Starting today, we will take a look at highlights from the Ken Pruess collection. Ken was the last of the great pioneer fish and game collectors. What separated Ken from his peers, however, is that he was very involved in all aspects of organized philately. While Morton Dean Joyce, Joseph Janousek, Mrs Robert Powell and Les Lebo all became philatelic exhibitors – Ken advanced to become the editor of a philatelic publication, a show organizer, an American Philatelic Society accredited judge and a writer of philatelic awards criteria.
The result was a collection with a level of sophistication not seen in the likes of other collectors who, invariably, were much better known in the hobby. Ken’s fish and game collection was traditional in nature, meaning that it’s scope entailed essays, proofs, multiples, errors and usages with no one element overly dominant and no relative weaknesses. In other word’s, Ken’s collection was capable of telling the complete story.
Having said that, it should come as no surprise that there were literally thousands of items in Ken’s fish and game collection and hundreds of note. I am now put in the position of having to choose but a few to highlight and discuss. I have decided to select a mixture of rare, discovery, interesting and favorites – some Ken’s and some mine.
We will see items from selected states, listed alphabetically. Within each state, I will try to discuss items chronologically. Taken all together, this overview is intended to accurately reflect the nature of Ken’s collection and tell the story of U.S. fish and game stamps.
The Ken Pruess Collection
Ken had all of the Alaska stamps, which were avidly sought by the pioneer collectors. While the first two Sport Fishing stamps for non residents (1951-52 and 1952-53) are generally considered to be the most important in this series, I have chosen to highlight two of my personal favorites from a later (1955-56) issue.
The first is a Type I resident stamp that has full gum and was issued to “John Doe” by a license clerk in Juneau. This stamp holds a secret that has always intrigued me. Given that it is unused and was in Ken’s collection, it almost certainly was issued to one of the other pioneer collectors and then subsequently acquired by Ken – but Who? This stamp represents one of the fish and game hobby’s great mysteries (see Figure 1).
The second is a Type I non resident stamp in similar condition issued to the legendary state revenue dealer, editor of one of the earliest fish and game catalogs and Hall of Famer, Frank Applegate. Frank was very influential in the formative years of the fish and game hobby and was, for many years, the only dealer who specialized in buying and selling fish and game stamps (see Figure 2).
As do bees, Ken had had an affinity for anything having to do with honey. As an Entomologist with the collector “bug”, Ken avidly sought not just philatelic items relating to bees and honey – but his offices at home and on campus were filled with bee and honey “you name it”.
As you can imagine, Ken was enamored with the stamps issued by California for the state-owned and operated wildlife area known as Honey Lake. Back in the 1960s and early 1970s, fish and game dealer Art Soderling had by far the largest stock of Honey Lake stamps. When the time came for Soderling to sell, this was the impetus for Ken to be the high bidder for Soderling’s entire stock.
As I stated in The Honey Lake Waterfowl Stamps, by the time I met Ken in the 1980s, Soderling’s Honey Lake stock had provided Ken with “swapping material” for over a decade and still numbered over 50 stamps. By far and away the biggest prize in Soderling’s stock was a beautiful example of the second issue, 1957-58.
Ken Pruess was the first collector to own an example of this rare stamp. In the day, the Soderling-Pruess stamp was one of the crown jewels of fish and game philately. The stamp had eluded the wealthiest and most prominent collectors of the 1950s and 1960s, Joyce and Powell, respectively, and was the last stamp acquired by E.L. Vanderford (in the late 1970s) to complete his own set.
Soderling had previously refused all offers for his copy – because “he liked owning it”. The stamp, number 137, is now part of Will and Abby Csapar’s award winning exhibit, A License and Stamp System for Waterfowl Conservation in the 20th Century U.S. (see Figure 3).
When F&G seasons were over, California sold remainders of various stamps to collectors at a steep discount. This was a practice put into place by a close friend of Van’s at the Department of Fish and Game (who was obviously influenced by Van). The number of remainders varied, from a very few to hundreds and, in one notable case (the 1981 stamp for Honey Lake), zero.
It is not he 1981 stamp I wish to talk about, however, but the comparatively nondescript 1976-77 Hunting License Validating stamp for Juniors. At the end of the season, there were a total of three booklets of ten stamps left unsold. Ken got his check in first and was able to buy them all.
Soon after receiving and opening the three booklets, Ken noticed that stamps from position one contained a type-setting error; the text under the third line read “Deer Tag No.” (like the line above it) instead of “Bear Tag No.” This has become known as the “Deer/Deer Error”.
Ken broke up two of the booklets and I was able to acquire one of the error stamps for my second exhibit, U.S. Fish and Game Stamps: 1960 – 1979 (see Figure 4).
Ken Kept the third and final booklet intact. When the Csaplars started to think about exhibiting, they wished to obtain a copy of the error. Ken sent me a photocopy of the booklet (see Figure 5), which I used to broker the deal.
Upon arriving at the Csaplars, I was looking at the booklet while waiting for them to come into the room. It was then that I made a remarkable discovery – one which had eluded everyone, Ken and myself included, for over two decades.
Stamps from position nine have “Dear Tag No.” printed under the first line, in error, instead of “Deer Tag No.” Even more remarkable, after Will and Abby had entered the room and I showed them this, Will looked in his collection and found that he had one pair of the 1976-77 Junior stamp – and, of course, one of the stamps was from position nine! I was able to work out a trade with the Csaplars for the pair, since they now had the complete booklet, and left very pleased (see Figure 6).
Colorado was Ken’s favorite place to spend time, fishing in streams and at Lake Agnes. It is only natural that when it came to fish and and stamps, Colorado was his favorite state to collect. The fact that he spent so much time there allowed him to make many contacts and they helped make this area of his fish and game collection one of the best.
One of the best items in Ken’s entire fish and game collection was the unused 1973 North Central Goose stamp. This waterfowl stamp was previously unknown to collectors and even escaped Ken and Van’s scrutiny at the apex of their research – being issued in the very year they published the Handbook of Fish and Game Stamps.
On July 19, 1976, Ken wrote Van a letter. In it he says, “Just a quick note to let you know of some material I have acquired. Bought a beautiful collection of Colorado revenue stamps which included the following…” He then proceeded to list and describe all of the items, the first of which was the North Central Goose stamp.
Van immediately contacted Robert L. Bevard, a license officer for the Colorado Wildlife Commission. From Bevard, Van learned “1973 was the only year as a stamp – later years as metal bands. Used around Fort Collins and about 50 miles eastward. Valid for any legal goose (Van’s pencil notations on Ken’s original letter). Most important to Van, he was able to persuade the license officer to sell him one of the obsolete stamps.
In E.L. Vanderford: 1913 – 1994, I stated that “Van always favored waterfowl stamps in general because of his love of duck hunting; the  Pymatuning and Colorado Goose stamps were two of his most prized possessions until he allowed me to acquire them in 1991”.
I already had Van’s example in my collection (see Figure 8) when the Csaplars were in the process of gathering material for their upcoming exhibit. Therefore, I was only too willing to broker a deal between some of my closest friends. Currently, Ken’s favorite fish and game stamp is featured in the international version of the Csaplars exhibit (see Figure 9).
As Ken loved to fish, he was especially fond of the Colorado Additional and Second Rod stamps. These stamps have always been fairly difficult for collectors to acquire, especially in unused condition. Ken, however, made this one of his missions in life. I assisted him with this pursuit for many years and, eventually, Ken was able to build a fine collection for himself (see Figure 9).
In the same specialized Colorado revenue collection that Ken acquired the North Central Goose stamp, he also acquired several panes of Second Rod stamps that were overprinted “VOID”. The serial numbers on some of the panes are irregular and we do not know for certain the purpose of these stamps today.
The collector that Ken bought them from said they were used in “training purposes”. I now believe they may have been overprinted by the Department of Game and Fish, themselves, and used as specimens or samples to show the printer what they wanted when ordering the next year’s stamps.
At any rate, the VOID overprints are really bold and cool looking. I tried to get Ken to part with them off and on for 30 years. On occasion he would sell or trade me a duplicate single and, once, even a complete overprinted pane. A few months ago, Ken finally allowed me to acquire the rest of the collection. A couple of the panes can be seen in Figure 10.
Little did I know at the time – this would be the last of over a hundred deals (made over three decades) that Ken and I would make together.
While the Colorado stamps were Ken’s favorites, those from Delaware were a close second. This was largely owing to the the design on their trout stamps, featuring a trout leaping from the water in pursuit of a fly.
The Delaware trout series includes many scarce to very rare stamps and Ken had them all. I have chosen to discuss the stamps from two years, 1968 and 1976. The 1968 stamp is one of the rarest and was not included in the packs when they were first offered. For this stamp, Ken had the O.R. Bloom example with the original application (carbon) showing it was stamp number 20 sold that year (see Figures 11a and b).
Bloom was a serious state revenue enthusiast who served in various capacities for the SRS, including on the Board of Governors. He worked with Ken on numerous projects and they became close. Eventually, Ken was able to purchase his entire collection.
As the Delaware trout stamps were of such interest to Ken, he kept in close contact with the Delaware Division of Wildlife License Section. This would prove of great value in the spring of 1976. That year, Delaware printed stamps with the leaping trout design as always. However, since it was the Bicentennial year, state officials decided to part with tradition and have newly designed stamps printed and issued.
According to an article in the The Morning News from Wilmington, Delaware on February 11, 1976 (page 39) with the headline Stamps For Trout Go On Sale, “From the Dover Bureau: Trout stamps for the 1976 fishing season went on sale yesterday. The stamps, which cost $2.10 each for residents and $5.25 for non-residents will commemorate the Bicentennial with a scene of the Brandywine River. They are sale at Sporting goods stores, hardware stores, and wherever hunting and fishing licenses are sold”.
What the article does not say is that the new Brandywine River stamps were oversized and featured a red, white and blue border (very patriotic). Prior to the new style stamps being printed, it was intended to issue stamps with the old design in red and blue, for resident and non resident, respectively. The old style stamps were printed first and a small number of these stamps (Type I) have been recorded in collections.
Many collectors have probably heard that the old style stamps were withdrawn from sale in 1976 before any were actually sold to fishermen or collectors. Further, that the few recorded examples were obtained from the packs at a discount in 1978 (see Ken Pruess Remembered – Part Three).
While the latter is partly true, It is also true that at least one each of the old style stamps were, in fact, sold in 1976 (for full face value). To my knowledge, the only person who learned of their existence and bought them then was Ken Pruess (see Figures 12a and b and Figures 13a and b).
It is believed that the Type I non resident stamps that were later obtained by Curtis and Souder in the packs (in 1978) were left over from the pane broken up to sell Ken a stamp in the spring of 1976. If Ken would not have bought that stamp – it is likely that none would be in collector’s hands today.
When it came to Georgia, Ken had something I had never seen before (or since). He had a complete set of 1978 hunting and fishing stamp proofs that he had acquired in the Bloom collection.
As proofs are an essential part of a traditional exhibit – and are rather difficult to acquire for fish and game stamps – I was overjoyed the day Ken and I completed our trade for this set. They later served a valuable purpose in my second exhibit (see Figure 14).
Ken had the typical run of Illinois daily usage stamps for a pioneer collector, both of the values from 1957 – 1969. Nothing special here. With regard to Indiana trout stamps, Ken originally had them all, in mixed condition with most being unused. Ken always valued these stamps higher than I did, so I was only able to obtain a few of the rarer ones in trade (over a long period of time) and that was it.
I have always regarded the 1966 Indiana trout as the most difficult to acquire, especially in unused or unsigned condition. So while Ken’s stamp was not perfect, I was happy to get it (see Figures 15).
I would like to share a few Indiana items from Ken’s collection that we both liked a lot, even though the individual stamps, themselves, may not excite long time collectors. Ken had a complete booklet pane of the Type I Indiana Pheasant Legal Food Sale stamps, something you do not see every day.
He also had a pair of Type II stamps with the top tab intact and another pair featuring a wild printing error. I would like to take this opportunity to clear up some confusion about these interesting stamps.
In the Handbook, Van stated “[The stamps] were required to identify domestically raised quail… The stamps were undated, first issued in 1951 and used for an unknown number of years thereafter”. At the time, Van was only aware of the Type I stamps.
There were (at least) two printings and many collectors mistakingly believe both were issued starting in 1951. The two printings are easily distinguished by the departmental credit at the bottom of the stamp. The stamp issued starting in 1951 (The one Van is talking about – Type I) is labeled “DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION / DIVISION OF FISH AND GAME” (see Figure 16).
The second printing (Type II) is labeled “DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES / DIVISION OF FISH & WILDLIFE”. Type II stamps could not have been issued in 1951 – as the Department of Natural Resources was not created until 1965 (see Figures 17 and 18).
When it came time for Charles Bellinghausen to sell his amazing Marion County collection (shortly before his death), his friend and fellow Kansas revenue specialist, Hugh L. Smiley, was allowed to choose first. Ken was second. Hugh bought the early stamps (as he did not have them) but passed on the later stamps that had been remaindered.
The reason for this is because it was Hugh who had told Bellinghausen about the box of remainders in the first place – only after being given at least one single and one pane of everything available.
As stated in The Fish and Game Stamps of Marion County, Kansas, Bellinghausen then worked out a deal with the County Clerk whereby he mounted a collection of full panes of most of the stamps found in the box for the county archives and he was given the remaining stamps for his own use.
Later, as told in Marion County Mystery solved, Bellinghausen was given the collection back by the Marion County Commissioners. Finally, right before Bellinghausen died, Ken (also a close personal friend), purchased the Marion County Courthouse pane collection. He subsequently sold it to me to and some of these pieces became cornerstones of my second exhibit (see Figures 19 and 20).
By the time I purchased the Marion County Courthouse collection from Ken, I had already purchased the majority of both the Smiley and Vanderford collections. In the Smiley collection, I acquired the other pane of 1973 Marion County Duck stamps.
When I got the 1973 pane from Ken, It allowed me to sell the Smiley example to Jeannette Rudy. She later donated it to the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum and it can be seen on their website, at 50c Marion County Duck Hunting permit block of ten.
In the Vanderford collection, I acquired another pane of the 1969 Marion County Duck – missing the top selvage. Van had obtained it in a trade from Smiley. When I got the one from Ken, I was able to sell the Smiley-Vanderford example to the Csaplars. They featured it in their exhibit at Westpex in 2015, helping them to win the ARA Grand Award (see Figure 21).
Ken did not have all the Maryland big game and trout stamps, however, he had some pieces that were very good and very useful. When I was putting my second exhibit together, I needed a strong usage for the first Maryland Big Game page. Ken provided it (see Figure 22).
Ken had the first two Maryland trout stamps, unused. In the days before the Boward Family Find, these stamps were very difficult to acquire and kind of a big deal (see Figure 23).
Ken did not have all of the Michigan Cisco Netting stamps (he was missing the extremely rare 1965 issue). However, he had all of the rest, including the 1964 stamp (see Figure 24).
I hope I am making it clear that the exhibits shown by both myself and the Csaplars would be very different (and not in a good way), if it were not for the help and support of Ken Pruess.