California Hunting & Fishing Licenses – Part One

For many collectors, a rewarding part of the fish and game hobby is collecting pre stamp (pre-1934) hunting and fishing licenses. These are seen as historically and contextually important forerunners to the stamps themselves and in the case of the beautiful California pictorial licenses, they are known to have actually inspired the first federal waterfowl stamp. Early hunting and fishing licenses are an integral part of the license and stamp system story.

As it turns out, this engaging part of the story was heavily influenced by two significant events in American history – specifically California history – the California Gold Rush and the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and the devastating fire that immediately followed.



All states and most territories issued licenses during the pre stamp period and they all have devoted local followings. Some collectors try to acquire early licenses from more than one state and some advanced collectors attempt every state. However, California is the one state that is universally collected – specifically those issued for the 1909-10 through 1926-27 seasons. The reason being the licenses used during this time were fully pictorial and printed in beautiful chromolithography.

Chromolithography is a method used for color printing that is derived from lithography. It was first perfected in the mid 1870s and was considered the ultimate in printing art in the 1880s and 1890s. However, it is a labour intensive process. In lithography, an image is drawn on a stone or zinc printing plate. After several more steps, the plate is inked and fed through a press with a sheet of paper to transfer the image to the paper.

Chromolithography involves creating multiple stone or zinc plates, one drawn for each area of separate color intended. The paper – in this case the uncut sheet of license images – must be fed through the printing press as many times as the number of colors used. The finished product was exquisite but very expensive. By the early 20th Century, chromolithography was considered to be somewhat of a lost art, practiced only by highly skilled specialists intent in preserving the highest printing standards. To print their early hunting and fishing licenses, California contracted some of the most prominent lithographers in the United States. These companies were not far from Sacramento, conveniently located in San Fransisco (see Figures 1, 2 and 3). Note: Remember to click on the images for increased enjoyment.



Figure 1. The 1914-15 California hunting license was lithographed by the Mysell – Rollins Bank Note Company in S.F.



Figure 2. The 1923-24 California hunting license was lithographed by the Schwabacher-Frey Statey Company in S.F.



Figure 3. The spectacular 1914 California resident fishing license was lithographed by Britton & Rey in San Fransisco.



Pre Paper Licenses

In 1907 California adopted a hunting license system. The first California licenses were issued to three separate classifications for the 1907-08 seasons. They consisted of resident, non-resident and alien (non U.S. citizen) hunters (see Figure 4). Licenses for fishermen were not issued until 1914.



Figure 4. Original 1907-08 California Application for Hunting License. Note the three classifications and corresponding license fees at the bottom of the form.



California contracted with J.M. Patrick of San Fransisco to produce their first licenses. Patrick was quite the young entrepreneur, opening his first offices and storefront at 310 California Street when he was just 24 years old. The store was called Patrick & Co. and originally specialized in producing rubber stamps, dating and cancellation devices, key rings and name plates.

Patrick was a “go-getter” and was very successful, moving eight times over the years – each time into a larger facility with the exception of a brief period of time following the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and subsequent fire. It is this time period that is of interest to fish and game collectors.

At the time of the earthquake, the business was located at 221 Sansome street between Bush and Pine. The fire resulted in total destruction of the entire neighborhood, including Patrick & Co. In addition, all suppliers and stocks of supplies were destroyed. Undeterred, Patrick made his way to Los Angeles and purchased all the supplies he could find. He returned to San Francisco and immediately started to work out of the basement of his home.

After building up his business somewhat, he erected a temporary building on Pine street between Polk and Van Ness. This allowed him to recover financially to the point where he was able to purchase a sizable store at 126 Bush Street. From this location he built up a large and profitable business, eventually attracting the attention of the California State Board of Fish Commissioners and landing the hunting license contract.

It has been reported elsewhere that the 1907-08 and 1908-09 licenses are “tokens or fobs”. Neither is correct. A token was an advertising piece that was exchanged with a retailer for goods or services (see Figure 5), while a license fob from this time had an elongated slot to slide onto a leather strap.



Figure 5. Token for Patrick & Co. Note the address is for the location that was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake – right before Patrick was awarded the hunting license contract.



The licenses for 1907-08 and 1908-09 were produced from metal by Patrick utilizing a stamping process. A stamping process is used for producing raised or sunken images in metal. When the image is raised – as in the California licenses – it is said to be embossed. A metal sheet is drawn through male and female roller dies, producing a series of embossed images that are then die cut to produce individual pieces.

Resident licenses from both years are not uncommon and frequently show up on Ebay. There are two types of the 1907-08 hunting license. Both were stamped from aluminum. The serial numbers were subsequently embossed using a punch. Type I is numbered 1-100,000 and are oval in shape with an embossed border that meets a smooth die cut edge. There is a round hole in the exact center of the left side (see Figure 6). It is not known for certain what purpose the hole served.



Figure 6. Type I 1907-08 California hunting license.



Type II is numbered above 100,000 and also oval in shape with an embossed border that is inset from a roughly die cut edge. The hole is not centered at the left but instead raised 5 mm (see Figures 7 and 8). Relatively few of the Type II licenses have been recorded as compared to Type I. There have not been any non resident or alien licenses recorded.



Figure 7. Type II 1907-08 California hunting license.



Figure 8. Original envelope for the license above, bearing the 126 Bush Street address.



The licenses for 1908-09 were circular in shape with a fancy embossed border that meets a smooth die cut edge. A hole is punched at the top between the words “HUNTING” and “LICENSE”. Resident licenses were stamped from aluminum and are fairly common (see Figures 9 and 10). Only two non resident licenses have been recorded from 1908-09. They are similar to the resident licenses except they are stamped from copper. No Alien licenses have been recorded.



Figure 9. 1908-09 Resident California hunting license.



Figure 10. Original envelope for the license above.



Figure 11. 1908-09 Non resident California hunting license. Although dug by a bottle collector, this is the finest of the two recorded examples. The other has been cut with a hacksaw.




Continue to part Part Two


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