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E. L. Vanderford: 1913-1994

A Lasting Inspiration


In the early 1980s, Van began to liquidate his stock. In so doing, helping many new fish and game dealers, including David Curtis and Barry Porter, to get started. These dealers all helped to popularize the hobby. The January-February 1983 issue of the SRS Newsletter contained yet another valuable article by Van. It was titled “Some Additional State Duck Stamp Observations.”

Although Van and I lived only 90 miles apart in northern California, we did not meet until 1985. By this time physical problems had started to limit the time he spent hunting and his previously unbridled enthusiasm for stamp collecting had been tempered by efforts on the part of a handful of print and duck stamp dealers to exploit the hobby for their own personal gains. A number of states had recently issued stamps which depicted waterfowl but were not required to hunt anything. Some dealers were promoting these for sale as “duck stamps.” This prompted Van’s last major philatelic article.

Filling an entire page, “State Duck Stamps near 50th Anniversary; Confusion over which are Genuine Lingers” appeared in Linn’s Stamp News on July 6, 1987. In the article Van advised collectors, “If you enjoy collecting this type of material, by all means continue, but it is wise to be aware of what you are buying.” He went on to inform readers about the important non-pictorial waterfowl stamps that were conspicuously absent from most dealer’s state duck hype during the mid 1980s (to best enjoy, click on the article below and then locate the zoom button at the lower right of the full screen page). 



I feel the need to point out that virtually all serious waterfowl stamp collector’s today disagree with Vanderford on one important point. We feel that if a stamp was required to hunt waterfowl it belongs in our collection – regardless if it was also required to hunt for additional types of birds or small game.


Unfortunately, from Van’s point of view, the worse was yet to come. Later that year a New Hampshire “Governor’s Edition” stamp appeared on the market (see Figure 18). Van was incensed at what he figured was a “blatant attempt to rip-off unknowledgeable stamp collectors.” When he wrote to his long-time contacts at the New Hampshire Fish and Game License Section to get the facts, he was dismayed to learn they were not even aware of the stamp’s existence. With each additional governor’s edition stamp that appeared Van became more and more cynical and withdrawn. Despite this fact he kept up his correspondence and continued to share his knowledge with anyone who sought him out.



Figure 18. Vanderford was furious when he learned that that no one in the New Hampshire Fish and Game License Section was even aware of their governor’s stamp existence.




From 1987 to 1994 I tried to spend one day every month visiting with Van in his home. I listened to his stories about stamps and collectors and yes, duck hunting, for hours on end. For many years it felt like I was attending a class. Van was the professor and I was the student. I learned a great deal about fish and game stamps. As he had done for so many others, he succeeded in greatly elevating my level of interest and appreciation for this wonderful hobby.

Late in 1990 Jane passed away. Starting in 1991,Van sold or traded me and another collector friend most of the great rarities in his collection (see Figures 19a, b and c). These stamps helped to form the basis for the my first exhibit, Classic State and Local Fish and Game Stamps. The fact that the exhibit received so much attention and praise provided Van with a final sense of philatelic accomplishment—and deservedly so.



Figure 19a. 1967 Vandenberg Air Force Base hunting stamp – the first U.S. military adhesive.



Figure 19b. 1968-69 Montana NR bird pair with image missing from the bottom stamp. Although the error stamp has some damage along the left – it is still pretty amazing.



Figure 19c. 1959 Rosebud game bird, the first stamp issued by a tribal government in the U.S.




Van also assisted the author with several articles (notably the two part series on Honey Lake and Illinois Daily Usage stamps which appeared in The American Revenuer in March and April of 1994) providing valuable insights which could not be obtained elsewhere. 

Following Van’s passing, his heirs consigned the remainder of his collection to Sam Houston Philatelics for public auction. The sale of Van’s stamps took place in two auctions roughly a year apart, on September 21, 1996 and on September 6, 1997. There were still plenty of good stamps and one great one in the auctions. When Van sold me his stamps, he allowed me to choose what I needed and then sold me everything over the course of a couple of years – except one stamp.

The 1964 Crow Creek big game stamp has everything going for it. It is historically important as one of the earliest stamps issued by a tribal government; it is attractive, being printed in black ink with a red serial number on yellow paper (see Figure 20) and to complete the trifecta – it is unique. I admired the stamp greatly and really wanted it for my exhibit.

However, Van had already sold me his two favorite stamps, the 1938 Pymatuning amd the unused 1973 Colorado Goose. The Crow Creek big game stamp was his next favorite and he simply wanted to keep it. Van wanted to keep something that he cherished to enjoy toward the end of his life. I understood completely and so the stamp went to auction and ended up fetching well into five figures and setting a record for a non federal fish and game stamp at public auction.



Figure 20. The 1964 Crow Creek big game stamp set a record at public auction.




The auction was a wonderful opportunity to acquire a number of very scarce to rare stamps that did not require spending large sums of money. The offerings of big game and trout stamps were especially strong and I felt that the bidding did not always take into account the true difficulty of acquisition factor (see Figures 21a, b and c). Many stamps sold very reasonably and the auctions did a lot to stimulate the market for fish and game stamps.



Figure 21a. Surcharged 1957 Indiana trout, top plate # single.



Figure 21b. 1965-66 Maryland big game stamp for archers, a particularly difficult stamp and a beautiful example.



Figure 21c. Iconic 1965 Michigan Cisco Netting stamp, the key to the set.




In the years since Van has passed, my exhibit (featuring many stamps from his collection) was put on display at the Atlanta and Sidney Olympics, in the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum in 1998 and won a grand award at a National show and was entered into the Champion of Champions in 2000. That same year it was featured in the Court of Honor at World Stamp Expo in Los Angeles, right next to Queen Elizabeth’s.

In recent years I have enjoyed helping other collectors to acquire some of Van’s best stamps for their own collections and exhibits (along with those from the Janousek and Powell collections that Van had previously sold or traded). It is hoped that through articles, exhibits and now the internet that Van’s legacy shall live on to inspire future collectors and exhibitors.

Elmore Vanderford was always there for fish and game stamps. It is an understatement to say that without him our hobby would be nothing like it is today.




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