Background Information and Historical Context
The federal waterfowl stamps arose out of the need to generate public awareness and funding for waterfowl conservation in the early part of the twentieth century. At this time, overhunting and a series of drought years had reduced North American waterfowl to dangerously low levels. One of the biggest needs was for waterfowl habitat — protected areas where the birds could breed and also rest during their rigorous migrations. On March 16, 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act into law. The first federal waterfowl stamp was designed by J. N. “Ding” Darling, a nationally recognized cartoonist and a conservation leader (see Figure 2). Proceeds from stamp sales went to preserve and restore waterfowl habitat, so that the survival of numerous waterfowl species could be ensured for future generations.
Among the initial federal stamps in the 1930s were those designed by famous wildlife artists such as Frank Benson, Richard Bishop and Roland Clark (see Figure 3). Oversized and depicting engraved waterfowl scenes, these beautiful stamps attracted an immediate following among stamp collectors. The federal waterfowl stamp series has evolved into the longest running series of stamps ever issued by the U.S. government and continues to attract large numbers of new collectors to the hobby of fish and game stamp collecting today.
In addition to habitat, continuing research was necessary to collect data related to annual waterfowl production and harvest. This data plays a significant role in determining conservation policies aimed at keeping the various waterfowl populations in equilibrium. It was necessary to collect much of this data at the state and local level. Soon, state and local governments were issuing waterfowl stamps to generate funding for their own waterfowl conservation programs and also to help regulate the harvest within their own geographical areas. Ohio became the first state government to issue a waterfowl stamp in 1937 (see Figure 4), for Pymatuning Lake, and Marion County, Kansas became the first local government in 1941 (see Figure 5).
Unlike the federal stamps, the early state and local issues were not pretty, usually featuring printed text in lieu of artwork. However, these stamps were attractive to collectors for other reasons. Foremost, they were an integral part of the waterfowl stamp story in the U.S. The history and stories behind the different state and local stamps was varied and frequently quite interesting. Also, the state and local stamps were issued in relatively small quantities solely to meet localized licensing demands, adding a challenge factor to the mix.
It was with the advent of state and local waterfowl stamps that E. L. Vanderford and “pioneer” collectors began to form specialized waterfowl stamp collections. Such collections then had much to offer: there was the beauty of the federal stamps, the engaging local history of the stamps issued by Marion County, Kansas, the political and social history connected with the stamps issued for public hunting grounds at Honey Lake, California and Rice Lake, Illinois (see Figures 6 and 7) and the great rarity and status of the legendary Pymatuning Lake, Ohio issues.
Starting in the late 1950s, another chapter in the U. S. waterfowl stamp story was written. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota became the first tribal government to issue fish and game license stamps, including a tribal game bird stamp that was required to hunt for waterfowl on their reservation (see Figure 8). The fact that Native American artifacts could now be included in their collections intrigued pioneer waterfowl stamp collectors. The Indian reservation stamps helped to make the hobby even more interesting and added an element of social history.
In 1967, Vandenberg Air Force Base in southern California became the first U. S. military base to print stamps for hunting waterfowl. The vast majority of hunting that takes place on the base is by military personnel and the stamps have always been highly regulated. For these reasons, relatively few have found their way into the hands of collectors (see Figure 9).
In 1971, California issued what is regarded as the first pictorial state waterfowl stamp (see Figure 10). Other states followed and this stimulated a large increase in the number of waterfowl stamp collectors in the 1970s and 1980s (see Figures 11 and 12).