Today we will look at 13 federal duck stamps that were issued during the Vietnam War, starting with the 1959-60 season and continuing through 1971-72 (RW26 – RW38). They are often referred to as the “$3 ducks” and are notable for several reasons. Aside from the one dollar fee increase, perhaps the most defining thing about them is that they were printed in glorious multicolor.
Surprisingly, the number of duck stamps sold dropped significantly starting with the first multicolor issue (RW26), to below the two million mark for the first time in eight years and then stayed below that benchmark for nine more years, until the 1969-70 issue (RW36). During the 1962-63 season, the number came close to dropping below the one million mark for the first time in 25 years.
We shall start by exploring the reasons for this and then, thankfully, learn that despite the relatively low number of stamps sold – there are actually more possibilities for acquiring $3 duck stamps with small or very small, unobtrusive signatures today than for the two previous periods combined!
The 1959-60 huntings seasons saw revenue from duck stamp sales fall by 25%. This was the result of an extended drought during the previous few years which adversely affected breeding grounds and led to a sharp decline in many species of waterfowl. Seasons needed to be shortened and bag limits reduced. Many hunters decided not to participate.
Drought continued to be a problem for waterfowl into the 1960s. Especially hard hit were states in the northeastern part of the country, extending from New York south to Virginia (lasting 4-5 years), certain states the midwest and California. Therefore, three of the four U.S. flyways were impacted (see Figures 1 and 2). For a detailed explanation of Frederick Lincoln’s flyway concept, click here.
In addition to the droughts, the number of stamps sold was negatively impacted by escalating U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. From 1959 to 1964, the number of American advisers increased from 1,000 to 23,000. In August of 1964, after the Gulf of Tonkin Incident involving an attack on a U.S. destroyer, Congress authorized President Johnson to deploy the first 184,000 combat troops.
The number of combat troops deployed to Vietnam increased every year over the next four years, reaching a peak of 543,400 in April of 1968. During the war, August 5, 1964 – March 28, 1973, 8,744,000 American military personnel served on active duty and 2,709,918 were sent to Vietnam (see Figure 3).
If we compare the number sold for the last four $3 ducks, issued during the systematic withdrawal of U.S troops from Vietnam…
…with Figure 3, we find a direct correlation between the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam and the increasing number of duck stamps sold back in the states. As was the case following the end of WWII (see Part Two), the return of U.S. troops precipitated a surge in recreational or “sport” hunting.
In fact, the number of federal duck stamps sold during the 1971-72 season was the highest in in the program’s 86 year history to date (2020).
Dazzling Duck Stamp Art
Fortunately for our pursuit of used examples with small, unobtrusive signatures on the $3 ducks – the combined negative impact of all the droughts and the Vietnam War was more than offset by, arguably, the best period of duck stamp art up until that time and (keep in mind I may be biased because these were the ones being issued when my dad started me collecting stamps as a kid), quite possibly, ever – with two iconic pieces by Maynard Reece (RW26 and RW38) for bookends.
Of the 13, a strong case can be made for over half of the stamps and/or prints being one of the most attractive, popular (and highly sought after), seminal or quintessential in the history of the federal duck stamp program.
The first stamp, issued for 1959-60 (RW26), was based on artwork by Maynard Reece, designed by Bob Hines and Victor S. McCloskey Jr., engraved by Arthur W. Dintaman and Howard F. Sharpless – and is a masterpiece of wildlife art. The King Buck image with a Mallard in his mouth stands with Ding Darling’s Mallards alighting as the two most recognizable – and the most popular – waterfowl stamps of all time.
The image is truly iconic and has been reproduced on everything from coffee mugs to T-shirts to license plate holders – you name it. The composition, colors – everything – is pleasing to the eye (see Figure 4).
The 1959-60 stamp is known for many firsts: 1) The printed fee was raised from two to three dollars; 2) it was the first multicolored duck stamp; 3) the printing press changed from a flatbed to a Giori rotary press; 4) the sheet size changed from 112 subjects to 120, therefore, each individual pane consisted of 30 (fully perforated) stamps and 5) the plate number moved to the corner of the panes, now creating plate number blocks of four as compared to plate blocks of six on the previous issues (see Figure 5).
Known affectionately as “the dog”, prints made from Maynard’s original artwork rank as the most popular duck stamp prints, ever. There have been five editions to date, with the first being the most sought after (see Figure 6). For a comprehensive account of the 1959-60 duck stamp story, see John Olin, Ding Darling, Maynard Reece & King Buck: The Making of an Icon.
The 1961-62 and 1962-63 issues (RW28 and RW29), based on artwork by Les C. Kouba and Edward A. Morris (for more on this, see The Dean of Minnesota’s Wildlife Artists – Part Three), were both huge hits – with RW28 being one of the favorite duck stamps among women and children and RW29 one of the all time favorites among duck stamp collectors and hunters (see Figures 7 and 8).
The stamp issued for the 1964-65 season (RW31) was based on artwork by Stanley Stearns and featured Hawaii’s majestic Nene Geese. It was designed by Robert Miller and engraved by Arthur W. Dintaman and William R. Burnell. The stamp was another masterpiece and is a consensus favorite among stamp collectors.
Aside from the arresting artwork, RW31 holds a fascination for collectors in that the serial number was moved inward one position (adjacent the second stamp) thereby creating a plate number block of six (see Figures 9 and 10). With the following issue, the plate number moved back to the corner.
Both the stamps and the prints from the 1966-67 issue (RW33) are greatly admired and the first edition print, featuring Stanley Stearns’ pair of Whistling Swans, is especially sought after by those who appreciate exquisite wildlife art (see Figure 11).
The 1970-71 issue (RW37) was Edward Bierly’s third win and featured a pair of Ross Geese. The textured image was achieved by designer Leonard E. Buckley and engravers Joseph S. Creamer and Robert G. Culin. It is, in a word, truly sublime. Appropriately, it was the first federal duck stamp print to be produced in multicolor.
For obvious reasons, this was extremely popular with stamp collectors, wildlife art collectors and both conservations and hunters. It gave both hobbies (stamps and prints) a huge boost and set the stage for what was soon to come (see Figures 12 and 13).
For the 1971-72 issue (RW38), Maynard Reece’s fifth and final contribution to the federal duck stamp series, he produced an elegant piece featuring a trio of Cinnamon Teal. As stated above, the stamp was the biggest seller in the program’s long history. However, the real buzz was generated when he and other members of the Reece family (all adept artists), colored all 950 prints by hand (see Figures 14 and 15).
Altogether, the duck stamp art from the period starting in 1959-60 and extending through 1971-72 was unprecedented in the program’s history and, with all due respect to all the artists who followed, we have not seen such a sustained period of inspired pieces like it since then.
There are a couple of reasons for this; obviously producing first the duck stamps and then the prints in color had a lot to do with it. The Giori Rotary Press had a mesmerizing effect on the engraver’s art – much as Technicolor did for Hollywood cinematographers. The stamps now beckoned “look at me” and then it was hard to take your eyes off them. However, I believe there was more going on here.
Their have been many articles, books and exhibitions dedicated to how the Vietnam War affected art in the U.S. and a discussion of this absorbing topic is, unfortunately, beyond the scope of this post. Suffice to say that artists working in all mediums were galvanized to take their work to another level.
I believe the talented duck stamp artists, designers and engravers were not immune to this calling – a collective effort to help preserve the American spirit. To succeed (when things were pretty dismal), they needed to be really good.
In acknowledgement, more hunters than ever before took great care when signing their stamps, lessening their impact on the ameliorative artwork. This means there are plenty of stamps with small, unobtrusive signatures to go around from this antithetical period – defined by a protracted conflict that produced superlative duck stamp art.
The Vietnam War Period
To begin, we have an example of the 1959-60 issue (RW26), artwork by Maynard Reece, followed by an example of the 1960-61 Issue (RW27), artwork by John Ruthven. Both stamps have small, unobtrusive signatures (see Figures 16 and 17).
Next we have two examples of the 1960-61 issue (RW28), artwork by Les C. Kouba and Edward A. Morris. One is off license with an unobtrusive signature and one on license used in combination with a 1961-62 Iowa Trout Stamp – the first year of issue for the Iowa series. (see Figures 18 and 19).
Next we have a poorly centered example of the 1962-63 issue (RW29), artwork by Edward A Morris. In this case, the hunter, Andrew Colella, took advantage of the larger space at the top and came the closest, so far, to signing his name completely within the border (see Figure 20). We shall be seeing more of Andrew’s stamps in this and the following post.
Next we have an example of the 1963-64 issue (RW30), with a very small, unobtrusive signature in the lower right corner. In addition, someone wrote the number “3” neatly in the upper left corner in a different color of ink (see Figure 21).
Next we have two examples of the 1964-65 issue (RW31), artwork by Stanley Stearns. One is off license with a very small signature and the other is on license, used in combination with a 1964-65 California Resident Hunting License Validation Stamp (see Figures 22 and 23).
Next we have two examples of the 1965-66 issue (RW32), artwork by Ron Jenkins. One is off license with a very small signature and the other is on license, used in combination with a 1965 Kansas Upland Game Bird Stamp (see Figures 24 and 25).
Next we have two singles of the 1966-67 issue (RW33), artwork by Stanley Stearns. One is the last entry signed by C.H. Bry and the other is a plate number single with a very small, delicate signature (see Figures 26 and 27).
Next we have an example of the 1967-68 issue (RW34), artwork by Les C. Kouba, with a very small signature (see Figure 28).
Next we have three 1968-69 stamps (RW35) that play a prominent supporting role in today’s post. First, we have two examples signed nice and neat by Andrew and Ed Colella. I assume that Ed was Andrew’s son. Then we have a plate number single signed in tiny print by Raymond W Peterman (see Figures 29-31). While Raymond’s signature is pretty impressive, we shall soon see he was just getting warmed up…
Next we have four examples of the 1969-70 issue (RW36). In the first two, Ed and Andrew Colella decided to go to extremes to avoid impacting the artwork on their stamps; Ed signed in the lower selvage attached to his stamp and Andrew took it a step farther – signing on the back. Of course, neither of these were legal and they subsequently thought better of it (see Figures 32 and 33).
In most years, the following stamp would be the best Michael and I could come up with, having a quite small, unobtrusive signature in the lower left corner. However, Raymond Peterman followed up his previous year’s effort with a stamp that has to be seen to be believed (see Figures 34 and 35).
Next we have an example with a very small signature used on a Colorado Resident Small Game Hunting and Fishing License (see Figure 36).
Next we have two examples of the 1970-71 issue (RW37). In the first, we see that Andrew Colella has decided to, rather than violate the spirit of the law, simply sign much smaller (see Figure 37). The second is used on license in combination with 1970-71 California Hunting License Validation and Pheasant Stamps.
This was the 100th Anniversary of the California Department of Fish and Game. To commemorate this centennial, special hunting licenses were printed with the Department seal in the background and, for the only time, the (resident only) validation stamps were semi-pictorial. They featured an image of the California Golden Bear.
This was E.L. Vanderford’s personal hunting license and the RW35 is very neatly signed by him at the bottom (see Figure 38).
To end this post on the Vietnam War Period, we have two examples of the 1971-72 issue (RW38), artwork by Maynard Reece. The first has a very small signature by Andrew J. Collela and the second is a top plate number single with a signature of nearly identical size (see Figures 39 and 40).