In today’s post, we follow the Carnahan family to Nashville. It is in Nashville, while working for the Tennessee Game and Fish Commission, that Worth finally realizes his childhood dream and he becomes a real stamp designer. Unlike other staff artists, Worth B. Carnahan does not design your typical fish and game stamps – his stamps are special.
A Unique Background
As we have seen in parts one and two, Worth had a unique background for a stamp designer. He spent the first twenty years of his career creating covers for girlie pulps during the Great Depression and comic books during WWII.
As a young artist designing some of the first girlie pulp covers, Worth demonstrated an ability to create images that were both attractive and alluring. Later, along with the other artists who worked at Adolphe Barreaux’s studios for Harry Donenfeld, Worth was trained to to design seductive covers that would compete on the newsstands for the attention of those who wanted – needed – to be captivated and transported to a transient fantasyland.
His covers were, in a way, carefully designed advertising posters. Posters that advertised escapism and pleasure. They featured an evocative vignette which frequently had a powerful effect on the viewer. But the vignette was not not the only important element.
While working for Adolphe Barreaux, Worth learned that the process for selecting just the right colors was essential for creating the desired mood. Also, the lettering should complement and not detract from the artwork in the final product.
Worth learned the value of color proofing – going to the effort of printing his design in a variety of different colors so as to be able to determine which one combined with the artwork to deliver the most visual impact.
The best stamp designs have often been compared to small posters. When the time came for Worth to design fish and game stamps, his small posters did not disappoint.
At the end of part two, I stated that the Carnahan family moved to Nashville (Elizabeth’s hometown) following WWII. This is the way all of the comic book historians have recorded it.
When interviewing Worth’s daughter, Cynthia Carnahan, for this series of posts she informed me that her older brother, Robert, was actually born in Nashville on May 6, 1944.
This means one of two things; either 1) Elizabeth and Cynthia’s two older sisters moved to Nashville ahead of Worth, who remained in NYC to wrap up business commitments prior to rejoining his family or 2) the comic book historians have the date wrong and the entire Carnahan family moved out to Nashville in 1944 – prior to the end of the war.
At any rate, upon arriving in Nashville, Worth immediately set up shop as a freelance commercial illustrator. It was during this period that he designed the logo for Duck Head Jeans.
Duck Head was founded in Nashville by George and Joe O’Brian in 1865. Early on, the company specialized in manufacturing heavy canvas work clothes. They constructed their work clothes from surplus tent material obtained from the U.S. Army.
As time went on, the company began to produce more upscale clothing and Duck Head became a fashionable brand. In the 1940s, Duck Head was still focused on work clothes and Worth designed some of their advertising materials (see Figure 1).
Worth also created covers, illustrations and layout for 28 issues of The Burning Question, the pulp-like official publication of the Nashville subsidiary of the Universal Coal Company (see Figure 2).
At this point Worth was accepting a wide range of commercial work, attempting to find a place for himself in Nashville that would make the most of his talents as an illustrator. The Carnahan family provided a photo of Worth working in his studio during this time (see Figure 3).
One of his freelance assignments was for the Tennessee Game and Fish Commission, creating a brochure and map titled Tennessee Fish – and where to catch them (see Figure 4).
Apparently the Game and Fish Commission was pleased with the his work, as Worth was soon employed full time by the Commission as an illustrator. When the Commission began requiring sportsmen to purchase big game and trout stamps in the mid 1950s, it was Worth B. Carnahan who designed nearly all of them.
Before we get into the stamps, themselves, I would like to provide some additional background information and then reveal the inspiration for this series of posts.
A Survey of the Philatelic Literature
The first to report on the Tennessee Big Game and Trout stamps was Joseph Janousek. This occurred in his State Game Hunting and Fishing Revenue Stamps column in The American Revenuer, published in January, 1960.
By this time the Big Game stamps had been discontinued so Janousek’s listings were complete for this series, starting with the first stamp issued in 1955-56 and ending with the last stamp issued for 1958-59.
In addition to the regularly issued stamps, Janousek reported Big Game proofs as follows: 1955-56 (head of deer), one proof in crimson red; 1956-57 (leaping deer), two [trial color] proofs in deep green and sepia brown; 1957-58 (Wild turkey in flight), three [trial color] proofs in brown, maroon and olive green and 1958-59 (bear), five [bi-color trial color] proofs in black on light green, blue green, brown, blue and red paper.
As the Trout stamp series was then current, Janousek listed only the first three stamps, starting with 1956-57 (a decal) and ending with 1958-59.
In addition to the regularly issued stamps, Janousek reported Trout proofs as follows: 1957-58 (Rainbow trout), three [trial color] proofs in deep blue, blue green and deep brown and 1958-59 (leaping trout), four [trial color] proofs in green on white, green on blue, green on brown and green on yellow paper (see Figure 5).
In Applegate’s Catalog of State and Territorial Game and Fishing License Stamps, published in 1963, Frank Applegate listed four additional Trout stamps, 1959-60 through 1962-63. Applegate did not list any essays or proofs (see Figure 6).
Seven years later, E.L. Vanderford updated Janousek’s original Tennessee Big Game and Trout listings and they were published in the July 1970 issue of The State Revenue Newsletter.
By this point Van had corresponded extensively with Worth. In the Introduction to the Big Game listings, Van stated “Designer of all stamps was Worth B. Carnahan of Nashville to whom appreciation is due for providing printing and technical information in the following listings.”
For the first (1955-56) Big Game stamp, Van stated “The design was originally proofed and accepted in a rich ruby red and [the] color as issued was actually a printer’s error.”
With the help of Worth, Van was able to provide descriptions of additional essays and proofs for the remaining Big Game stamps. He concluded the section by stating “Stamps were discontinued after [the] 1958-59 season and superseded with booklets of tags” (see Figures 7 and 8).
Van stated that “With the exception of the 1956-57 issue… the designer of all [trout] stamps through 1963-64 was Worth B. Carnahan.” As the trout stamps were discontinued following the 1968-69 season, Van’s Tennessee Trout stamp listings were complete and he also added descriptions of many additional proofs. For the 1957-58 issue, Van stated “First trial color proof in brown showed 1957 year date and was rejected” (see Figure 9).
For the 1958-59 issue, Van listed a variety he assigned Type II. He described the variety as “Same as Type I except issued in horizontal strips of 5 imperf at top and bottom…” He added “These stamps were cut in strips from a limited number of 25 stamp sheets which had been perforated vertically only and was an experiment to placate license agents who criticized the full sheets as being too large and cumbersome” (see Figure 10).
For the 1960-61 issue, Van stated “First design submitted was proofed on red on white paper and red on buff paper but was rejected as having too small as serial number panel.” Van’s listings concluded with the stamps issued from 1964-65 through 1968-69 that were not thought to have been designed by Worth (see Figures 11 and 12).
Next, I would like to discuss the sources of Worth’s Tennessee stamps to the collector market.
Worth B. Carnahan as a Primary Source
Worth had access to the archival material for his stamp designs and obtained such items for collectors Morton Dean Joyce, E.L. Vanderford, Les Lebo and Barry Porter (and possibly others).
In addition to the archival material, Worth also had in his possession at the time of his death, large quantities of two regularly-issued trout stamps. In the case of Joyce, it seems that Worth offered him Tennessee stamps for sale (see Figure 13).
At this point there is no way to know if Worth paid full face value for the stamps and was merely trying to recover his cost – or if he was (as Joyce was known as well healed collector) attempting to make a profit.
Until just recently, the two (secondary) philatelic sources for virtually all of the Tennessee stamps designed by Worth were Les Lebo and Barry Porter. This is especially true for the essay, proofs and errors.
Les Lebo was one of the preeminent pioneer fish and game collectors and an exhibitor. Barry Porter was a fish and game collector (who specialized in a just a few states, including Tennessee) and was one of the first (1970s) dealers to specialize in fish and game stamps. Both lived in Tennessee and both are members of the Fish and Game Collectors Hall of Fame.
The Les Lebo Connection
When I first visited with Les at his home in Knoxville back in the 1980s, I was surprised by the depth of his Tennessee archival material. He had virtually everything listed by Janousek and Vanderford – and more. Les told me he was given them by his son, Eugene.
Gene Lebo was attending graduate school (Biology) at the University of Tennessee in the 1960s. In 1965 and 1966 he participated in a work experience program with the Game and Fish Commission. Along with another grad student and a full time Game and Fish officer, Mike Stubbs, they made up a three-man team that worked summers surveying warm water streams throughout the state.
They worked out of an office located in the State Headquarters Building in downtown Nashville. One day Gene was walking by an office (Printing Department?) two floors above his own and noticed a sheet of current trout stamps on the counter. He walked in and introduced himself, then told the office supervisor that his dad was a serious stamp collector who loved fish and game stamps. He asked if he could have some for his dad.
The supervisor told Gene he could not give him any regularly-issued stamps as they were only for sale and had to be accounted for. However, he did have in the office many older essays, proofs and errors that could not be sold to the public.
These were all designed by Worth B. Carnahan and (over time) he gave samples of these to Gene and he, in turn, gave them to Les. According to Gene, he was given a number of them on five or six separate occasions over the two year period he was employed by the Commission.
Gene also recalls the first item that really got his dad excited, a lettering proof for the 1958-59 Tennessee Big Game stamp. The proof has tremendous eye appeal (see Figure 14), was unlisted by Janousek and, to this day, remains only example recorded.
As Gene was given multiple items on many different days, there were a fair number of duplicates. When Les acquired duplicates, he traded them to E.L. Vanderford, other pioneer collectors and to Barry Porter.
He also traded a number of items to David Curtis of Killeen, Texas – who was both a serious collector and, along with Porter, one of the earlier fish and game dealers. Curtis is another member of our Hall of Fame.
When it came time for Les to sell, he allowed me to acquire his Tennessee fish and game collection, including Worth’s essays, proofs and errors that Gene had obtained from the Commission.
The Barry Porter Connection
Barry Porter spent his entire life living in the greater Nashville area. Growing up, he was a member of the Nashville Philatelic Society, whose members included Worth B. Carnahan and Les Lebo (although Les is better remembered as a founding member of the Knoxville Philatelic Society).
The original artwork for the 1959 4 1/2 cent regular issue U.S. stamp is believed by the Carnahan family to have been created by Worth. Although this makes sense and there is no reason to doubt it, unfortunately, I have been unable to locate any records verifying this. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing records specify the BEP stamp designer – but not the artist who created the original art.
The first day cover ceremony for the stamp was held at the 1959 Stamp Exhibition, sponsored by the Nashville Philatelic Society. The cachet (the illustration at the left side of the envelope) was created by Worth (see Figure 15) and the cover below is shown courtesy of the Carnahan family.
Barry Porter almost certainly knew Worth from stamp club meetings, and since he was a collector of Tennessee fish and game stamps – and a fish and game dealer – Porter would have eagerly obtained archival material directly from Worth, who clearly had access to it.
Porter subsequently traded and sold duplicates to E.L. Vanderford, Les Lebo, David Curtis and myself. This leads us up to the inspiration for this series of posts.
The Carnahan Fish and Game Archive
On October 15, 1971 Elizabeth died at the age of 62. After this, Worth moved into a family rental that was subsequently purchased by their son, Robert. This is where Worth moved all of his belongings and lived out the rest of his life. He passed away on June 26, 1973. Worth was 77 years old.
After Worth passed, it was up to Robert to decide what to do with his father’s things. Unfortunately, Robert was one of the few members of the Carnahn family that did not become an artist. Therefore, he could neither understand nor appreciate what he was looking at when he went through Worth’s personal archive and collections.
He sold the rental and moved all of his father’s things into storage. For the better part of forty plus years, until Robert died on July 19, 2016, the boxes containing Worth’s possessions were stored in a barn on Robert’s farm in White’s Creek, Tennessee (a suburb north of Nashville).
After Robert passed, his daughter, Mary, called Worth’s youngest daughter (her aunt) and told her “We have a lot of boxes of your dad’s stuff here – come and get it”. Mary’s aunt’s name is Cynthia and she would eventually give up a great deal of her time to help me with this series of posts.
Cynthia and her husband, Dan, drove the 300 miles from their home in Bristol, Tennessee to White’s Creek and picked up the “stuff”. It consisted of 8-10 boxes, which included samples of Worth’s work, including many of the original girlie pulps and Golden Age comics.
In addition, there was one box that had “Trout Stamps” written across it. This box contained samples of all of Worth’s Tennessee stamps, including some previously unrecorded varieties, as well as large quantities of two of the trout stamps, from 1957-58 and 1962-63. In addition, there were quantities of two Big Game items whose original purpose is not completely understood.
The boxes had not been stored properly and had been subjected to decades of humidity and pest depredations. While many of the items were damaged beyond salvation, others were not. Inside the bigger box there were two cigar boxes.
The cigar boxes had been bundled with many rubber bands and their contents were fairly well preserved. Each box had a trout stamp affixed to the lid and when Cynthia opened the boxes, she found hundreds of stamps inside them (see Figures 16, 17 and 18).
Located throughout the rest of the larger box were much smaller quantities (usually 1-3) of each Tennessee fish and game stamp Worth had designed, including essays, proofs and errors. There were also a few surprises that I will save for now.
This was Worth’s personal collection of the stamps he had designed for the State of Tennessee. The condition – after nearly two decades of improper storage – was mixed. However, I feel we should be appreciative for the handful of previously unrecorded items that survived unscathed.
The first thing that Cynthia did was look up “Tennessee Trout stamps” on Ebay. She found a listing for one of the 1957-58 stamps by revenue dealer Eric Jackson. Cynthia obtained Eric’s contact information online and called him with the news of her discovery.
Eric then called me and added that a preliminary google search for Worth B. Carnahan showed that he was a comic book illustrator and publisher during the Golden Age. It was during my Halloween break and I was focussed on other things, however, it did not take long for me to realize this all had the makings of a great story.
After months of negotiations, Eric purchased the archive from the Carnahan family. Then Cynthia and I began to search for everything we could find connected to her father, Worth B. Carnahan, for the purposes of creating this series of posts.