From Girlie Pulps to Trout Stamps – Part Six

In the conclusion to this series, we will finish looking at the trout stamps Worth designed for the Tennessee Game and Fish Commission. We will see one of his gems, then take a close look at the 1962-63 design and end with a revealing discussion regarding the 1963-64 issue. In the Handbook of Fish and Game Stamps, E.L. Vanderford stated this was Worth’s last stamp – but was it, really?

A long-standing mystery is solved along the way and a few new surprises are in store; so join us for the final chapter in the saga of Worth B. Carnahan, the artist, illustrator and publisher who went from girlie pulps to trout stamps.


The 1960-61 Trout stamps

The 1960-61 issue is a favorite among fish and game collectors. It features a trout leaping toward the right. Worth’s engaging design includes a background consisting of a river scene within a series of concentric circles. The juxtaposition of the trout over the background creates a powerful image that draws the viewer’s eye. The effect is further enhanced by the stamp’s bold red color.

In a normal production schedule, essays precede proofs of the accepted design. The archival material in the collection of Les Lebo included an essay for this stamp in deep blue. What makes the piece so stunning – aside from the color – is the fact that the design is a mirror image of the stamp, literally (see Figure 1).



Figure 1. 1960-61 Trout mirror essay, ex Lebo.



In the case of proofs for the 1960-61 issue, Vanderford stated “[The] first design submitted was proofed as red on white paper and red on buff paper but was rejected as having too small a serial number panel…”  Les had these two items in his collection and likely provided descriptions to Van (see Figures 2 and 3).



Figure 2. 1960-61 Trout essay, ex Lebo.



Figure 3. 1960-61 Trout essay, ex Lebo.



As the serial number panel on the “proofs” described by Vanderford is smaller than on the accepted design, they are not actually proofs – they are essays. Van went on to state, “Proofs of [the] stamp as accepted are imperf and red on white paper”. Les did not have an example of the accepted proof and I never knew what it looked like, until the recent discovery of the Carnahan Archive.

For this reason, there has always been some confusion about the 1960-61 Trout archival material. Worth’s personal collection included a second example of the mirror essay. Fortunately, it also contained “the missing link” that allows for everything to make sense.

It now appears Worth knew he wanted the stamp printed in red ink. He submitted the proofs shown in Figures 2 and 3 to the Game and Fish Commissioners. They then chose white paper over buff.

Prior to printing the stamps, it was determined the number panel was too small. Worth submitted a third proof with an enlarged panel in red on white (see Figure 4). It was accepted for the actual stamp design and this, in effect, caused the first two proofs to become essays.



Figure 4. 1960-6- Trout proof, ex Carnahan Archive.



Then, after the final proof was accepted, someone – likely one of the Commissioners – decided they wanted to see what the stamp would look like if the orientation was changed so the trout was jumping toward the left. Hence the mirror essay (see Figure 5).



Figure 5, 1960-61 Trout proof, ex Carnahan Archive (left) and mirror essay, ex Lebo (right).



It is unconventional, to say the least, for an essay to be created at this stage in the process. This occurrence may be unique to the Tennessee Trout series and I find it to be fascinating.

The stamp, as issued, was perforated 12 1/2 and includes a black serial number in the enlarged panel (see Figure 6). Vanderford stated “[The stamps] were from sheets of 25 (5 x 5) with perforated selvage on all four sides.



Figure 6. Enlarged 1960-61 Trout stamp, ex Curtis.



The 1961-62 Trout Stamps

The 1961-62 issue features a trout leaping to the left (whoever requested the mirror essay the previous year got his wish). At this point, Worth was at the top of his creative game as a stamp designer and decided to try something avant-garde.

According to Vanderford, he submitted proofs to the Commissioners in gold and silver ink. I have never seen a gold proof but as we will soon see, it must have existed at one time. Les had a silver trial color proof and another in what looks to me like bronze ink (see Figure 7). The Carnahan Archive also contained two proofs. However, they were both silver.



Figure 7. 1961-62 Trout trial color proofs, ex Lebo.



The 1961-62 stamp, as issued, was printed in gold ink with black serial numbers. The stamps were perforated 12 1/2 and issued in sheets of 25 (5 x 5) with a perforated selvage on all four sides (see Figure 8). The gold ink varied throughout the print run, resulting in color shades that are quite disctinct (see Figure 9).



Figure 8. 1961-62 Trout stamps, complete sheet. Note the serial numbering error in position nine.



Figure 9. The 1961-62 Trout stamp can be found in various shades of gold.



The 1962-63 Trout Stamps

As we shall soon see, the 1962-63 issue, ostensibly Worth B. Carnahan’s penultimate Tennessee stamp design, takes on added significance within this series of posts. It is Worth’s second and final vertical Trout stamp design. Therefore, to a large extent, the stamp succeeds in charming collectors based on it’s small poster merits alone.

Clearly, Worth was making a big effort to capture lightning in a bottle for the third time in four years. As a result, his achievement is paradoxical. While the finished product stands as one of the hobby’s most admired stamps, a closer evaluation reveals the 1962-63 design to be somewhat more equivocal – even hackneyed –  as it combines the key elements from his two previous classics.

The central trout image is virtually identical to the one on the 1959-60 issue (right down to the falling droplets of water) and the circular background – while favored by Worth going back to his earliest pulp days – seems relatively impotent, as issued, when compared to the enticing concentric circles on the 1961-62 issue.

What is meritorious about Worth’s 1962-63 effort is that he created and submitted proofs to the Game and Fish Commission in no less than ten different colors – the most for any fish and game stamp on record. He was definitely pulling out all the stops. More on this later.

Despite creating one of these proofs in black ink (see Figure 10), it seems fairly obvious that Worth desired for this stamp to be printed in blue; nine of the ten proofs are various shades of this color (see Figures 11 and 12). For my money, black on white would have made the circular background more effective, resulting in another classic image.



Figure 10. Enlarged 1962-63 Trout trial color proof, ex Lebo.



Figure 11. 1962-63 Trout trial color proofs, ex Lebo.



As the darkest shade of blue was approved by the Commission for the regularly issued stamp, it is a proof. The other eight shades of blue, along with the black, are trial color proofs. For images of all the different 1962-63 trial color proofs, see the Lebo Tennessee Trout Essays and Proofs Gallery.

The stamp is perforated 12 1/2 and, according to Vanderford, was printed from sheets of 25 (5 x 5) with a perforated selvage on all four sides. The stamps, as issued, had a red serial number inside the tablet at the bottom. Again, very similar to the 1959-60 issue (see Figure 12).



Figure 12. 1962-63 Trout proof, ex Lebo (left) and the stamp as issued (right).



Stamps without serial numbers are unsold remainders or printer’s waste. In addition, the cigar box of 1962-63 Trout stamps from the Carnahan Archive included printer’s waste with serial numbers. All of these stamps have two digit serial numbers and there are many with duplicate serial numbers. One of the coolest things to come out of the Carnahan Archive was eight pairs of these stamps, each one imperforate between (see Figure 13).



Figure 13. 1962-63 Trout printer’s waste, imperforate between pair, ex Carnahan Archive.



Once again, I have an example used on the reverse of a Non-Resident 3-Day Sport Fishing Only License to share (see Figure 14).



Figure 14. 1962-63 Trout stamp affixed to the reverse of a Non-Resident 3-Day Sport Fishing Only License.



The 1963-64 Trout Stamps

As you may recall from part three, in his preface to his Tennessee Trout Stamp listings in the SRN and the Handbook of Fish and Game Stamp Stamps, Vanderford stated “With the exception of the 1956-57 issue [which we now know to be the 1955-57 isssue]… the designer of all [trout] stamps through 1963-64 was Worth B. Carnahan”.

The 1963-64 issue features a trout leaping toward the right for a fly at the end of a fishing line (something Worth had never done before). The stamp, as issued, was printed in green ink on white paper with a red serial number (see Figure 15).



Figure 15. 1963-64 Trout stamp.



I am not convinced Worth designed the 1963-64 issue. With all the research I have done for this series of posts – I have been unable to find any evidence to directly refute Vanderford’s statement. However, I cannot find anything to verify this is actually the work of Worth B. Carnahan, either.

While the trout motif bears a resemblance to his work – the design is hardly innovative and it does not otherwise measure up to Worths’ previous stamps. Further, we know that Worth was nothing, if not committed to the proofing process – part of the work ethic and attention to detail developed while working for Adolphe Barreaux and Harry Donenfeld.

Consider the following: 1) Les Lebo had no archival material for the 1963-64 issue in his collection, despite the fact that Gene was working for the Commission well after this time, in 1965 and 1966 and 2) When the Carnahan Archive was discovered last summer, not only was there no archival material for the 1963-64 issue – there wasn’t even a single copy of the regularly issued stamp.

If my hunch is correct, the 1962-63 issue was actually the last Tennessee Trout stamp designed by Worth B. Carnahan. This would explain why Worth tried so hard to make the 1962-63 stamp memorable. It would also explain why he kept a cigar box full of them – they would be treasured mementos of his swan song as a stamp designer.



Post-Carnahan Trout Stamps

Regardless of whether or not he actually designed the 1963-64 stamp, the Tennessee Trout series did not end with Worth B. Carnahan. Tennessee continued to print and issue trout stamps through 1968-69. All of the issues after 1963-64 shared the same design, featuring a fisherman standing on a river bank with a rod extended before him (see Figure 16).



Figure 16. 1964-65 Trout stamp, ex Curtis.



The expiration date and colors changed from year to year, from red (1964-65) to black (1965-66), blue (1966-67), green (1967-68) and red again (1968-69). Click here to see images of all the Tennessee Trout stamps.

These stamps were issued in sheets of 25 (5 x 5), with straight edges on all four sides of the sheet, through 1966-67 (see Figure 17).



Figure 17. 1965-66 Trout, complete sheet. Note the straight edges on all four sides.



Starting with the 1967-68 issue, the stamps were issued in horizontal booklet panes of five (5 x 1) with a tab at the left. According to Les Lebo’s exhibit, five panes were stapled together to form a booklet (see Figure 18).



Figure 18. Les Lebo’s 1967-68 to 1968-69 Tennessee Trout exhibit page.



The Tennessee Trout stamp series came to an end following the 1968-69 season. Although relatively short-lived (13 issues), the set was a favorite among the pioneer fish and game collectors and remains extremely popular today.



Worth B. Carnahan was an avid stamp collector as a youth. As Worth grew up in Washington, D.C., he was able to frequent The Bureau of Engraving and Printing. While observing the Bureau’s talented artisans, the stamp design process captured his imagination.

A natural and gifted artist, Worth longed to design stamps himself, but instead chose a more practical career in commercial illustration. During the Roaring Twenties, the first girlie pulps became tremendously popular on the newsstands and it was not long before Worth became heavily involved.

Worth moved to New York City and came to work in the studios of Adolphe Barreaux, an entrepreneur who supplied artwork for the various pulps produced by Harry Donenfeld. During the Great Depression, Worth and Barreaux’s other artists were kept busy creating alluring covers and interior illustrations for Donenfeld’s burgeoning pulp media empire.

When presented with the opportunity, Worth created his stamp pages for non-girlie pulps, such as The Lone Ranger Magazine. This allowed him to partially fulfill a childhood dream by designing stamp illustrations. The pulps also provided him with an outlet with which to inform young people about stamp collecting.

When Donenfeld segued into comic books, he incorporated Barreaux’s studio into what would soon become D.C. Comics. Worth subsequently became involved in all facets of comic book production, including editing and publishing. In comics, Worth found the perfect vehicle to continue to expand upon his stamp pages.

Toward the end of WWII, Worth and his family moved to Nashville, the childhood home of his wife, Elizabeth. In Nashville, Worth finally found his calling as an actual stamp designer for the Tennessee Game and Fish Commission.

During the middle part of the 20th Century, Worth B. Carnahan drew upon his unique background to create some of the greatest stamp designs in fish and game history. In so doing, he left a lasting mark on the hobby he loved.



I would like to thank Eric Jackson for providing me with the initial inspiration for this series of posts. Throughout the process Eric helped by answering many questions and proved to be more than a capable proofreader; Ricky and Gene Lebo for providing details about Gene’s involvement in obtaining archival material from the Tennessee Game and Fish Commission for his dad (and my old friend), Les; Mary and especially Cynthia Carnahan, for working with me to make this series of posts as good as it could be. Thank you, Cindi, for taking such a deep interest in your dad’s life and work; my talented son Eric for his technical support, including the many beautiful composites and my wife, Kay, for her never-ending patience. 



Wild Cherries #1 cover by Worth B. Carnahan.




  1. Cynthia Carnahan on February 4, 2017 at 12:54 am

    Thank you so much for you inexhaustible time and energy researching this amazing series of articles about my dad. I know he would have been proud.

    • David M. Smith on February 6, 2017 at 5:08 am

      Wow. I am blown away by all this information about my grandfather, only parts of which I was aware of before. Thank you so much David and Cindi for all your diligence in compiling this. One of my fondest childhood memories is the love of stamp collecting by grandfather Carnahan instilled in me, for all the good reasons he wrote of on the stamp pages I had not seen until today.

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