While archival material and stamps affixed to documents from August can be difficult to acquire, there are many other options for collecting the 1934-35 federal waterfowl stamp. This is due to the law prohibiting the sale of unused stamps being changed. For a two week period prior to the stamps being withdrawn from sale and destroyed, June 30, 1935, anyone was allowed to buy unused 1934-35 federal waterfowl stamps in singles, blocks, plate blocks or sheets.
The main reason for this shift in policy is that it had already been decided that starting with the 1935-36 issue (RW2), all hunters would be required to sign their federal waterfowl stamp across the face after affixing it to their license. This alleviated concerns that hunters would share stamps. It also made the use of Form 3333 obsolete, although the practice of affixing federal waterfowl stamps to the blue card would continue for years in remote areas of the country and in places where the Postmaster simply did not understand the new regulations. This will be the subject of a future blog post.
Collecting Single Stamps
For every other year except 1934-35, collectors have the option to search for either signed or unsigned stamps. Since hunters were not required to sign their stamp the first year, very few signed examples have been recorded. Collecting signed stamps is a very affordable, popular option. Many collectors like the fact the stamp was actually used for it’s intended purpose. It also allows for hunters to put together a collection of their own stamps and allows others a chance to include stamps that were used by friends or relatives. This often provides more meaning to the collection. In general, when collecting signed stamps smaller, neater and unobtrusive signatures are considered more desirable.
In a strict philatelic sense, an unsigned stamp implies that the stamp has been removed from a license and has no gum on the reverse. Collecting unsigned stamps is also popular, especially with people who want to put the set in a frame and don’t see the need to pay extra for the gum that will never be seen. With unsigned stamps, small faults (especially those not visible from the front – like small thin spots) are usually not so important. One should be on the lookout, however, for stamps where a signature has been chemically removed as this process may alter the original color of the stamp.
This leaves us with by far and away the most popular form of collecting unused federal stamps, unused with full original gum. In other words, in the same condition as the stamps were originally issued. Over the years, the hobby has developed standards for grading unused stamps and for the last few years, some philatelists are literally having their stamps graded in the same way coins have been for decades. For the purposes of this blog post, I need to simplify this portion of the discussion. Therefore, I want to make a generalized statement that the better centered the stamp and the more pristine the gum – the more desirable and more highly valued the stamp.
Centering is the most important criteria and I would like to offer this analogy; think of the centering of the stamp design within the perforations as you would a photograph or piece of art in a picture frame. You probably would not enjoy seeing the object on your wall with five inches of mat board on two or three sides and only two inches on the other(s) as this would look unbalanced to your eye, perhaps to the point of some distraction. In much the same way, collectors strive to have the stamp design centered within the perforations in such a way that all four margins (analogous to the mat board) are as close to equal as possible (see Figure 1).
The other main factor when collecting unused stamps concerns the gum on the reverse. Purists attempt to obtain stamps with untouched, virtually perfect gum and such stamps are often referred to as “mint, never hinged”. A hinge is a small piece of gummed, folded paper that traditionally has been used to affix stamps in a collectors album. One moistens the smaller folded flap and pushes it directly onto the stamp; then moistens the larger flap and presses the stamp into the album.
When a stamp is removed from the album, the hinge can usually be removed in its entirety, however, not without removing some portion of the stamp’s original gum. Such stamps are referred to as “hinged”. As with grading centering, there are several grades of hinging; ranging from lightly hinged to still bearing a remnant of the hinge itself. Again, I want to be brief and say that if the reverse of the stamp is not so important to you, it is possible to save a tremendous amount of money by accepting a stamp with a hinge mark. On the other hand, you should realize that when the time comes to sell, there are not as many buyers for hinged stamps.
One thing to look out for is that the stamp was not thinned when the hinge was removed. A thin is caused when a shallow layer of the stamp paper is pulled away with the gum when a persistent hinged is forcibly removed. On scarce to rare fish and game stamps (where the numbers available are relatively small), a small fault such a thin may not effect the stamp’s value to a great degree. This is not the case on unused federal waterfowl stamps, where the number of stamps available is relatively large. A thin seriously affects the stamp’s value.
Collecting Plate Number Singles
When the large sheets of 112 subjects are printed, a number designating the actual metal plate used to print the sheet is printed in the selvage in four different places; the upper left, upper right, lower left and lower right. The selvage is the excess blank white paper that runs around the outside of the entire sheet and the numbers are referred to as plate numbers. In the case of the 1934-35 stamp, four different metal plates were used: numbers 129199, 129200, 129201 and 129202. Once the sheets were cut into panes, each pane included one plate number.
Many collectors enjoy plate number singles as they feel the number adds a bit of glamour, if you will, to the otherwise single stamp. Is is possible to collect signed (used) plate number singles and this can be a fun and challenging pursuit. By far and away the most popular avenue for collecting plate number singles is unused. Since plate numbers were printed on the upper and lower portions of each sheet, it is possible to have a plate number single with the number above the stamp (top) or below (bottom). Some collectors prefer bottoms, however, it seems most prefer tops (see Figure 2).
Collecting Plate Number Blocks
Since the earliest days of stamp collecting, plate number blocks have been very popular. This is basically a “leveling up” of the glamour associated with plate number singles. Plate number blocks of the 1934-35 federal waterfowl stamp have a higher level of difficulty of acquisition than one might expect. This is due to the fact that all of the 1934-35 plate blocks in collectors hands today could only have been obtained during that two week period at the end of June, 1935.
Starting in 1934-35 and continuing through 1958-59, the plate numbers were printed in the selvage of a stamp one position removed from the corner. Therefore, by long standing philatelic convention, all of the single color federal waterfowl stamps were collected in plate blocks of six (see Figure 3).
Some advanced collectors try to acquire a plate block from each position (UL,UR, LL and LR). More challenging is to attempt to put together a matched set of plate blocks form all four positions bearing the same number. A few people, most recently Jeanette Rudy, have attempted to put together matched sets of all four numbers for the 1934-35 stamp. This may be considered the ultimate challenge, and I am unaware that anyone has yet to accomplished the feat.
As with plate number singles, most collectors prefer tops and therefore there is often a premium attached to early federal plate blocks from the upper left or right positions. When purchasing early federal plate blocks one should be careful the selvage has not been trimmed. Obtaining a certificate of authenticity from a professional philatelic expertization service is advised.
Over the years there have been many federal waterfowl stamp errors. When it comes to the 1934-35 issue, there are only two. The two are really one and in fact, they are not errors at all but printers waste. Let me explain. Since at least as far back as the 1950s when my father acquired a vertical strip of three that was completely imperforate of the 1934-35 federal waterfowl stamp, there has existed in the collector market two “major errors”. On what I shall refer to as Type I, vertical pairs, strips and blocks exist that are perforated vertically but imperforate horizontally. On Type II, there exists vertical pairs and strips, only, that are completely imperforate (see Figure 4).
For decades I had heard rumors that all of the “errors” were from the same pane of 28 stamps that was fished out of the trash by an employee at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and later sold to a stamp dealer “way back when”. As I started to analyze the errors I noticed that virtually every piece was faulty, with creases or thins or both – consistent with the trash can rumors. Then I began to notice that all of the pieces that retained vertical perforations had relatively small margins between the perforations and the designs. Further, there were no blocks that were completely imperforate – or even any horizontal pairs. To top it all off, some pieces had gum on the front.
This led me to conclude that not only were the errors indeed printers waste, but that at one time all were Type I. Someone a long time ago had taken the pairs and strips that were perforated vertically with the widest margins and trimmed them to create a second variety (Type II) to sell their customers. It was at this point I had the following statement printed in the Scott Specialized Catalogue:
It is almost certain that No. RW1a (Type II) is No. RW1b (Type I) with vertical perfs trimmed off. No horizontal pairs of No. RW1a are known. All recorded pairs are vertical, with narrow side margins. Both varieties probably are printer’s waste since examples exist with gum on front or without gum.
Having done that, guess what? Collectors and dealers don’t seem to care that they are printer’s waste because everyone unanimously agrees they are the coolest thing ever! I am fairly sure this consensus would not be possible if it involved printer’s waste on any other issue besides 1934-35. Basically, these stamps designed by Ding Darling are so ridiculously popular with collectors that demand and values have continued to increase on these “errors” since I published the notice in Scott.
This is underscored by the recent auction realization for perhaps the worst condition piece from the pane, a vertical strip of three with very visible creases and thins at $30,000.00. This occurred in March, 2016 at the Siegel Auction Galleries sale of the Bill Webster collection. I know the price was real as I was the underbidder and had a total of four strong bids in my book.
I would like to point out, however, that no matter how cool collectors and dealers seem to think they are, there is no place for printer’s waste in a philatelic exhibit at the National or International level. The judges would not look too kindly upon it. So sometimes it is best to hold your emotions in check.