Gallery Nine – Federal

Prager Original Waterfowl Stamp Art

The first step in producing a federal waterfowl stamp is to have an artist create original artwork for the central part of the stamp design. In philatelic terms, this central image is referred to as the vignette.

Prior to 1950, when the first federal duck stamp design contest was held, a special committee was appointed within, initially, the Bureau of Biological Survey and then its successor, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This committee invited outstanding wildlife artists from across the U.S. to submit waterfowl art, one of which was selected by the committee to be used as the vignette of the new stamp.

Starting with the first design contest in 1950, artists were able to submit entries that would be evaluated by a panel of impartial judges. The entries were methodically scored and this process resulted in one winner. The winning design then served as the basis for the vignette on the next stamp.

The original art is a fundamental part of the waterfowl stamp story and is actively pursued by very advanced collectors. There are several classifications or stages of original art that are generated in sequence by the artist and while they are all collectible – it is important to have an understanding of the timeline.

When the artist is first rendering his design conceptualization, it is almost always done relatively quickly with pencil and paper in the form of a rough sketch. For the purposes of this gallery, we have decide to focus on the more detailed "finished Product".

Once the artist is satisfied with the pencil composition, considerable time is taken to create the finished product to be submitted to either the Department of the Interior selection committee or the contest itself. In the early days, the chosen medium was often a wash. A wash is created using the same process as a watercolor painting but with only one or two colors – as opposed to many.

If the original entry was selected by the committee or chosen by the judges to represent an actual stamp design, the artist was often asked to create copies by art enthusiasts or collectors. In some case a number of copies were made and it is not always easy to differentiate them from the original.

Before purchasing any federal original waterfowl stamp art, it is highly recommended to secure the opinion of an expert as to exactly what you are dealing with. It could be either the original entry, a copy made by the artist shortly after the stamp was issued or a copy made years later.

In general, collector and actual value declines significantly with each respective "generation". At this point, the most widely respected authority on original waterfowl stamp art is Russell Fink, of Lorton, Virginia.

The two most comprehensive collections of original federal waterfowl stamp art have been created by Richard Perry, of Baltimore and Richard Prager of New York. In the case of the latter, Prager acquired the Perry collection in its entirety and added greatly to it before donating it to the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Federal Waterfowl Essays & Proofs

After the artwork was either selected by the committee or chosen by the judges, it was turned over to a stamp designer at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. The stamp designer takes the original art and incorporates it into the actual stamp design, including frame lines, lettering and denomination (face value).

One the stamp has been designed, it is then turned over to the Engraving Department at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Two or more engravers are assigned to produce die proofs. One engraver carves the vignette into a metal plate (copper or steel) and one or more additional engravers carve the frame lines, lettering and numerals to produce a die.

Periodically, the die was inked, the excess wiped clean and the single stamp images were printed or pulled. These images are known as essays or die proofs. In the case of essays, they are submitted for design approval and (sometimes subtle) changes are made in the finished design. In other words, an essay differs in appearance from the issued stamp.

When the proof was to be submitted to a number of officials for approval, it was often faster and more economical to pull one example and then reproduce it photographically. In such photos, when the design differs from the issued stamp, it is known as a photo essay.

When the design matches the stamp it is likely a photograph printed for distribution to magazines and newspapers for publicity purposes. The latter, while interesting collateral, have relatively little collector or actual value.

In the case of die proofs, the design matches the issued stamp and the images are pulled to judge the quality of the die. Die proofs for engraved stamps are usually printed under great pressure onto a thin piece of paper (India) that is about the same size as the engravers die block. If the paper with the stamp image was mounted on a larger piece of card stock, these are known as large die proofs. Since the impressions are printed from the master die, they are normally of very high quality.

Alternatively, the paper which was originally the size of the engraver's die block could be trimmed down to a much smaller size. These are known as small die proofs. All of the original small die proofs that I have examined have margins that are 5-6 mm. Some small die proofs were mounted on card stock roughly the same size of the paper (1934 – 1937) and others were not (1938 – 1945).

Small die proofs are known for their intense, vibrant color. Often small die proofs were created to mount in presentation albums for important government officials such as President Franklin D. Roosevelt, an avid stamp collector.

Once the die proofs were approved, the die was copied many times to create large printing plates of 112 (prior to 1959) or 120 subjects. At this point, a plate proof would have been made form the entire sheet. I am currently unaware of any plate proofs of early federal waterfowl stamps ever reaching the collector market.

However, a group of imperforate stamps came onto the market a number of years ago and I suspect some or all of the later multicolored pieces may possibly be true plate proofs. As plate proofs are pulled from multiple image plates, the sizes of the margins are limited by the spacing between images and cannot exceed 3-4 mm.

A quick word about photo essays. On the collector market, reproductions are the norm and it is mandatory they be accompanied by a certificate from a respected expertization service (see the Links page for a list).

Federal Waterfowl Set – PSE Registry #1


Professional grading of stamps has come into widespread use in recent years. Originating for the coin and currency hobbies, grading is now offered for other major collectibles, including movie lobby cards, sports cards and stamps.

With regard to stamps, currently the third-party grading services are The Philatelic Foundation (PF), Professional Stamp Experts (PSE) and Philatelic Stamp Authentication and Grading (PSAG).

Grading differs from traditional expertizing in that the items are scored on an pseudo-scientific numerical basis. Much of this is concerned with 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.

Ostensibly, the higher the score, the greater the value of the item. One Service, PSE, offers a Set Registry where collectors can compare their sets to others, worldwide.

The set featured here is owned by California collector Gordon Wrubel and currently occupies the lofty position of #1 on the PSE Registry for federal duck (waterfowl) stamps.

According to Scott Murphy, President of PSE, stamp grading has witnessed an evolution in standards since its inception at the turn of the 21st Century. In effect, grading standards have "tightened-up" over time.

In the beginning, stamps were graded according to traditional philatelic standards and were assigned such designations as very fine, extra fine and superb.

Rather soon this changed to a numerical score, similar to that used for coins and currency. At this time, stamps were graded from 1 to 100, utilizing every number in between. This proved to be cumbersome and subsequently only every fifth number was used plus 98 to indicate stamps that bordered on perfection but not quite.

In addition, early on minor defects such as natural gum skips and "groomed perforations" were not a factor. When grooming perforations, a person uses a file or sharp blade to even them and create a more perfect aesthetic. This is often referred to as "eye appeal".

Currently, perforation grooming is noted on the PSE in-house paperwork and, when excessively employed, on the certificate itself. When noted on the certificate, it is grounds for lowering the grade.

As the technology for measuring the distance between the design and perforations has improved over time and such factors as gum skips and perforation grooming are now taken into account, it is important to understand that if re-submitted, the same stamp which received a certain score ten years ago – may not fare as well today.

For this reason, Murphy advises that stamps with graded certificates prior to 2010 be re-submitted to more accurately ascertain their true grade according to the present day standards.

Thanks to Gordon for allowing us to include this phenomenal accomplishment in our Federal Gallery.

Federal Waterfowl Plate Number Blocks

As noted above, once the die proofs were approved, the die was copied many times to create large printing plates. Often, two or more different printing plates were created in this way and were used to produce the total number of stamps ordered. The plates were inked and the excess wiped off by hand.

Regular sheets of 112 (pre-1959) stamps were printed, gummed and perforated. The large sheets were then cut down into four smaller panes of 28 for easy distribution to post offices. Each pane was imprinted with a plate number in the top or bottom selvage to indicate which plate was used to produce the larger sheet it was cut from.

Shortly after the federal waterfowl stamps were introduced, it became very popular to collect plate number blocks. By definition, these consisted of six stamps with the plate number imprinted in the margin or selvage attached to the top or bottom middle stamp, for pieces removed for the top or bottom panes, respectively (in other words, one position removed from the corner).

It should be noted that when the first stamp (RW1, 1934-35) was issued, it was against the law to purchase unused multiples. This law was changed two weeks prior to the stamps being taken off sale at the end of June, 1935.

Therefore, all RW1 plate blocks and sheets extant must have been purchased during this narrow window and this accounts for their relative scarcity today.

Starting with RW13, the 1946-47 issue, a message was printed on the reverse of each stamp. This message is often referred to as an inscription and the first one read "IT IS UNLAWFUL TO HUNT WATERFOWL UNLESS YOU SIGN YOUR NAME IN INK ON THE FACE OF THIS STAMP".

The reverse inscription was printed by a separate offset press. Therefore, the reverse of each complete sheet had a plate number printed in the upper right pane margin (or selvage) of stamp UR24, and in no other position.

From its inception (RW13, 1946-47) through RW16 (1949-50), the plate number on the reverse of the upper right pane was fully visible. Starting with RW17 (1950-51), the reverse plate number was intended to be trimmed off in the process of cutting complete sheets into four smaller panes.

While a fair number of reverse plate number singles of RW17 have been recorded, to my knowledge, only one reverse plate number block of six has been recorded. In this lone case, only a partial plate number is visible. Starting with RW18 (1951-52), not even a partial reverse plate number is visible on any federal waterfowl stamp.

Starting with RW26 (1959-60), many changes were made in the production process. The printing press changed from a flatbed to a Giori rotary press; the sheet size changed from 112 subjects to 120 and, therefore, when cut from the larger sheet, each individual pane consisted of 30 stamps.

In addition, the plate number was moved to the corner on the 30 stamp panes, creating plate number blocks of four as compared to plate number blocks of six on the previous issues.

For RW31 (1964-65), the plate numbers were once again printed in the selvage one position removed from the corner. By philatelic convention, collectors should have purchased plate number blocks of six. However, by this time everyone was so used to purchasing plate blocks of four, they continued right on through 1964-65.

As a consequence, the vast majority of true RW31 plate number blocks were removed from complete panes subsequent to the stamps being removed from sale and they are relatively scarce today.



Federal Waterfowl Errors & Unusual


Federal waterfowl errors, freaks and oddities (EFOs) are very popular with collectors of all levels. There are many to choose from in all price ranges. While many of these have pieces have tremendous eye appeal and have "buy me" written all over them, one has to be somewhat cautious.

Unfortunately, there are numerous pictorial federal and state waterfowl "errors" that are not what they seem to be. You have to be careful who you purchase them from and make certain you get it in writing that you are allowed to return them for a full refund should they be proven to be altered or fraudulent at any time in the future. 

The best you can do is submit the items for certification. However, be aware that in this area – not even a certificate is a foolproof guarantee of authenticity. To my knowledge everything in this gallery is 100% genuine and as described.

I do not want to dwell on the negative here, as we have selected some truly spectacular pieces for your enjoyment and I do no want to take anything away from the experience. I do, however, want to go into detail concerning the most famous and valuable "errors" which have been recorded on RW1 (1934-35).

It turns out these are not so much errors as printer's waste. Since at least as far back as the 1950s, when my father acquired a vertical strip of three that was completely imperforate, there has existed in the collector market two different "major errors".

On what I shall refer to 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.

For decades I had heard 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 which is easily seen on the large Type I multiple in this gallery.

This led me to conclude that not only where 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 hat I printed a cautionary statement in the Scott Specialized Catalogue. Having done that, guess what? Collectors and dealers don't seem to care that they are printers waste because everyone unanimously agrees they are the greatest things ever!

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. Just as long as you are aware of what you are buying – everything is cool.

The RW2 misperforated block of 12 is a really neat item that was originally in the Jeanette C. Rudy collection. The piece was auctioned by Sam Houston Philatelics in 2006 and the image in this gallery is taken from their advertising brochure. Its present whereabouts are unknown.

Throughout the galley we find several common themes, including stamps gummed on the obverse and reverse (RW11, 14 and 17), paper fold errors (RW11, 13, 20, 34 and 41), minor "gutter snipes" (stamps with fully perforated selvage attached – RW15, 17, 18 and 22), dramatic shifts (RW19, 21, 38, 42, 43, 48, 49 and 52), reverse inscriptions inverted (RW24, 25 and 26), reverse inscriptions missing (RW46 and 70), colors missing (RW52, 53 and 58) and legitimately imperforate (RW72b).

Lots of fun stuff, so please – enjoy!

Prager Federal Presentation Folios & Panes

Richard Prager specialized in collecting federal "duck" Stamps for decades. He had one of the most comprehensive collections of these stamps ever formed. Like all collectors, he enjoyed some areas of his collection more than others.

In addition to the original artwork shown in the gallery above, Richard was passionate about a very specialized area of federal waterfowl stamps – presentation folios and (later) framed panes that represent the first pane of each stamp released by the federal government.

This practice off allowing the artist to obtain stamps from the first pane – often before the general public – extends all the way back to 1934, when Jay N. "Ding" Darling was allowed to purchase stamps from a pane two days before they went on sale.

The Department of Agriculture turned the occasion into a promotional event to help publicize the sale of the new federal stamps. Reporters and photographers were present and there is a famous series of photos that shows Darling purchasing the first duck stamp ever sold. The stamp was affixed to a form 3333 and signed on the reverse by Darling.

This item eventually became part of the Jeanette C. Rudy collection, until which time she donated selected pieces from her collection to the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum.

Immediately after Darling purchased the first stamp, he is reported to have purchased an additional 24  – most of which were also affixed to the blue stamp holder (form 3333). Many were given to friends and politicians as favors and less than half of the original 25 stamps from the first pane can be accounted for today.

Photographs of the historic event and scans of examples sold that day can be found elsewhere, throughout this website.

I do not know when the Department of the Interior began the practice of presenting a pane to the winning artist. In some cases, the presentation was made at  a special ceremony similar to that held in 1934. In many other cases, the presentation was held at the annual duck stamp design contest.

Prager's collection goes back as far as RW23 (1956-57), artwork by Edward J. Bierly. Until recent years, the pane was packaged in a handsome leatherette presentation folio. The folio cover of the Bierly piece has the following printed on it (in what appears to be gold leaf): "MIGRATORY BIRD HUNTING STAMP / SERIES 1956-57 / (Department of the Interior Seal) / EDWARD J. BIERLY, ARTIST".

Inside the folio, there is a pocket with a clear window made of mylar or some similar material. Inside the pocket can be found the first pane from that particular issue. For most years, the panes have been signed by various government officials.

For example, the 1956-57 Bierly pane is signed by Arthur E, Summerfield, Postmaster General; Fred A. Seaton, Secretary of the Interior and John L. Farley, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In several instances, the pieces in the Prager collection are accompanied by a letter from the winning artist or an official, which serve to document their authenticity and often include personalized notations that helps to capture the history Richard strove to preserve.

In other cases, the artist has either remarqued the pane (created a small piece of original art primarily in the selvage) or made personalized notations directly on the pane itself.

In recent years, the Department of the Interior has done away with the pretty leatherette folio and, instead, now presents the panes to the artist framed. In these cases, we have shown a few behind glass.

In every case, we have carefully removed the panes form their folio or frame, and scanned them in high resolution for enjoyment. A special thanks is extended from all of us at Waterfowl Stamps and More to Richard, for allowing us to include these important artifacts in our Federal Gallery.

RW1 – RW25 Complete Panes

As explained above, once the die proofs were approved, the die was copied many times to create large plates capable of printing large sheets of stamps. Prior to 1959, these plates printed sheets containing 112 subjects.

After the plate proofs were approved, the plates were inked, the excess wiped and sheets containing 112 stamps were printed. These were then cut down into four smaller panes of 28 for easy handling and distribution to post offices around the country.

When the large sheets were printed, they included two plate numbers in the top margin (often referred to as selvage) and two in the bottom selvage. Each plate number was positioned in the selvage attached to a stamp inset one position from the sides. 

This otherwise blank selvage wrapped all the way around the large sheets of 112. There were guidelines – which marked the place where the panes were to be cut – extending inward from the outermost center of the top, bottom and both side selvages. These guidelines traveled in the space between the stamps and intersected in the center of the large sheets.

Therefore, after the large sheets were cut into four panes, each pane retained its original selvage on two sides and the other two sides were straight-edged. The straight edges resulted from the cuts. If the cuts were made precisely on the lines, it is sometimes difficult to detect the guidelines along the straight edges. If the cuts were made slightly to one side or the other, the guidelines may still be visible along one or both of the straight edges.

By noticing where the remaining selvage, plate numbers and straight edges are located on the panes – the panes can be identified by their original position on the larger sheets. Four positions are possible, upper left (UL), upper right (UR), lower left (LL) and lower right (LR).

Starting with RW13 (1946-47), the space between the center stamps in both directions on the large sheets was increased. After cutting, this allowed for a (smaller) selvage to replace the straight edges found on RW1 – 12.

As noted in the plate block introduction above, the reverse of each sheet from RW13 – RW17 had an offset plate number printed on the selvage of the upper right (UR) panes, only.

All of the early single color (pre RW26, 1959-60) federal waterfowl stamp panes are scarce to rare (as we have seen, all RW1 panes must have been purchased during a two week period in 1935) and so the advanced collectors that are attempting to complete a "set" are usually happy with one from any position.

Initially, we have included panes from more than one position when available to us and, over time, we intend to flesh this gallery out with additional panes from other positions.

Most of the images were provided by private collectors. However, we would like to thank Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries for providing images of panes from the Bill Webster Sale that were purchase by collectors unknown to us.

RW26 – Date Complete Panes

When the change was made from a flatbed printing press to a Giorgi rotary press (RW26, 1959-60), the federal waterfowl stamps were still printed in large sheets. However the number of stamps on the sheets increased from 112 to 120. The pane size increased proportionately, from 28 to 30 stamps (5 x 6).

Plate numbers were still printed on the margin (selvage) in all four corners of the large sheets. However, instead of being positioned in the selvage attached to a stamp inset one position from the sides – the plate numbers were were printed in the selvage attached to the corner stamps, themselves.

The long guidelines which previously extended through the entire sheet were replace with much smaller ones (less than one inch in length and these are rarely visible on individual panes).

The wider spacing between the center rows of stamps in both directions was retained – allowing for the smaller selvage along the cut sides.

For RW31 (1964-65), the plate number was once again printed in the selvage attached to the stamps inset one position from the sides. As discussed in the plate block introduction, most plate block collectors were confused and asked the post office for plate number blocks of four – when they should have been collected as six.

After the stamps were destroyed, the Scott Specialized Catalogue came out and informed everyone they had made a mistake. At this point, the majority of panes for this issue were broken up so that dealers could sell the desperate collectors a correct plate block – at a substantial premium.

The net effect of this situation was to greatly reduce the number of complete RW31 panes extant. Therefore, when a collector today attempts to acquire a complete pane of this issue, they often get hit with a double whammy, paying a premium for both the pane and the plate block included with it.

Starting with RW67 (2000-01), the number of stamps on the sheets decreased to 80. With the exception of RW70 (2003-04), this continued through RW74 (2007-08). RW70 sheets consisted of 60 stamps.

The sheets of 80 were cut into four smaller panes of 20 stamps (5 x 4), however, each pane had a plate number printed in the selvage attached to the stamp in all four corners. The pane position was indicated by a diagram printed in the bottom selvage on all four panes.

The sheets of 60 were cut into three smaller panes, also consisting of 20 stamps (5 x 4). Once again, each pane had a plate number printed in the selvage attached to the stamps located in all four corners.

The position of the pane (now top, middle or bottom instead of UL, UR, LL or LR) was indicated by a diagram printed in the bottom selvage of each pane.

Starting with RW75 (2008-09) and continuing through RW83 (2016-2017), with the exception of RW77 (2010-11), all sheets consisted of 60 subjects and these were cut down into three panes of 20 (5 x 4) with plate numbers in all four corners and the position (top, middle or bottom) indicated by a diagram printed in the lower selvage.

RW77 sheets consisted of 80 subjects and were cut down into four panes of 20 (5 x 4) with plate numbers in all four corners and the pane position indicated by a diagram in the lower selvage (UL, UR, LL or RR).

Torre-Webster Federal Waterfowl Stamp Prints 1934 – 1969 Archive

The following two galleries contain the combined federal waterfowl stamp print collections of Bill Webster and myself. For decades, Bill and I were the only ones to have succeeded in acquiring a print from each edition for every year. I believe that a few others may have duplicated this feat in recent years.

When The Bill Webster Sale was held by the Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries in March of 2016, I attended and was fortunate to win every lot containing: 1) any paper varieties I was missing and 2) any prints Bill had that might represent a possible upgrade.

This was done with the sole intent of presenting a comprehensive collection in these galleries for reference purposes. Unfortunately, I made an error years ago and when it came time to photograph the collection, found for RW7 (1940) I had a first and two second edition prints, as opposed to the first, second and third I wished to show. When I locate a nice third edition, I will update this gallery.


While the artist does not receive any direct compensation from the federal government for creating artwork for the stamps, they are permitted to produce what have become known as limited edition prints from their original designs and market them to wildlife art enthusiasts and stamp and print collectors.

It may come as a surprise to many collectors, to find that Jay N. "Ding" Darling was not the first artist to produce prints from his federal waterfowl stamp artwork.

The first artist was Richard Bishop in 1936. The publisher for Bishop's prints was Abercrombie & Fitch in New York and the edition size was not limited. In fact, Bishop is known to have produced a relatively large number of prints (in many different batches) throughout his lifetime, including a significant quantity shortly before his death in 1975.

Darling did not produce prints of his RW1 (1934) design until 1944. It also was unlimited. As I have noted elsewhere on this website, since that time, each artist has issued (for the most part) limited edition prints of their artwork on an annual basis.

Together with artist copies of the original winning entry (discussed above), this allows for a large number of people to own and enjoy a bona fide piece of art that was either produced directly by the artist's hand or with the assistance of a third party (printer and/or publisher) at the artist's direction.

When an artist produces a limited edition print, he must decide on a size for the edition. The earliest print to have a set edition size was in 1935, by artist Frank Benson. Benson chose to produce 100 prints, only. In other words, after the single edition sold out, Benson chose not to produce any additional prints.

If an edition sold out and the artist decided to release additional prints at a later date, the design was often modified slightly and these were considered to be a distinct separate edition. Depending on the demand and the artist's inclination, there could be a second, third fourth, or even fifth edition.

There were often noted in pencil when the artist signed the prints. Otherwise, they can be differentiated by the slight design modification and/or the method of producing the print itself. For example, Leslie C. Kouba chose to produce the first edition of RW25 (1958) prints as a stone lithograph and the second edition as a drypoint etching with aquatint.

For a detailed discussion of these two methods, see My Favorite Federal Duck Stamp  – Part Four. Through RW36 (1969), all federal first edition prints were produced in some shade of black ink on a variety of white papers. The method of production in the vast majority of cases was either engraving or lithograph.

Condition. Early (black and white) federal waterfowl stamp prints were sold and (usually) framed during a period of time prior to today's "museum" standards. 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. However, the original margins cannot be restored.

Therefore, when purchasing an early federal print, it is wise to keep two things in mind: 1) the cost of professional conservation (often referred to as restoration) has risen dramatically over the last 20 years and 2) if a print has less than one inch margins at the top, either side or below the signature – the piece is considered to have a serious defect and should be valued accordingly.

On the other hand, prints that have already been properly conserved or restored by a qualified professional and have adequate margins should definitely sell for a premium going forward. If an early black and white print has never been framed, the premium may be substantial.


Torre-Webster Federal Waterfowl Stamp Prints 1970 – Date Archive


Starting with the two RW37 (1970) editions by Edward J. Bierly, all federal waterfowl stamp prints were produced in multicolor. This coincided (and quite likely contributed to) the boom in collecting waterfowl stamp and limited edition prints, in general, that took place during the 1970s.

Not only were the prints available in full color, the collector was often able to secure a small original embellishment on the print itself, done in the artists own hand. This miniature original art addition was sometimes drawn in pencil and sometimes (at a higher fee) drawn in color. It is known as a remarque.

The RW41 (1974) print, released by artist David Maass through Wild Wings of Lake City, MN, was a revelation during this period of exponentially increasing interest in limited edition prints.

The artwork was exceptional, the artist was enjoying widespread popularity and the demand for wildlife art was at an all-time high. Sensing this "perfect storm", Wild Wings President Bill Webster took the unusual step (during this time) of making the edition size unlimited.

Prior to 1974, no federal waterfowl stamp edition had ever exceded 1,000 prints. Although not common knowledge, Bill told me that actual sales figures for the Maass piece approached 4,000 prints! This gives you an idea of the fever-pitch that existed during this time. The 1974 print is still very popular today.

The RW43 (1976) print is an interesting case. While at first glance it appears to be printed in black ink on white paper, it is a true multicolor piece. According to Duck Stamp Prints, by Stearns and Fink, three colors were used: warm black, cool black and sepia.

RW50 (1984) marked the 50th anniversary of the federal waterfowl stamp program. To Commemorate this event, the artist, William Morris, produced a special Anniversary Edition which included a gold-colored circular medallion.

Interest in the medallion edition was very high (I sold 275, myself) and this became a precedent-setting event. From this point on, every artist offered a medallion edition in addition to what (then) became known as the regular edition.

Condition. Starting in the late 1970s and well under way by the early 1980s, there was a revolution of sorts within the framing industry. Museum standards became adopted, gradually, from coast to coast.

The primary principle of museum standards is that nothing should come into contact with the piece of art (in this case a print) that is not completely acid free and ph neutral.

This includes mat board and foam core board (typically, the foam core serves as backing and is place behind the mat board). This results in the elimination of discoloration (more pronounced along the beveled or otherwise cut edge of the mat board immediately surrounding the image area) that is otherwise produced by the leaching of acid from the board into the paper the art is printed on.

The second level of museum standards calls for the complete elimination of tape – even so called acid free or "museum quality" tape – and using corner mounts to affix the art to the mat board.

Do not allow yourself to be convinced otherwise by framers claiming to use museum tape that is "completely" or "easily" removable. My experience with these products is that, after a period of time, they are more difficult to remove than ordinary masking tape.

Commercial photo corner mounts have a hard edge that, after a period of time, may result in impressions in the corners of the print. The best way to deal with this is to offer to pay the framer a little extra to hand-tear and fold corner mounts from acid free paper. The torn (ragged) edge is positioned so that it comes into contact with the print. The torn edge results in the elimination of the hard edge and any subsequent indentations.

The final element to museum standards is to use UV resistant glass or (preferably) acrylic to help protect the framed art and any stamps from the deleterious effects caused by sunlight and certain kinds of artificial light. With multicolor prints and stamps, prolonged exposure to UV light can result in irreversible fading.

Please note I stated UV resistant. One should still avoid placing the art on a wall that is exposed to direct sunlight. In addition, keep in mind UV resistant products are not forever.

The products contain thousands of molecules that each neutralize a photon of light. Once all of the molecules are used up (six months to ten years depending upon exposure) – you are left with an ordinary glazing product. In other words, the UV glass or acrylic must be changed periodically.

In general, colored federal waterfowl stamp prints that have not been framed according to museum standards – have greatly diminished to zero collector value. This is in direct relationship to the age of the piece (and the gradual adoption of the standards). Please bear this in mind when it comes time to sell.