The Handbook of Fish and Game Stamps
In the mid 1960s Dr. Kenneth Pruess, a serious collector of fish and game stamps, became the editor of the SRS Newsletter. He realized that Van had developed a tremendous amount of specialized knowledge — knowledge that should be published for the benefit of others. Pruess was able to persuade Van to undertake the considerable task (even then) of writing a comprehensive handbook on fish and game stamps. For over six years Van worked on this project. As each new section was completed Pruess would publish it in the SRS newsletter. By 1968 Van was given the title of Assistant Editor (Fish and Game) for the SRS. When all of the state and local governments that had issued stamps were covered, the sections were updated and in 1973 published by the SRS as The Handbook of Fish and Game Stamps [by] E. L. Vanderford (see Figure 12).
This tremendous effort on Van’s part was important to the hobby’s development for many reasons. First, the regular publication of in-depth information about fish and game stamps over six-plus years resulted in a sizable contingent of what are now known as “old time” collectors. Many of these collectors would later get other collectors started and so on. Second, in an attempt to publish the most accurate and comprehensive information possible, Van expanded his network of correspondents. Consisting of license agents, license section supervisors and collectors from every stamp-issuing state, this network developed an unprecedented body of information about fish and game stamps. This information all filtered through Van to others, first via the SRS Newsletter and eventually his handbook. Finally, the handbook was a substantial philatelic work providing credibility and stability to this non-traditional collecting area. It served as the hobby’s bible for nearly 20 years and is still a valuable reference today. Upon completion of the hand book, Van was elected to the SRS Board of Governors.
In the early 1970s Van made three important acquisitions that left him with the finest collection of fish and game stamps at that time. He purchased the collection of the late Mrs. Robert Powell of Traer, Iowa, the 1938 Pymatuning Lake waterfowl stamp and the 1973 Colorado North Central Goose stamp.
Mrs. Powell was a remarkable person. An attorney by trade, she was an avid sportswoman, a champion trapshooter and a wildlife artist of considerable merit. Her original artwork is featured on the album pages of her collection (see Figures 13a and b). Above all, she loved fish and game stamps. She did a fair amount of research which she published in the SRS Newsletter and on the exhibit pages of her collection. Her exhibit of fish and game stamps won at least one blue ribbon taking “First — U.S. Non-Postage” at WATEX in 1969 (see Figure 13c). In Van’s own estimation, Mrs. Powell’s collection exceeded his own at the time of her death.
Two things distinguished Mrs. Powell’s collection from Van’s. First, she was a person of considerable wealth and could buy whatever she wanted. This often included high face value fish and game stamps which Van and other collectors could not reasonably afford. Second, Powell was one of the first fish and game collectors who desired to obtain both an unused example plus one on license showing the usage. Van was never very interested in saving stamps on license and this was always the the major weakness of his collection. After buying the Powell collection intact, he sold or traded off nearly all of the licenses. These included some great rarities such as a pair of California 1958 inland fishing stamps with “Indian” No Fee overprint (see Figure 14). It should be noted that while Van chose not to keep them himself he was in fact the original source for many of the important licenses in collections today. (Even Mrs. Powell obtained many of her best licenses from Van prior to her death.)
With the Powell collection came a large number of duplicates, for not only did Van already have most of the individual stamps, but Mrs. Powell collected multiples as well. Van was always somewhat of a dealer, though frequently helping collectors to add to their collections as little or no financial gain for himself. His attitude changed after purchasing the Powell collection. From this point on he began to think more in terms of making a modest profit. It may surprise many collectors to know that Van eventually built up quite a stamp business. There is no question that he amassed one of the largest stocks of fish and game stamps of all time. He ran a variety of ads to sell these stamps in hunting and fishing magazines, but operated fairly low key in philatelic circles.