTING LICENSE” incorporated into the top border in place of “STATE OF CALIFORNIA HUNTING LICENSE”, copying the wording “NOT TRANSFERABLE”, copying the expiration date (June 30th) and having the signature line in almost the exact same position.

History tell us that George lawyer’s idea was held up in Congress for over a decade. It seems congressmen were worried that a federal license or stamp would infringe upon the rights of individual states to license hunters. It was the devastating drought in the early 1930s and subsequent “Dustbowl” years on the Great Plains that would prove to be the last straw. The already precarious waterfowl situation was now facing a critical blow to breeding grounds in the Central (and most important) Flyway.

In 1934, President Roosevelt appointed J.N. “Ding” Darling to head up the Bureau of Biological Survey. He guided a bill through Congress on March 10, 1934, requiring migratory bird hunters to purchase federal stamps. Whereas in the past funds derived from state license sales were divided among many competing wildlife conservation needs, these new stamps allowed for 100% of the fees collected to go to waterfowl conservation – specifically the purchase of wetlands. Darling personally designed the 1934-35 stamp (see Figure 19).



Figure 19. Small die proof for the 1934-35 federal waterfowl stamp, designed by J.N. “Ding Darling.




The California pictorial hunting and fishing licenses are unlike any others in the United States. There is only one other state whose licenses are even in the ballpark and that is Nebraska (The reason for this is because the Director of Nebraska Game Fish and Parks transferred jobs from California). In this series of blog posts we have seen that a specific sequence of events is responsible for this reality:


  1. In addition to being men of great talent, many of the lithographers in San Francisco were men of unusual courage, grit and determination – for they (or their fathers) were part of the California Gold Rush.
  2. The San Francisco Earthquake and Fire additionally challenged these men and they responded by demonstrating a unique ability to cope and compete in the harshest of circumstances. In so doing, they raised their art and craft to unprecedented levels.
  3. A decision was made by the State Board of Fish Commissioners to switch from metal to paper licenses in 1909. Their close proximity to San Francisco allowed them to contract with the consummate lithographers that concentrated there.
  4. The Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915 presented an additional challenge – and opportunity –  a business gladiator’s arena in which to compete against each other for a fortune in printing contracts that they desperately needed to pull their companies out of the ashes (literally). The survivors and the victorious raised the bar for the lithographic arts yet again.



A Final Thought

If the above had not unfolded the way it did – and if there was no pretty blue pictorial hunting license to issue to George Lawyer in 1919 – it is quite possible he would not have been inspired to propose a federal stamp at all. Then where would we be? It is an understatement to say that the California pictorial hunting and fishing licenses played an extraordinary role in the development of the license and stamp system in the United States. For this series of fortunate events, all collectors should be very grateful.



I would like to thank everyone that has called and emailed expressing their kind thoughts and appreciation for this series of posts. I enjoyed writing them as much as you have enjoyed reading them. Alas, there is much remaining to do on the website and I think this is a good place to pause for the time being. To be continued… down the road.






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