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The Dean of Minnesota’s Wildlife Artists – Part Four

Today we shall take a detailed look at the 1967-68 federal duck stamp and print. This was Les Kouba’s second federal win and it also happens to be one of my favorite duck stamps. For Les, the stamp cemented his status as one of the most influential artists in the duck stamp program’s history.

As for myself, as far back as I can remember, blue has always been my favorite color. I believe this is the reason I was initially attracted to this stamp as a young collector. Later, after meeting Les and Randy (and spending much of my adult life in Minnesota), I developed a stronger connection with Kouba’s 1967-68 stamp.

By the time I came along, most of the significant pieces pertaining to the 1958-59 issue were long gone. The 1967-68 stamp, being more recent, presented somewhat of a different story and an opportunity to preserve some of our hobby’s history. I was able to acquire many important pieces related to the 1967-68 issue directly from Les, Randy and other members of the Kouba family.

At some point, I began making a conscious effort to build a specialized collection of this stamp, within my fish and game collection. Today, I am honored to share some of it through this blog. I hope you enjoy this tribute to Les Kouba, my old friend and The Dean of Minnesota’s Wildlife Artists.


The 1966 Federal Duck Stamp Contest

After Ed Morris won the contest in 1960 and 1961, Les made a full-on effort to win for a second time, himself. He entered the contest four years in a row; placing second and third to Stanley Stearns in 1963, second to Ron Jenkins in 1964 and second to Stearns again in 1965 before finally accomplishing his goal by winning in 1966.

At this point, the Department of the Interior was encouraging artists to submit designs showing waterfowl that had yet to be featured on a duck stamp. One of the species suggested in the 1966 contest announcement was old squaw ducks. I was unable to locate the 1966 press release, however, it would be very similar to the one for 1965 (see Figures 1a and b).



Figures 1a (top) and b (below). USFWS press release announcing the 1965 federal duck stamp design contest.



Les must have known in his heart that he wanted his second federal to feature old squaw ducks. He submitted entries featuring variations of the species in 1963 and 1965 before winning in 1966. One of the pieces I have to share today, is his original sketch for the 1966 design (see Figure 2).



Figure 2. 1966 federal waterfowl stamp, first rough sketch.



Update (May 2018): Thanks to Richard Prager, I also have an image of the original entry to share:



The original gouache with black and white wash painting by Walter A. Weber. Photo courtesy of Richard Prager.



It should be noted that the 1966 federal duck stamp art contest was the first one open to the general public and, as such, a direct precursor to the competitive event we know today. From 1950 (the first open contest with judges) through 1965, the contest was judged in private at the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C.


1967-68 Stamps Issued

After the artwork was selected by the judges, it went to designer Robert J. Jones. Jones used Kouba’s artwork for the central vignette. He then designed the finished stamp, complete with frame lines, lettering and denomination (face value). Once Jones was done designing the stamp, it was turned over to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

Two engravers were assigned to produce die proofs. The vignette was engraved by Edward R. Felver, while the frame lines, lettering and numerals were engraved by William R. Burnell. To my knowledge, there are no large or small die proofs in collector’s hands.

Once the die proofs were approved, the die was copied many times to create large printing plates of 120 subjects. Two plates were created for the 1967-68 issue, numbers 169457 and 169487.

At this point plate proofs were made of the entire sheet. For the 1967-68 issue, at least one plate proof has entered the collector market. On federal waterfowl stamps, is not always easy to tell the difference between unmounted small die proofs and plate proofs.

All recorded small die proofs from 1934-35 through 1937-38 have been mounted on card stock that has been trimmed to the same size as the proofs. All recorded small die proofs subsequent to 1937-38 are unmounted.

Small die proofs are pulled from a single image metal plate (or die) and initially have substantial blank margins on all four sides. The margins are subsequently trimmed to about 5-6 mm.

Plate proofs are pulled from multiple image plates. Therefore, the sizes of the margins are limited by the spacing between images and cannot approximate the size of a small die proof. The margins on federal waterfowl plate proofs are typically 3-4 mm (see Figure 3).



Figure 3. 1967-68 federal waterfowl stamp, plate proof.



Once the plate proofs receive final approval, regular sheets of 120 stamps were printed, gummed and perforated. The large sheets were then cut down into four panes of 30 for easy distribution to post offices. Each pane was imprinted with a plate number in the corner side selvage to indicate which plate was used to produce the larger sheet it was cut from (see Figure 4).



Figure 4. 1967-68 federal waterfowl stamp, complete pane. Note this is the upper right pane from the original sheet of 120 stamps. The plate, number 169487, was one of two used to print Kouba’s Old Squaws stamp.



When collectors speak of centering, they are referring to the white space between the image and the perforations. Many collectors find it aesthetically pleasing for this space to be well balanced on all four sides and strive to obtain such examples for their collections.

In recent years, the practice of grading has permeated the stamp hobby. Originating with the coin and currency hobbies, grading is rendered by a third party for a fee. Ostensibly, the higher the grade, the higher the market value of the stamp.

Centering is a primary component of the graded score. The 1967-68 federal waterfowl stamps are notorious for being poorly centered. In October of 2015, Schuyler Rumsey Philatelic Auctions held a sale with an example of the 1967-68 stamp that had been graded “Gem 100”. According to the auction catalog, only three stamps had ever obtained this perfect grade.

I aggressively chased the stamp (it sold for over 27 times its Scott Catalogue value) and was able to add it to my Old Squaws collection (see Figures 5 and 6).



Figure 5. 1967-68 federal waterfowl stamp, graded Gem 100 by PSE.



Figure 6. PSE Certificate for the stamp shown above.



There was a day when my eyesight was pretty good and I did not need a certificate to tell me whether a stamp was nicely centered. I would like to share two more examples that I acquired for my collection many years ago. This was long before grading and I have not felt the need to submit them for a certificate (see Figures 7 and 8).



Figure 7. 1967-68 federal waterfowl stamp, plate number single.



Figure 8. 1967-68 federal waterfowl stamp, corner single. I chose to add this stamp to my collection because the margins are larger than one usually encounters on this issue.



This brings us to what is arguably the most spectacular error in federal waterfowl stamps – if not the entire fish and game hobby. It was created by a portion of the sheet being “folded-over” during the printing process. Originally in the Jeanette Rudy collection, it was sold to me by Robert Dumaine of Sam Houston Philatelics (see Figure 9). Thank you, Bob!



Figure 9. 1967-68 federal waterfowl stamp, fold-over error.



Les Signs Another Stamp for Broholm

In an unusual change of pace, Alvin Broholm waited until October to ask Les to sign his stamp in 1967. In his letter, Broholm acknowledged Les for being a repeat winner, something Les no doubt appreciated (see Figures 10 and 11).



Figure 10. Letter from Alvin Broholm to Les Kouba, dated October 11, 1967. Note Kouba’s reply at the bottom.



Figure 11. 1967-68 federal waterfowl stamp, top plate number single signed by Les Kouba.



1967-68 Usages

Once again, before we see some usages, I would like to share a stamp signed by a female hunter, Joan East. Joan first picked out a nicely centered stamp at the post office, then took great care when signing her name (see Figure 12).



Figure 12. 1967-68 federal waterfowl stamp, signed by hunter Joan East.



I have selected a few of the usual suspects to illustrate usages for the 1967-68 issue. First we have the stamp used in combination with a 1967-68 Honey Lake waterfowl stamp (see Figure 13).



Figure 13. 1967-68 federal and Honey Lake waterfowl stamps used on the reverse of a California hunting license.



Probably the best usage I have seen is in combination with a 1967 Kansas upland game bird and 1967 Marion County duck and fishing stamps. Unfortunately, the federal stamp is on the obverse and the Marion County stamps are on the reverse.

As by now you must have a pretty good idea of what the federal stamp looks like, I have decided to show the reverse (see Figure 14).



Figure 14. Reverse of the license described in the text above, showing the 1967 Marion County duck and fishing stamps.



Finally we have an example used with a 1967-68 Tennessee Trout stamp (post Carnahan) on the reverse of a Resident Tennessee Hunting and Sport Fishing License (see Figure 15).



Figure 15. 1967-68 federal waterfowl stamp used with a 1967-68 Tennessee Trout Stamp on a Resident Tennessee Hunting and Sport Fishing License.



The 1967-68 Federal Print

There was only one edition of Les Kouba’s old squaws image. It was produced by Cornelius Bartels using dry point etching and aquatint. The image size was 6.75″ x 9.25″ and it was pulled using black ink on (for the most part) antique white English Text paper. The edition size was 250 and the prints were titled and signed by Les C. Kouba in pencil.

However, as explained by Russell Fink in Duck Stamp Prints, “During the printing, slight changes were made to the sky, and the plate was faced with chrome. Therefore, there are two varieties or states, of this print.

There are 100 1st state prints and 150 2nd state. There is better definition of the background hills in the second state”. In my opinion, the definition in the hills is the easiest way to tell the difference between the two states (or printings).

Before we see finished prints for both states, I am going to share with you a series of production pieces from the American Wildlife Art Gallery Archive. These have never before been made made available for public viewing and will provide you with a rare insiders look into the production process by the master engraver, Cornelius Bartels.

First, we have a preliminary production print that includes impressions from three individual plates, detailing: 1) the heads of the two squaw ducks, 2) a density range for the water area and 3) the background without the ducks included (inverted). This is a fascinating piece, the likes I have not seen for any other federal print (see Figures 16a, b and c).



Figure 16a. 1967-68 preliminary production print, titled “Printer’s Proof… ” and signed by Les C. Kouba.



Figure 16b. Enlargement of the heads detail in the print above.



Figure 16c. Enlargement of the background detail in the print above.



Next, we have the first impression made by Cornelius Bartels that shows Les Kouba’s artistic conceptualization, rendered in its complete form (see Figure 17).



Figure 17. The first impression to show Les Kouba’s complete original artwork, in an albeit primitive state.



Next we have a progressive impression where Bartels has added the shadowing to the right side of both ducks, the feathers and the ice. Also, the density of the darker areas on the ducks more closely resembles the finished product (see Figure 18).



Figure 18. In this impression, the shadowing has been added.



Next we have one of the most significant pieces in the production series. This print has a series of notations in the form of capital letters, indicating final details in the finished print – likely agreed upon in a meeting between Les Kouba and Cornelius Bartlels (see Figure 19). Unfortunately, the key had been lost before I got there.



Figure 19. Production print with letters that originally corresponded to a key, indicating final details in the print design.



Finally we have an impression that represents the finished print. This is known as the printer’s “working print” and was used by Bartels to periodically check against samples from the limited edition print run to ensure quality control (see Figure 20).



Figure 20. Cornelius Bartel’s working print, used by the master engraver to periodically check for quality control when he was pulling the finished prints.



The 1967-68 Print – 1st State

Next we have a 1967-68 federal waterfowl stamp print, 1st state, in never-framed condition from the collection of Bill Webster. The pencil inscription at the lower left is Webster’s inventory number; the inscription at the lower right is the original retail price ($36.00) and the initials at the upper right are mine, indicating the print is from the Bill Webster (BW) collection.

Among the things to note in prints from the first state, are a lack of horizontal lines in the water and a lack of detail in the mountains directly to the right of the sitting duck’s head (see Figure 21).



Figure 21. 1967-68 federal waterfowl stamp print, 1st state. Ex Bill Webster collection.



1967-68 Print – 2nd State

Next we have a 1967-68 federal waterfowl stamp print, 2nd state, in never-framed condition from the Bill Webster collection. The pencil inscription at the lower right is Webster’s inventory number.

Among the things to note in prints from the second state, are a sky which shows less detail; a series of horizontal lines which have been added to the water areas and greatly increased detail in the mountains to the right of the sitting duck’s head.

This added detail in the mountains is easily seen and it looks like Bartels has intentionally etched a “valley” in this spot to aid in future identification (see Figure 22).



Figure 22. 1967-68 federal waterfowl stamp print, 2nd state. Ex Bill Webster collection.



Next we have a second state print form the Bill Webster collection that is not printed on antique white English Text paper. It has been printed on a light-weight, semi-transparent paper that almost resembles tracing paper.

I have never encountered one of these prints before acquiring this one in the Bill Webster Sale at Siegel Auctions last spring. The thinner paper allowed for an exquisite impression with a beautiful tonality. It may have been produced as a one-off for Bill, who was a serious collector and close friend of Les Kouba (see Figure 23).



Figure 23. 1967-68 federal waterfowl stamp print, 2nd state printed on thin paper. Ex Bill webster collection.



To conclude todays post, we have my favorite piece from the American Wildlife Art Gallery Archive and, I believe, a very apropos finale to the federal duck stamp chapter in the career of Les Kouba.

It is a 1967-68 print, 2nd state, signed by the extraordinary pairing of a Dutch master engraver with an eminent American wildlife artist, Cornelius Bartels and Les Kouba (see Figure 24).



Figure 24. 1967-68 federal waterfowl stamp print, 2nd state, signed by Cornelius Bartels and Les C. Kouba.



This section helps to demonstrate that etching the metal plate and pulling the prints is a process. Many steps are involved along the way to producing an image that is satisfactory to the engraver, the printer (in the case of the 1967-68 prints, the same person) and the artist. For more on the engraving and printing process, see My Favorite Duck Stamp – Part Four.




Continue to Part Five


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