California Hunting & Fishing Licenses – Part Two

In 1909, the California Board of Fish Commissioners changed to the Fish and Game Commission, reflecting the growing importance of game conservation. At this time, the Commission consisted of three members appointed by the governor at no compensation. More important to license and waterfowl stamp collectors was the passage of The Hunting License Act of 1909:

“Act 1688 – An act to regulate and license the hunting of wild birds and animals, and to provide revenue therefrom, for game and fish preservation and restoration.”  Approved March 22, 1909.

The act is long but the important part is that the commissioners accepted responsibility to “…prepare suitable licenses of convenient form and size, and have printed or stamped thereon the words Hunting License No. –––, State of California, expires June 30, 19––, with the registration number, and appropriate year printed or stamped thereon… “. It then goes on to discuss accounting responsibilities on the part of everyone involved, from the commissioners to the county clerks who would be collecting the fees and issuing the licenses.

At this point it became clear that a more efficient form of licensing was needed going forward. It was decided to issue licenses printed on paper, rather than stamped from metal, to facilitate the ease of licensing and accounting. Paper licenses would be printed in sheets of five (1×5) with an accounting tab at the left side. Think of a page of executive style business checks, five to a page.


Paper Licenses Issued

The same year the Fish and Game Commission decided to print paper licenses, The Handbook of Manufacturers In and About San Francisco, California was published by the Merchants Association of San Francisco. The handbook was a a guide for buyers, showing the articles made in and around the city and who made them.

There was a section for lithographers. Among the dozen listings were four companies that would play a major role in producing the pictorial California hunting and fishing licenses issued starting in 1909 and continuing through the 1926-27 seasons. Two of these companies would produce the first eight hunting licenses and a third would create what is considered by many to be the most beautiful license ever issued – California’s first fishing license in 1914. Published in alphabetical order, the lithographers of note were:


1) Britton & Rey, at 522 Sacramento Street;

2) Crocker, H.S. Co., at 230 Brannan Street;

3) Mysell-Rollins Bank Note Co., at 32 Clay Street; and

4) The Union Lithograph Company, at 741 Harrison Street


It is not known exactly how the Union Lithograph Company was chosen to produce the first two hunting licenses. It is assumed the contracts were put out to bid and they came in low. There is nothing otherwise to distinguish Union Litho from the other S.F. lithographers, many of which were far more prominent.

Started in 1885, Union Litho had a plant offering diverse services including “artistic lithography, printing and binding” (see figure 1). Prior to the San Francisco Earthquake, the company was primarily known for their production of exquisite fruit crate labels.



Figure 1. Advertisement for The Union Lithograph Company, circa 1890s.



In the aftermath of the earthquake and devastating fire, Union Litho purchased the Los Angeles Lithograph Company (in L.A.) to handle their business while rebuilding. By 1908, according to an article in the San Francisco Call newspaper, the S.F plant was back up and running and Union Litho stated that the two plants would continue to be run separately.

The 1909-10 California resident hunting license features a hunter retuning to camp on horseback and is lithographed in green and black ink on white paper that features a very bold watermark. The Union Litho imprint can be seen at the lower left. The early California lithographed licenses were produced in batches, therefore the shade of ink can vary considerably (see Figures 2, 3 and 4).



Figure 2. 1909-10 California resident hunting license produced using an intense shade of green ink. Note the bold watermark which appears light gray in the scan.



Figure 3. Another example produced with a less vivid shade of green. This shade is much more common and not faded (it was kept in the original envelope for over 60 years and the paper has slightly yellowed due to the acid content in the envelope). The bold watermark is now seen to be almost distracting. This license was issued to a hunter in the small town of Healdsburg where I was raised. I encountered him late in his life and was able to acquire the license directly from him.



Figure 4. Original envelope for the license above.



Licenses Are Issued in Two Formats

The 1910-11 resident hunting license features a male valley quail, the California state bird, and is lithographed in blue and black ink on white paper. Resident licenses were now issued in two different formats. They were still issued in the five to a page sheet format (see Figures 5, 6 and 7) but were also issued as single license panes with a tab at the left (see Figure 8). Presumably, an unknown number of these panes were stapled together to form a booklet.



Figure 5. 1910-11 California resident hunting license from a sheet of five. Note rouletting on top, bottom and left side. Also, the deep blue ink.



Figure 6. Another example using a lighter shade of blue ink. This license is not faded and was in the original case for 80 years.



Figure 7. Original case for license above.



Figure 8. This example is from a booklet with a higher serial number range. Note straight edges on the top, bottom and right side. The accounting tab (not present) was originally attached to the rouletted left side. The blue ink is a lighter shade yet and possibly slightly faded.



From this point on, all resident hunting and fishing licenses were issued in both formats until 1935. It is not known why or where licenses from a particular format were issued. It is known that the booklet type licenses have a separate range of serial numbers that start above the page or sheet format.

This has been a prevailing topic of conversation among advanced collectors for decades. At one point I had seen relatively few booklet type licenses as compared to the larger format. This led me to believe that the booklets contained far fewer licenses (which is probably true) and were sent to clerks in less populated counties. I have now seen a large enough sampling to know the latter is probably not true. There is no question the booklet type licenses are much scarcer and harder for collectors to acquire.



A Change in Lithographer

Starting in 1911 the lithographer for California hunting licenses flip-flopped back and forth between the Union Litho Co. and a new player, the Mysell-Rollins Bank Note Company, for the next six years. Union Litho received the contract in 1912, 1913 and 1915, while Mysell-Rollins got it in 1911, 1914, 1916 (and again in 1918).

Mysell-Rollins started in business in San Francisco in 1894 as a bookbinder and was located at 521 Clay Street. In 1896 they were listed in local directories as bookbinders and printers at 22 Clay Street. This continued until 1906 when the fire burned down the entire area. The company temporarily moved across the bay, where they did business at 576 12th Street in Oakland.

In 1907, they were back in San Francisco at their 22 Clay Street location. Like the proverbial phoenix, they arose and reinvented themselves as the Mysell-Rollins Bank Note Company – specializing in steel die engraving. The company soon added lithography to their list of services and became so proficient in the art that they were invited to compete in a two-week lithographic competition in England in 1914. They matched their skill against all the best English, French and German lithographers and left with a bronze medal.

Mysell-Rollins would continue to excel at printing arts into the 1920s. In 1922 the company had a display at the Second Annual San Francisco Business Exposition, held March 6-11. A trade magazine reported that “The Mysell-Rollins Bank Note Company had a graphic arts gallery that was unusually complete, including printing lithography and steel die engraving… The display of lithography included a large variety of letter heads, checks, bills, cards, bank and business stationary.”

The 1911-12 California resident hunting license features a magnificent six point buck and is lithographed in brown and black ink on white paper (see Figures 9-12).



Figure 9. 1911-12 California resident hunting license from the sheet format. Mysell-Rollins imprint at lower left. Note this is the upper right position with straight edges at the top and right side. Licenses with serial numbers ending in a “1” or a “6” are from this position – position one.



Figure 10. This example is the lower right position on the sheet, with straight edges at the bottom and right sides. Licenses with serial numbers ending in a “5” or a “0” are from this position – position five.



Figure 11. This license has a straight edge on only the right side. Therefore, it is from one of the middle positions on the sheet – between the two licenses shown above. Licenses with serial numbers ending in a “2” or a “7” are from position two; those ending in a “3” or an “8” are from position three and those ending in a “4” or a “9” are from position four.



Figure 12. 1911-12 California resident hunting license from the booklet format. High serial number with straight edges on all sides except the left, where it was attached to the accounting tab.




Continue to part Part Three


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