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Collecting Used Federal Duck Stamps – Part Two

As we continue our show and tell series, we will look at the 13 federal duck stamps that were used starting after WWII and continuing through 1958-59. This includes the ten year period (1949 – 1958) commonly referred to as the “$2 Ducks”. For a number of reasons, these stamps are much easier to find with small signatures than those from the Early Period we saw in Part One – so collecting them is a little less challenging and a lot more fun!



The return of servicemen following the end of WWII ushered in one of the largest hunting booms in modern U.S. history. The average number of federal duck stamps sold during the 13 year period discussed in this post was almost exactly double the average for the 12 years covered in Part One (2,144,343 compared to 1,087,536).

And while the stamps were still printed in large sheets of 112 subjects on a flat bed press, perforated gutters (blank space) now bisected the sheets horizontally and vertically so that when cut into four panes – all of the stamps were perforated on all four sides. There were no longer any straight edges (see Figure 1).



Figure 1. 1946-47 federal duck stamp (RW13), complete pane of 28 unused stamps from the upper left (UL) of a sheet. Note the perforated gutters at the right and bottom. The “guide lines” located toward the outer edges of the gutters were intended to facilitate accurate cuts.



A message was now printed on the back of each stamp, informing hunters “IT IS UNLAWFUL TO HUNT WATERFOWL UNLESS YOU SIGN YOUR NAME IN INK ON THE FACE OF THIS STAMP.” From 1946-47 through 1953-54 (RW13-20), offset plate number 47510 was printed in the selvage on the back of each sheet, next to position 24 on the upper left pane only (see Figure 2).



Figure 2. RW13 Pane from the upper right (UR) position on the original sheet showing message and offset plate number. Shown courtesy of Richard Prager.



Starting with the 1950-51 issue (RW17), this offset number was intended to be trimmed off. However, a number of “reverse plate number singles” and at least one “reverse plate number block” of six (currently in Michael Jaffe’s collection), have been recorded on RW17 with at least a portion of the number still visible (see Figure 3).



Figure 3. Reverse offset plate number block of RW17. Note the plate number (47510) is only partially visible. For this issue, the number should have been completely removed when the selvage was trimmed. Courtesy of Michael Jaffe.



On rare occasions, the sheets were miscut to such an extent that the full gutter – including the perforations on both sides of the blank space – was still attached to a row of stamps on one of the two bisected panes. This is technically a production error and a stamp with the full gutter still attached is known as a gutter snipe (see Figure 3).



Figure 3. 1951-52 Federal duck stamp (RW18) gutter snipe.



The significance of the production changes outlined above, as they relate to our current series of posts, is that roughly double the number of stamps were printed during the Post WWII Period and none of them are excluded from our search for eye catching stamps with small signatures due to unsightly straight edges. Further, the message on the back helped deter hunters from not signing their stamps.

In a nutshell, there is a much larger population of Post WWII signed duck stamps to choose from today as compared to those from the Early Period.



Birds of a Feather…

As we saw in Part One, once a dozen or so federal duck stamps had been issued, collecting them became a thing. Much of this was owing to the innate appeal of the attractive, oversized stamps themselves. However, the nascent hobby of duck stamp collecting also greatly benefitted from the promotion and collecting of duck stamp prints – and vice versa.

At this time, duck stamp prints consisted primarily of limited edition series (plural: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.) of dry point etchings or lithographs made or authorized by the artists whose artwork was selected by a special committee, initially set up within the Bureau of Biological Survey and later its successor, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to appear on a duck stamp.

Bureau of Engraving and Printing employees used the original artwork as a model for the central image or vignette around which they designed and engraved the stamps. Subsequently, the artist or (in many cases) a specialist authorized and contracted by the artist – used the same artwork as a model to engrave a larger copy onto a metal plate or draw one onto a litho stone. For a detailed explanation of both processes, click here.

In this light, both the stamps and the prints are seen as much the same thing – copies made from the same original artwork (see Figures 4 and 5). One was smaller and fit conveniently in an album; the other was larger and, most often, displayed in a frame on the wall of a home or office.



Figure 4. RW9 Uncompleted stamp design or Essay. Courtesy of Michael Jaffe.



Figure 5. 1942 Federal Duck Stamp Print (matted) – a dry point etching by Aiden Lassell Ripley.



After Frank Benson (1942) and Ding Darling (1944) produced copies of their artwork in print form, stamp collectors (along with wildlife art collectors and bird, nature and wildlife enthusiasts) had closely related items to collect and, in many cases, another collection to work toward completing.

By the same token, the wildlife art collectors and bird, nature and wildlife enthusiasts – before having their duck stamp prints framed – usually acceded to convention and sought out a duck stamp to have placed directly below it. Many public and private museums were among the earliest collectors and some of them put their collections of framed prints and stamps on display for public viewing.

The recognition engendered by each of these closely related hobbies tended to reinforce and in other ways benefit the other – to great positive effect. Both hobbies were soon to get a tremendous boost in the way of annual free publicity from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).



The First Duck Stamp Contest

In 1948 Robert Hines (whose artwork was selected for the 1946-47 duck stamp) left his position as staff artist for the Ohio Division of Conservation, moved to northern Virginia and went to work as an artist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He worked directly under the legendary Rachel Carlson (for more, click here).

After observing the committee’s selection process for the annual duck stamp, Hines determined the USFWS could do better. He proposed an open contest with stated rules, guidelines and impartial judges – the format that is still used today. For this reason, Robert Hines has become known as the “Father of the Federal Duck Stamp Contest”. For many years, the art contest was judged in private, in a room at the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C. (see Figure 6).



Figure 6. Robert Hines, left side of the men standing (right side looking at the photo), presides over an early duck stamp contest. The four men to his right (left side of the photo) are judges. Circa late 1950s-early 1960s.



Contrary to popular belief – and the current USFWS website – the first federal duck stamp contest was not held in 1949, rather, in 1950. Walter Webber’s artwork featuring a pair of trumpeter swans flying over Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Montana was chosen by the judges as the first contest winner (see Figure 7).



Figure 7. The original gouache with black and white wash painting by Walter A. Weber. Courtesy of Richard Prager.



For a detailed explanation of the actual facts surrounding this landmark event, see Walter Webber: Winner of the First Federal Duck Stamp Contest – Part Three.

The annual art contest and, more to the point, the tremendous amount of publicity accompanying it (articles and stories carried in newspapers and magazines around the country) brought widespread, unprecedented attention and recognition to both the migratory bird stamp conservation program and the new hobbies that were growing up around it. Over time, the venerable contest would prove to be an uninterrupted stimulus for collecting duck stamps and duck stamp prints.



Duck and Revenue Stamps Earn Accolades

As we saw in Part One, Alvin C. Broholm became infatuated with collecting federal duck stamps. He would send unused stamps to the artists and ask if they would sign them for him. After deciding to specialize in artist signed top plate number singles, he exhibited at local, regional and national stamp shows for over ten years. In 1953, Alvin’s exhibit of duck stamps won the Grand Award at one of the largest shows held in the midwest until that time, the Trans Mississippi Philatelic Exhibition.

Alvin’s exhibit introduced many serious philatelists (along with their family members and friends) to the unique set of  stamps that was annually designed by one of our country’s foremost wildlife artists. He also proved to them that a collector could exhibit this philatelic niche at stamp shows on any level and do very well.

Alvin’s efforts were invaluable in the development of the duck stamp collecting hobby under the auspices of organized philately. He paved the way for future pioneer fish and game collectors to exhibit their speciality at shows – collectors like Joseph Janousek, Mrs. Powell and Les Lebo.

For another philatelist who specialized in revenue stamps, an even bigger honor was soon to be bestowed. Morton Dean Joyce was one of the greatest revenue collectors of all time. He had a tremendous collection of state revenues and aggressively pursued fish and game stamps (for an entire series on Joyce and his contributions to our fish and game hobby, see Morton Dean Joyce: Fish and Game Hall of Famer – Part One).

Joyce was also an enthusiastic exhibitor. The Fifth International Stamp Exhibition (FIPEX) was held in New York City from April 28 through May 6, 1956 (see Figure 8). For this huge event, one of the largest stamp shows ever held in the U.S., Mort entered an exhibit consisting of portions of his now unsurpassed revenue collection – and won the National Grand Award.



Figure 8. Souvenir sheet issued for the Fifth International Stamp Exhibition, held in NYC in 1956.



This monumental feat would be the equivalent to winning the APS Champion of Champions today and brought an unprecedented amount of positive attention and respect to all U.S. revenue stamps, in general.

So now, in the 1950s, not only were federal duck stamps becoming better known across the country – they were also viewed differently by large segments of the population, to include many art and stamp collectors, conservationists, nature and wildlife enthusiasts and, yes, hunters.

For many Americans, they were no longer seen merely as utilitarian revenue stamps but also as art. As such, they were now deserving of appreciation and care. Following WWII, hunters were more likely to follow the the letter of the law and sign their duck stamps across the face – and a steadily increasing number of them took the time to treat these miniature works of art with due respect and carefully sign their name in a small (sometimes very small) unobtrusive manner.

From the pristine nature of many examples extant, it is clear that many hunters (and their relatives) also felt it was their responsibility to preserve duck stamps for the enjoyment of future generations. So let us now do our part – and enjoy!



The Post WWII Period

It seems fitting that we begin with the stamp designed by Robert Hines, the 1946-47 issue (RW13). This is followed by the 1947-48 and 1948-49 issues (RW14 and RW15), before we get to the meat of today’s post – the $2 ducks. Note the RW14 is from Michael Jaffe’s collection, signed by C.H. Bry and the RW15 has a very tiny signature along the right side – in ink matching the color of the stamp (see Figures 9, 10 and 11).



Figure 9. RW13 with a small, unobtrusive signature.



Figure 10. RW14 with small signature by C.H. Bry.



Figure 11. RW15 with an very tiny signature. Courtesy of Tom Hickey.



Now it is time for the $2 ducks to take center stage. Beginning with the 1949-50 issue (RW16), the last stamp whose artwork was selected by committee within the USFWS before the inauguration of the annual art contest, and ending with the 1958-59 issue (RW25), the last of the monotone stamps – this group represents one the most abundant pools from which to select small signatures.

Starting with the 1951-52 issue (RW18) and continuing through 1958-59, well over two million federal duck stamps were sold each and very year – for eight straight years. This is the second longest such streak in the programs history, trailing only the 12 year period from 1969-70 (RW36) through 1980-81 (RW47).

First we have two examples of RW16, one with a very tiny signature off license and one on license used in combination with the 1949 South Dakota Resident Waterfowl Stamp – the first state stamp required to hunt waterfowl statewide (see Figures 12 and 13).



Figure 12. RW16 with a very tiny signature.



Figure 13. RW16 used with a 1949 South Dakota Resident Waterfowl Stamp.



Next we have two examples of the 1950-51 issue (RW17), one off license and one on license used in combination with a 1950-51 Virginia Resident Big Game Stamp. Note both stamps on license are signed by the hunter Walter A. Weber – the winner of the first federal duck stamp contest. This is Walter’s personal license that he used to hunt with that year (see Figures 14, 15 and 16).



Figure 14. RW17 with a small, unobtrusive signature.



Figure 15. Walter Webber works on one of my favorite paintings, Snowy Egrets, circa 1949.



Figure 16. RW17 used with a 1950-51 Virginia Big Game stamp (Walter Weber’s personal license).



Next we have three examples (actually four) of the 1951-52 issue (RW18). The first is a jumbo single with an unobtrusive signature; the second is a top plate number single with a very small signature and the third is actually an intact pair signed by a husband and wife, Owen and Rachel Chelf. Although Owen’s signature is somewhat smaller, it is more obtrusive. I believe he signed both names on this pair of stamps and, as we will soon see, he could do better… (see Figures 17,18 and 19).




Figure 17. RW18 with neat, unobtrusive signature.



Figure 18. RW18 top plate number single with a very small signature.



Figure 19. RW18 intact pair, signed by a husband and wife, Owen and Rachel Chelf.



Next we have two examples of the 1952-53 issue (RW19). Both are off license. The first is signed by Owen in the bottom right corner – in black ink which is hard to see against the dark blue background. The second is also signed in black ink and is even smaller, making it barely visible to the naked eye (see Figures 20 and 21).



Figure 20. RW19 with a small, unobtrusive signature.



Figure 21. RW19 with a very small, unobtrusive signature



Next we have an example of the 1953-54 issue (RW20), with probably the tiniest signature we have seen so far (see Figure 22).



Figure 22. RW20 with a very tiny signature.



Next we have two examples of the 1954-55 issue (RW21). The first has a small signature and the second, while a bit of a cheat, is certainly unobtrusive. The sheet of stamps was misperforated such that the entire printed design is shifted far to the left and the guideline is actually on the stamp, itself, instead of on the gutter. The hunter chose to take advantage of this error – and neatly signed his signature between the right side of the design and the guideline (see Figures 23 and 24).



Figure 23. RW21 with a small signature. Courtesy of Tim Hickey.



Figure 24. RW21 signed between the design and the guideline.



Next we have two examples of the 1955-56 issue (RW22), one off license signed by G.T. McNeil Jr. and one on license used in combination with a 1955 Nebraska Pheasant and Quail Stamp, the first year the stamps were issued. For more, see The Nebraska Pheasant & Quail Stamps – Part Two. What I like about the second example is that the blue stylized signature appears to compliment and even blend into the wheat (see Figures 25 and 26).



Figure 25. RW22 with a very unobtrusive signature.



Figure 26. RW22 used with a 1955 Nebraska Pheasant and Quail Stamp.



Next we have two examples of the 1956-57 issue (RW23), one with a small signature and one used on license in combination with a 1956 Colorado Additional Rod Stamp (see Figures 27, and 28).



Figure 27. RW23 with a small, unobtrusive signature.



Figure 28. RW23 used with a 1956 Colorado Additional Rod Stamp.



To end the Post WWII Period, we have three remarkable used stamps, from 1956-57 and 1957-58 (RW24 and RW25). In one case, the hunter has very nearly succeeded in signing completely in the the narrow space between the edge of the design and the perforations (see Figures 29, 30 and 31).



Figure 29. RW24 with signature in the border. Courtesy of Tim Hickey.



Figure 30. RW24 with signature 99% in the border.



Figure. 31. RW25 with signature in the border.




Continue to Part Three



1 Comment

  1. Tim Hickey on June 12, 2020 at 2:59 am

    Nice write up on the $2 ducks! Thanks for promoting the hobby! Tim

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