In todays post, we will begin to explore artist signed stamps and prints. Once a mainstay of the market, artist signed material went a little soft during the great recession. However, if the results from Siegel’s (March 2016) Bill Webster sale are any indication – artist signed stamps and prints may be poised for a huge comeback.
Many of the artist signed pieces in the Webster sale set world records. I was there, representing many of the hobby’s most dedicated collectors and it was a true battle royal. I have never seen so much interest coming from so many directions (multiple agents, floor bidders, phone bidders and internet bidders) for waterfowl stamps and prints in a long time. I intend to provide an inside look at this milestone event in a future post.
Today, I have arranged a different insight; one that provides a little background and sets the stage for the recent Webster sale. In the first part of this post we shall see how one collector went about acquiring an artist signed federal waterfowl stamp from Edwin Kalmbach back in 1941. And then, we will take a look at what he did with it.
After that, I will talk a little about Bill Webster and share one one of the items from the recent sale for which I was the successful bidder.
Before we get started, let me say that when collecting artist signed stamps there once again are choices to be made. Most collectors are happy (and some actually prefer) to acquire stamps with the signature directly on the stamp itself (see Figure 1).
Others prefer to collect plate number singles where the artist has signed in the selvage. Many collectors believe this provides the best of both worlds – an essentially unused stamp on one side of the perforated selvage and the artist signature on the other side. Some advanced collectors seek to add artist signed plate number blocks. In general, pre WW2 artist signed plate blocks are rare to unique, while the further removed from WW2, the easier they are to acquire.
Alvin C. Broholm
Alvin Broholm was born in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1904. He moved to the U.S. with his family when he was five years old. The family originally settled in Detroit, Michigan. When Alvin was a young man, he worked for the National Church Supply Company, manufacturers of collection envelopes. Later, he met Mildred Brown of Girard, Ohio. They were married and moved to Waterloo, Iowa where Alvin was a representative for Republic Steel. At the time, Republic Steel was the the third largest steel producer in the United States.
Alvin was also a stamp collector with a very specific interest – Alvin collected artist signed federal waterfowl stamps. Starting back when he was living in Michigan, Alvin would find out the name and address of each artist, starting with Ding Darling in 1934, and then write to them asking if they would be willing to sign stamps for him. Over the years, Alvin sent singles, blocks and plate blocks to be signed. However, his real passion was for top plate number singles.
In June of 1941, Alvin wrote to Edwin Kalmbach, who at the time was the Director of the Wildlife Research Laboratory in Colorado. Kalmbach personally replied to Alvin (see Figure 2) and the top plate number single that Kalmbach signed for him is shown in Figure 3. The stamp was removed from a pane (that was cut down from a sheet) printed from plate 146282.
When Alvin was living in Waterloo, he was enjoying his artist signed top plate number singles so much that he was inspired to put together an exhibit of them. Alvin showed his exhibit at stamp shows throughout the midwest for over 25 years. He mounted each artist signed plate number single beneath a photo of an original print of the same design. The photos were obtained from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (see Figure 4).
Alvin lettered his exhibit pages by hand, choosing to use white ink on black paper. He included the information that we discussed in Part One; the species, artist, designer, engravers and plate numbers, as well as the number of stamps sold (for the 1941-42 issue it was 1,439,967).
When Alvin first started to exhibit his collection, it was pretty small and featured only the first eight to ten federal stamps (see Figure 5). Initially, the exhibit received certificates of participation at stamp shows (the lowest level of recognition). However, Alvin continued to expand the exhibit by one artist signed plate number single each year and he soon was winning more prestigious awards (see Figure 6).
In 1953 his exhibit had doubled in size, to include the first twenty federal waterfowl stamps. At this point, Alvin was presented the Grand Award at the Trans Mississippi Philatelic Exhibition in Davenport, Iowa (see Figures 7 and 8). This was the 20th anniversary of this venerable show and likely the highest honor bestowed upon the nascent waterfowl stamp hobby up to that time.
In 1959, Alvin and Mildred moved to Wilmette, Illinois. Mildred passed away in 1966. Alvin moved to Evanston the following year and was married for the second time, to Virginia Claus (Broholm). Alvin continued to exhibit his growing collection of artist signed plate number singles until shortly before his death in 1975.
Alvin C. Broholm was one of the earliest pioneer waterfowl stamp collectors and exhibitors. He did much to bring attention to and popularize our niche area of philately. The first 25 of Alvin’s top plate number singles can be viewed in the Galleries section of this website (Gallery Four).
The Bill Webster Plate Number Block
William B. Webster was born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1925. When he was a boy, Bill loved to go duck hunting with his father along the Mississippi River, near lake City. His father (like mine) was also an avid collector of duck stamps and they often shared time together enjoying his father’s collection.
Like me, Bill became captivated by the beautiful miniature wildlife art at a young age. Bill purchased his first federal stamp in 1940, featuring Francis L. Jaques’ iconic design of a pair of Black ducks in flight. Bill affixed the stamp to his Minnesota resident small game license and used it to go hunting. While attending Central High School in St. Paul, Bill dreamed of becoming a wildlife artist himself. During WW2, Bill enlisted in the U.S. Army-Air Corp, where he served four years and was discharged in 1946.
Bill started his adult civilian life as a salesman for the Master Lock Company but continued his interest in wildlife art. He also continued to collect federal duck stamps, eventually forming one of the greatest federal collections of all time. As with me, his hobby was soon to also become his business.
In 1968 Bill founded Wild Wings Inc., in Frontenac, Minnesota. The company specialized in wildlife (and especially duck) art. Eventually Wild Wings began handling the business aspect for many artists, including winners of the annual federal duck stamp contest, and became a print publisher. The company became so successful that it was franchised around the U.S. All the while, Bill kept up his collection of stamps, prints and related items.
Bill had complete sets of singles, artist signed singles, plate blocks from every position he could find, a set of federal sheets that was nearly complete, as well as a collection of prints that included an example of every edition for ever year. As a life long collector specializing in duck stamps, Bill acquired several speciality items including a top plate number block of six of the the 1941-42 federal waterfowl stamp that was signed in the selvage by Edwin Kalmbach (see Figure 9).
I met Bill Webster for the first time in 1983, at his office in Lake City. Prior to that we had done a fair amount of business over the phone as we were both heavily involved in the same industry. In 1982 I met my future wife Kay (also from Minnesota), who was then visiting her sister in Santa Rosa, California. We fell in love, and for a time I made many trips a year to MN courting her. It was on one of these trips that I drove down to Lake city and finally met Bill.
We had a tremendous amount in common and hit it off in a big way. Kay and I soon married. She subsequently moved to California but we continued to make several trips a year to Minnesota, to visit both her family and Bill. As Bill and I became more comfortable with each other our business together greatly expanded and soon we began sharing our personal hobby.
As time went on Bill started to sell me items out of his own collection and this went on for many years. There were a few items that I coveted (including the Kalmbach signed plate block) that were a part of what Bill considered his “core” collection. Therefore he was reluctant to part with these.
In 2015 Bill passed away. One of his sons contacted me in hopes that I would help them with the duck stamp and print portion of their father’s estate. Initially I agreed but soon realized that this website was going to take up so much of my time that I had to beg off. The task fell into the capable hands of the Robert Siegel Auction Galleries of New York.
When I attended the sale this past March, there were a few items that I intended to acquire for my own collection. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in the midst of very spirited bidding, the likes of which I had not seen in many years.
The bidding many times reached epic proportions and, as a result, I was (sadly) unsuccessful on some of the items that I had hoped to secure both for my clients and for myself. However, when the artist signed Kalmabach plate block came up for bid, I raised my hand and held it high like the proverbial Statue of Liberty…
In the end, I was very pleased to finally add Bill’s plate block to my RW8 collection. I think Bill would be happy too, knowing that it went to a good home.