This online catalog provides current retail values for federal waterfowl stamps in unused (with gum), unsigned (without gum) and signed (by a hunter) conditions. The first issue (1934-35) was not required to be signed and is seldom found in this condition. Many examples have been recorded with a partial postal cancellation and the value in the "signed" column may be applied to stamps in this condition. Values are for well centered stamps (very fine) that are free of faults or condition problems. Poorly centered stamps and / or those with faults such as thins, creases, tears and stains are difficult to sell in the current market. When they do, it is at a (sometimes steep) discount.
Early unused federal stamps (RW1-20) often contain gum bends (the paper is not broken) and / or gum skips (small areas of the back where the gum was not originally applied). The extent of these issues occurs over a wide range. Therefore, such stamps must be evaluated on a case-by case basis. In general, a light bend or one two small (pinhead sized) skips does not effect the value of the stamp. On the other hand, multiple bends that are easily visible from the front or larger gum skips begin to negatively affect the stamp's value – proportionate to their severity.
For unused stamps, we have included values for plate number blocks and legitimate errors. Plate number blocks have selvage on two sides. If the selvage is trimmed on one or both sides, the plate block sells for a discount. If the selvage is completely missing from one side, the value of the block should be calculated as unused single stamps plus a slight premium for the one stamp with the plate number attached (plate number single).
On the other hand, early federal plate number blocks (generally RW1-9) with extra wide untrimmed selvage from the upper left or upper right position often sell for a premium. With regard to gum bends and skips, the statement above still applies but is mitigated by reality – the surface area of a plate block is so large that some bends and skips are usually unavoidable. In addition, if the bends and skips are largely confined to the front and back of the selvage area, they are of less consequence than if they are present on the stamps themselves.
For unsigned and signed stamps, we have included values for stamps affixed to their original hunting license, showing the usage for which they were intended. Values are for licenses that are generally clean and relatively fault-free. However, light creasing that does not affect the stamp is to be expected. A license exhibiting heavy wallet-wear, stains or pieces missing generally sell for little or no premium above the value for the unsigned or signed stamp, unless the license also bears a scarce to rare state or local waterfowl stamp in addition to the federal stamp.
On license values in this catalog reflect common usages, such as CA, IL, IN, IA, KS, MI, MN, NY, OR, SD, WA and WI. In general, licenses from southern states and those with small populations sell for a premium. Examples include AR, DE, FL, GA, ID, KY, MA, MT, NV, OK, SC, VA and WY. Usages from some southern, small and dry (non-flyway) states can be very difficult for collectors to acquire, such as AZ, CT, HI, MS, NH, NM, RI, UT and WV. Usages from these states as well as those from U.S. territories often sell for a large premium.
In the case of licenses bearing multiple other stamps in addition to the federal stamp, the value of the piece may be considerably more than the value stated herein. In general, licenses bearing a federal stamp plus a pictorial state waterfowl stamp sell for a small premium, largely reflecting the value of the used state stamp. On the other hand, licenses bearing a federal stamp plus a rare non-pictorial state or local stamp may sell for many multiples of the combined used stamp values – as these pieces are in heavy demand by advanced collectors and exhibitors.
In recent years many collectors of not just stamps but also coins and paper currency have begun to collect federal waterfowl stamps that have been graded by a professional third party. Anyone can submit a stamp to one of several companies and pay a fee to have it scored on a numerical basis. Much of the score has to do with the stamp's centering, the relative distance between the outer edge of the stamp design and the inner edge of the holes (perforations) on all four sides. An electronic device is used to measure the distance and this data is collected and used by the grader to assign a numerical score.
Professional grading is used to identify the relatively low percentage of mass-produced stamps that most closely approaches perfection. Once these stamps have been identified and graded, additional value has been created –above that found in a traditional stamp catalog. This necessitates an additional specialized catalog to convey this information.
Values in the regular catalog above correspond to grade 80 (very fine). This online graded catalog has four columns for valuing federal waterfowl stamps that have received the higher numerical scores of 90, 95, 98 and 100. It is important to understand that there has been "an evolution in grading standards" over time. Much of this was facilitated by an improvement in technology that occurred around 2010. Therefore, if a stamp has a graded certificate that was issued prior to 2010, it should be resubmitted to make sure it still qualifies for the grade.
Collecting federal waterfowl stamp prints has long been popular with stamp collectors, wildlife art enthusiasts and museums. As time goes on, it is important to adapt to changes in the marketplace. Traditionally, waterfowl stamp print values have been obtained from "price guides" distributed by leading wildlife art dealers. These guides have listed one value for each edition of each print – and this was perfectly adequate to guide the hobby for decades. However, in order to effectively guide the market going forward, we feel the time has come for a fundamental change in the way "duck stamp" prints are valued.
Most of the early federal prints were purchased and framed well before today's "museum standards" were readily understood or generally accepted. In virtually all cases, the mats were highly acidic and the prints were held in place by tape, glue or dry-mounting adhesive.
There was no widely available UV resistant glass or acrylic (plexi-glass) to choose from. In addition, the prints were often framed repeatedly over time. This frequently resulted in the size of the original margins being cropped (trimmed) with each successive framing.
A talented conservator can often remove tape and dry mount residue, mitigate the effects of acid burn from the mats and discoloration from the sun or UV emitting lights (such as fluorescent tubes) and otherwise stabilize the piece, for a fee. However, the original margins cannot be restored.
The bottom line is this: federal waterfowl stamp prints exist in a wide range of conditions, especially those sold prior to 1974. There was a long period of time (1970s – 1990s) when the cost of conservation was such that a dealer could purchase a print for a reasonable wholesale price, have it properly restored, sell it to a client at or near the "guide price" – and still make a fair profit.
This is no longer the case. The cost of conservation has risen dramatically over the past 20 years. With the exception of the rarest and most valuable pieces, dealers can no longer buy a print for a reasonable price, have it properly restored and sell it to a customer for the guide price and expect to make anything. For many dealers, the incentive to deal in this market was removed. As a consequence, today we have far fewer dealers.
Further, in an attempt to continue to make a go of it, the remaining dealers have had to offer less and less money for prints that needed to be conserved – to the point where it seemed like they had no value. Sometimes they had the prints restored by non-qualified people "for cheap". To the dismay of their customers, issues such as "foxing" frequently returned after a period of time. This has resulted in much negative publicity for the hobby and specifically for the duck stamp print market.
Another reality we must face is (to date) the zenith for collecting duck stamp prints lasted from the early 1970s through the early 1990s. A continuous increase in demand resulted in higher edition sizes and higher prices. Subsequently, this demand abated – due in part to a decrease in disposable income on the part of the middle class. As a country, we are still struggling with this problem today.
During this 20 year period, a lot of federal prints were sold. They were sold at prices that matched the existing demand then – but these prices do not match the demand today. In many cases, dealers have not adjusted their prices guides to meet current market conditions.
Ebay started operation in 1997 and while this is not the true market for collectibles that are scarce to rare, it is a significant factor that cannot be ignored when considering valuations for those that exist in large or "excess" quantities – such as federal prints from 1974 through the 1980s.
We can have a healthy print market again. First, we must acknowledge that prints are not homogenous when it comes to condition. In fact, they exist in a wide range of conditions – from unrestored with one or more "issues" to having never been framed. Unrestored prints do have a value. For many people, they do not require the print to look perfect. They are interested in the art and may even appreciate the charm and history inherit in an unrestored print. They are willing to accept the print as is, knowing that when it is reframed – it will look "OK".
Second, we must accept that professional conservation is expensive. Dealers can still buy the unrestored prints for a reasonable price and have them conserved – but collectors must be willing to pay a higher price now to avoid what is rapidly becoming an inoperative market.
Third, we must acknowledge that the cost of professional conservation is not going to reverse itself – it is going to increase with time. Therefore, prints that have never been framed should be seen to have a premium valuation; for as long as they are carefully preserved, they will never need to have any additional money put into them. In other words, their cost is capped and this translates into real value.
For all of these reasons, we have provided a federal waterfowl stamp print catalog with three retail value columns. The first is for previously framed (or still framed) unrestored prints, the second is for unframed prints that have been restored to museum standards and the third is for those prints that have never been framed. In all cases, catalog values are for prints only. For federal waterfowl stamp values, click here.
A word about framing. The cost of framing, like restoration, has increased steadily over time. To frame or not to frame a print is a personal choice. Framing allows you to display and enjoy your artwork. However, you should not expect to recover the cost of framing. When framed prints are purchased by a dealer, the prints are usually removed from the frame and resold to someone else who already has chosen a style of framing he/she likes. The old frames are then recycled or otherwise disposed of.
In addition, buying and selling framed prints is much akin to buying and selling "a pig in a poke". Caveat emptor; unless the prints are removed from the frame, buyer and seller must assume the prints may have condition issues. For these two reasons, the catalog values for framed prints are the same as for unframed prints with issues that are clearly visible.
If we could not justify a retail value of at least $500.00, the "restored" column was left blank. This indicates the cost of restoration has risen to the point where it no longer makes sense for some of the less valuable prints. In these cases, previously framed prints that have "issues" may still be enjoyed as is.
When it comes to valuations for prints issued from the early 1970s through the 1980s – these values have been adjusted to match current market conditions.
Keep in mind, this is not a retail price list for any one dealer. While some dealers may choose to adopt it as a guide, others may find these weighted averages to be too high or too low to meet their business model. On the other hand, well over a year of research and analysis went into this catalog. We believe the values herein to to be the basis for a viable duck stamp print market going forward.