F&G Exhibit Has an Important Story to Tell – Part One

For philatelists, exhibiting portions of their collections at stamp shows can be a fun and rewarding experience. If you desire, you can travel to the shows, see new places, meet new friends, eat at the great local restaurants and see the sights. And, of course, you can enjoy sharing in the other exhibits – one of philately’s greatest learning experiences.

This brings me to the subject of today’s blog; over the the years I have come to believe exhibiting’s greatest reward is the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding for your own material and subject area. 

No matter how long you have been collecting and researching them, the process allows for you to think about the assembled pieces of paper in front of you in ways you never experienced before. This allows you to develop curiosity and greater knowledge with which to appreciate your material, make a deeper personal connection with your hobby and, via the exhibit (either at shows or online), allow others to share in this connection and maybe even attract new people to share in the hobby.


Today we will share in the recent efforts by Will Csaplar, one of our hobby’s most avid exhibitors. After 40 years of ardently collecting and researching an area close to his heart, Will introduced an exciting new exhibit at Westpex in 2023. It was then titled United States Military Fish & Game Licenses, Stamps and their Usages. Will is a retired Coast Guard Captain and explained his new exhibit is the fusion of three life-long interests: conservation, philately and military history.

His goals are to shed a light on this previously unexplored area of U.S. revenue and fish and game stamps (whose significance is much more than meets the eye), provide a philatelic reference and encourage fellow collectors with similar specialized interests to exhibit their fish and game stamps.


Exhibiting at the National Level

Will Csaplar and others have experienced considerable successes with waterfowl stamp exhibits, the most well known and highly collected area in the fish and game field. These have helped elevate our niche hobby’s standing within organized philately (see Figure 1). He now believes (and I agree) the time has come when other lesser known areas of fish and game stamps may begin to engender top-notch national level (APS World Series of Philately) exhibits.



Figure 1. Csaplar’s A License and Stamp System for Waterfowl Conservation in the 20th Century U.S. has received numerous accolades since its introduction at Westpex in 2015.



Over the last five years or so, the judging of exhibits at the national level has undergone a salient change. On the judges evaluation forms (think score sheets) there are seven specific areas to be evaluated. The one at the top of the sheet is labeled Treatment. Treatment counts for a maximum of 20 points (out of 100 – or 20%).

As Philatelic/Subject Knowledge totals 25 points and Rarity is also 20 points, Treatment may not, on the surface, seem like a make or break criteria for doing well. However, a prospective exhibitor should be aware that Treatment currently contains the key for putting together a successful exhibit.

According to the evaluation form, maximizing points for Treatment consists of selecting a good (meaning appropriate and accurate) Title, presenting a concise Plan (organization/layout), then showing the judges how the exhibit develops the stated plan (Development). Finally, demonstrate the exhibit is comprehensive within the scope of the Title and Plan (Comprehensiveness).


A Tip for Maximizing Treatment Points

A great start toward maxing treatment points is simple and two-fold. First (and most important) come up with a good story to tell. Then consistently weave your storyline throughout the entire exhibit, making sure to reference it frequently in every frame (ideally at least once on every row).

Many judges refer to a good storyline as the “golden thread.” As far as the exhibitor is concerned, he/she should think of it as the golden ticket”, for it contains the magic power to get you where you want to go (see Figure 2).



Figure 2. Golden ticket, prop from the Tim Burton film “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”. The Warner Bros. Collection. Courtesy of The National Museum of American History.



More to The Point(s)

Second, while telling your story, try to be concise and to the point. This can be challenging for both the novice and experienced exhibitor. Over the years we become so knowledgeable and passionate about our material that when the time comes to write up our exhibit we simply go a little overboard – or a lot.

If you overwrite your exhibit one of two things is likely to happen: 1) the judges (at the expense of all the other exhibits assigned to them) are simply not going to spend much time on it or 2) they might attempt to filter through your extraneous information and be likely to miss key elements of the golden thread.

Either way, you are doing yourself a disservice and, at the end of the day, increasing the odds of going home disappointed. One judge put it to me this way last year, “If you have a lot more to say, put it in an article or blog post.” Fair enough.


A Treasure Trove of Really Good Storylines!

The great news for aspiring fish and game exhibitors is that our “niche” actually consists of the largest number of stamps in U.S. philately (over 25,000). Within them lay a treasure trove of really good story lines waiting to be extracted and developed! This means that with some imagination, research and effort (expect some trial and error) it is possible for fish and game exhibitors to do an excellent job when it comes to Treatment.

Everyone knows about waterfowl hunting stamps and the great migratory bird conservation story. However, beyond waterfowl stamps there are numerous lesser known – up to now – areas that are fascinating, ripe for specialization and thanks to Csaplar’s latest glass ceiling-breaking effort, have all the makings of successful national level exhibits. This is an exciting time for our hobby!

A sampling of these areas are fishing stamps, big game stamps, turkey and upland bird stamps, fish and game stamps issued by tribal governments, fish and game stamps issued by military bases, bow and arrow (archery) stamps and pre-stamp licenses (yes, licenses are considered revenues):



Figure 3. 1972 Missouri Trout Stamp


Figure 4. 1965-66 Maryland Big Game Stamp for Archers


Figure 5. 1986-87 New Mexico Turkey Stamp


Figure 6. 1914 California Angler’s License



To get more ideas, visit the Gallery Index and scroll down to sample some of the possibilities.


Developing the Golden Thread

There are two ways to approach developing the golden thread. The first – and most straightforward – is to come up with a story you would like to tell first and then select material from your collection which supports the developing storyline in your exhibit. The second is to select an area you feel passionate about and wish to share, then develop the storyline around it.

The latter involves a deeper dive and, as we shall see – more trial and error. However, the rewards can be equally as satisfying and, on occasion, the resulting golden thread can be a revelation! It is the latter approach we will explore in this post.

After selecting an area you would like to exhibit, there are several options for developing storylines. One of the things I discovered (long ago), is that telling the story chronologically – both within any sections (exhibitors often refers to these as “chapters”) and/or from the exhibit’s beginning to end – often allows for the story to flow better.

When developing a nascent exhibit’s storyline, this does not mean you must start at the beginning and methodically work toward the end. One approach is to start in the middle (your focus), then work in both directions. For example, when Will originally envisioned a military exhibit (decades ago) he wished to showcase the fish and game stamps issued by Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB).

The VAFB stamps were the first adhesives issued by the Department of Defense to license hunting and fishing on military bases in the U.S. The early stamps (1967-68 through 1969-70) feature a large “$1” superimposed across the face of the stamp and are viewed as iconic by advanced collectors – somewhat like the St. Louis Bears postmasters provisionals (see Figure 7 and 8).



Figure 7. Saint Louis “Bear” postmasters provisional with a large 5 (cents) printed at the top. Courtesy Robert Siegel Auctions.



Figure 8. 1968-69 VAFB Hunting Stamp



More importantly to Will, the VAFB fish and game program developed by adding different stamps (representing greater choice) with which to encourage active personnel and veterans with base access to participate in outdoor base activities. Outdoor activities – specifically hunting and fishing – had been consistently shown in medical studies to help mitigate PTSD and the psychological trauma of war.

Very cool, especially if you have a frame of reference for fish and game stamps. Keep in mind, however, most judges you encounter will not be fish and game (or even revenue) specialists. Therefore, simply showing a couple of frames of VAFB stamps and usages, alone, was probably not going to cut it.

In this case, the VAFB stamps are very scarce to extremely rare so coming close to maxing Rarity (difficulty of acquisition) should not be a problem. However, right below Treatment on the evaluation form is Importance. For F&G exhibitors, especially those showing non-waterfowl stamps – Importance has historically been the sticky wicket, if you will.

According to the latest APS Judging Manual (revised October 2019), “Importance is a measure of the challenge in creating the exhibit…”

It is further defined as follows: “…It has two parts: 1. Philatelic: how much philatelic depth and diversity is shown in the development of the exhibit; 2. Exhibit: the significance of the exhibit within its subject area. The exhibit can be important because it is the definitive showing of the subject, because it shows creativity in treatment, or because the exhibitor provided unusual or special insights in the exhibit.”

With this in mind, Will could not realistically expect to show the VAFB stamps and usages by themselves. With such a narrow subject, he could not expect to do really well. So, how did he deal with it? Instead of thinking of them as too narrow a subject, Will started thinking of the VAFB issues as too narrow “a focus.” How could he widen the focus while continuing to develop his storyline?

Were the VAFB stamps the only U.S. Military F&G stamps? No, his research showed the DOD selected VAFB to initially develop a license and stamp program. Then, following the program’s success, they instituted similar programs at the Military Academy at West point, NY and at various bases across the country (see Figure 9).



Figure 9. 1983-84 West Point Fishing Stamp



Great, Will now had an end to his exhibit – and his storyline – by showing a sampling of stamps and their usages from the subsequent bases. With regard to Importance, showing the VAFB stamps and the subsequent stamps they inspired would be an example of the whole being greater than the parts. At this point he set out to acquire F&G stamps (and their usages) issued by as many different military bases as possible.


A Forerunner Section Can Add Value

When I exhibited (1992-2001), through the trial and error stages I eventually came to appreciate the advantages created by inserting an earlier forerunner section before my main focus. For starters, the very first adhesive fish and game stamp was the 1934 federal migratory bird hunting stamp.

Therefore, our material was then viewed as contemporary (and not in a good way) by the judges – especially when competing against postal history and classic U.S. exhibits for the top awards.

Even a half frame of pre-stamp licenses added age and proved effective in making my exhibits more successful. Thankfully, exhibiting (and judging) has changed a great deal since my experience in the 20th century. Judges are much more open-minded and, as a result, exhibitions are much more inclusive today. In fact, 20th century exhibits are now eagerly sought by exhibition committees and, just last year, a 20th century exhibit won the Champion of Champions (see Figure 10).



Figure 10. Nicholas Lombardi’s exhibit “The 1903 Two Cent Washington Shield Issue” won the Champion of Champions competition at the 2023 Great American Stamp Show in Cleveland, Ohio. Courtesy of Linn’s Stamp News.



Today, a good forerunner section offers more value than simply adding age to F&G exhibits; it serves to add context. For this reason, it may also play an integral role in the developing storyline. For close to ten years now, Will has successfully employed a one-frame forerunner section with his exhibit, A License and Stamp System for Waterfowl Conservation in the 20th Century U.S. 

Therefore, the next logical step was to collect material with which to create a pre-military adhesive section. At the time Will made this decision (15-20 years before the exhibit was first shown) little did he or I know that one day this would ultimately become much more than just a forerunner section.


Amazing Early Military F&G Material

When I first visited Will to assist him in organizing and selecting the material for the new exhibit’s forerunner section, I was amazed – both by the quantity and quality of early military F&G items he had collected.

I knew about the 1922 Hunting Permit issued by the U.S Naval Reservataion at Olangapo, P.I. – the earliest U.S military base hunting license recorded – as it was included in the military section of Will’s big exhibit (see Figure 11).

Note, all of the exhibit pages shown in this blog (with the exception of Figures 19 and 21) are from the current version of the exhibit.



Figure 11. The earliest U.S. military base hunting license recorded.



Likewise, I was aware of the 1938 Fort Hoyle, Maryland Hunting Permit with a 1938-39 Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp affixed  but was surprised to discover he had another one from the previous year – making it the earliest (not Form 3333) usage of a fish and game stamp on a military issued license (see Figure 12).



Figure 12. The earliest military base hunting licenses (not Form 3333) for which a stamp usage has been recorded.



Perhaps the most startling thing was the number of early military licenses he had that were issued in the form of celluloid pin-back buttons – or badges as some collectors refer to them. Simply put, military F&G buttons are difficult to acquire. I have a few in my own collection and I see or handle maybe a half-dozen a year (many of which show heavy rust or are otherwise not really exhibitable). Will had over a hundred to choose from, including many gems (see Figures 13 and 14).



Figure 13. A page from the forerunner section showing the earliest recorded military license button.



Figure 14. A couple of amazing buttons issued by Fort Knox and the Naval Air Station Lakehurst, NJ.



It did not take long for us to agree he should take a chance and break with convention, so to speak. The plan would be to expand the forerunner section for the new exhibit from one frame to two.

At the time – all of his amazing pieces not withstanding – we did not really know why he should take this calculated risk – it just felt right. In addition, Will initially wanted to show the exhibit as five frames. As he was exhibiting a subject most judges would be unfamiliar with, he (sensibly) did not want to spend a lot of time and money before getting some constructive feedback from a couple of judging panels (juries).

In keeping with the precedent we had established with his waterfowl exhibit, I advised the headings for the two frames of forerunners be in a different color of ink (blue vs red) than those for the final three frames. This choice would prove to be a double edge sword; initially reinforcing a less than optimal take on the exhibit by the judges – but also allowing for the motivation which led to the exhibit being what it is today.


Continue to Part Two



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