Morton Dean Joyce: Fish and Game Hall of Famer – Part One

Morton Dean Joyce is known for being the greatest revenue stamp collector of all time. When one thinks of Joyce they usually think of his wonderful general U.S. governmental revenue collection and especially his private die match and medicine stamps – truly collections for the ages. Not so well known is that Morton, or Mort as he was known to his friends, had a tremendous state revenue collection and aggressively pursued fish and game stamps. If it were not for Mort, many of the greatest fish and game rarities in our hobby would not exist today.

Morton Dean Joyce was born on March 19, 1900 in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Mort was the son of William B. Joyce, a New York stock broker and for many years the Northwestern Manager of the National Surety Company. When Mort was three years old, his father was named president of the large bonding company (see Figure 1).



Figure 1. Sign for a detective agency, bonded by National Surety Company.



Mort became fascinated with stamp collecting when he was around eight years old. Records show that when he was 14, he joined the American Philatelic Society. After graduating form high school, Mort attended Princeton University in New Jersey and his family began to winter in California. After graduating from Princeton, Mort became a stock broker and later would have a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. All during this time, Mort kept up with his passion, stamp collecting.

While his revenue collections would eventually consume much of his time, Mort also collected European stamps, classic U.S. postage stamps, booklet panes (one day becoming President of the Booklet Pane Society), precancels and Christmas seals.

In 1926, Mort exhibited portions of his British Empire collection at the second International Philatelic Exhibition in New York City (see Figure 2). This experience allowed Mort to discover that attempting to compete for the top awards – internationally – with British material would be rough going.



Figure 2. The first U.S. souvenir sheet was printed for the second Internal Philatelic Exhibition, held in New York in 1926.



It was at this time that he started thinking of specializing in U.S. revenue stamps, a field where he could perhaps put together more powerful exhibits and, ultimately, be more successful.

In 1928, Mort attended a precancel club meeting at Hoover Brothers Publishers in NYC. It was at this meeting that Mort would meet Louis K. Robbins and John R. Boker, Jr. Robbins and Boker were avid collectors of pre-cancels at this time. It should be noted that Robbins was just 16 years old and Boker 15 at the time of this meeting.

All three men would would remains friends for life, become famous philatelists and in the case of Robbins, he would later become a legendary New York stamp dealer, auctioneer and agent. Two of his biggest clients would be the young collectors he met at that meeting in 1928, Mort Joyce and John Boker.

After Mort’s death in 1989, it was Robbins who was named in his will to advise the executor of his estate on the disposition of his philatelic holdings. When the collection was initially sold, it was to a partnership comprised of Boker, Andy Levitt and Stanley Richmond.

In 1931 Mort published one of his first articles, on precancels, in The American Philatelist and a few years later, exhibited many of his different collections, now including revenues, at the 1934 National Stamp Exhibition in New York City. This was one of the grand stamp shows of the 20th Century and was celebrated by issuing the popular Byrd Antarctic Expedition souvenir sheet (see Figure 3).



Figure 3. Byrd souvenir sheet issued for the 1934 National Stamp Exhibition in New York.



The souvenir sheet was based on a design suggested by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, an avid stamp collector. Coincidentally, one of the best photos of Mort that I could find for this post features Eleanor Roosevelt, Mort and Thomas Steinway viewing a philatelic exhibit of free franked envelopes by First Ladies (see Figure 4).



Figure 4. Eleanor Roosevelt points out an example of her free frank in the exhibit to Morton Dean Joyce (center), and Thomas E. Steinway.



Specialized in Collecting all U.S. Revenues

Although Mort continued his various collecting interests, in the early 1930s he began to focus on collecting revenue stamps. Most collectors, when settling into a vast field such as U.S. revenues, develop a particular interest and begin to specialize. The same can be said of Mort – he became particularly interested in and specialized in collecting all of them.

He would continue his quest for six decades, establishing a huge network of contacts and maintaining an extensive correspondence during this entire period. Mort had an eye for quality, a vision for building a transcendent collection and he was not afraid to write a check.

According to Robbins, “In creating his collection, Mr. Joyce sought out every aspect of his chosen field, developing every area to the fullest. Nothing that could remotely relate to revenues, even the the most minute or, to some, trivial, item was too insignificant for him to include. His interests led him to many collateral areas, particularly plate varieties, proofs, essays and cancellations of every kind.”

One of the fundamental tenets of Joyce’s collecting is that multiples should be saved from destruction (separation) and preserved for posterity. Often the Joyce collection included the largest or only known multiple. When we get to the fish and game part of this story we shall see the impact this penchant has had on our hobby.

Mort was also very meticulous and well organized. Much of his collection was mounted on album pages that were carefully written up by hand (see Figure 5). The pages were then arranged in Frank Godden albums of the highest quality. The private die portion of the collection alone, commonly referred to as “match and medicines” were housed in 60 such albums and all of the stamp albums were kept in a large room in his New York City apartment that he dedicated to philately.



Figure 5. Hand lettered page from the Joyce collection.



The “Match and Medicines”

Although Mort loved all revenues and pursued them all with much enthusiasm, there was one part of of his revenue collection that stood out from all the rest, the private die proprietary stamps that were issued from the fall of 1862 to the summer of 1883.

There were five different kinds of private die stamps: canned fruit; matches; medicine; perfume and playing cards. Since the two largest groups (by far) were produced for match and medicine companies, they have become known (both affectionately and inaccurately) as match and medicine stamps. In much the same way, federal waterfowl stamps are commonly referred to as “duck stamps”.

The private die stamps resulted from the Revenue Act of 1862 to raise badly needed funds for the Civil War. This was the same act that established the Commissioner of Internal Revenue (the head of the IRS) and it was signed into law by Abraham Lincoln on July 1, 1862.

The federal government was to provide regular (generic) revenue stamps to be affixed to all kinds of products, including those listed above, and the office for the new Commissioner of Internal Revenue, George S. Boutwell, solicited bids to print the stamps. In August of 1862, the contract was awarded to the Butler and Carpenter firm of Philadelphia.

The following is a short description of the Butler and Carpenter operation found in Philadelphia and Its Manufactures, published by Edwin T. Freedley in 1867:





Among the first U.S. revenue stamps engraved and printed by Butler and Carpenter (known among collectors as “first issues”) was the the ornate $200 high value in 1864  (see Figure 6). This stamp has the distinction of being the first bi-colored stamp printed in the U.S.



Figure 6. The beautifully engraved first issue $200 revenue stamp.



When senior partner John M. Butler passed away on October 30, 1868, the firm continued doing business under the name Joseph R. Carpenter. The firm continued to print the private die stamps and was also responsible for printing two of the most spectacular adhesive stamps, of any kind, ever. These have become known as the Persian Rugs, for obvious reasons, and provide an indication of the skill of the firm’s artisans (see Figures 7 and 8).



Figure 7. The “small” Persian Rug.



Figure 8. The “large” Persian Rug.



After Butler and Carpenter secured the contract to print revenue stamps, they came up with the idea to provide companies with the option to purchase a “private die” (or custom printing plate) which could then be used to print proprietary stamps and affix them them to their products, in lieu of the generic stamps provided by the government.

The private die stamps were completely legal and even had “U.S. Internal Revenue” inscribed on them. According to revenue specialist Richard Friedburg, “To many manufacturers, this was construed (incorrectly, although that made little difference) as governmental approval of their product. In fact, it indicated only that the stamp was evidence that the tax on the proprietary article had been paid”.

By offering custom stamp designs to private companies that illustrated their products to their best (advertising) advantage and, more importantly, by allowing companies who purchased the dies a discount on their proprietary stamps, it was easy to sell private dies and the stamps came into widespread use. In fact, the stamps were wildly successful and accounted for 68% of the revenue stamps sold during the Civil War period.

Using the same skills evident on the high value revenue stamps in Figures 6, 7 and 8, first Butler and Carpenter (see Figure 9) and then Joseph R. Carpenter (see Figure 10) engraved and printed many of the private die match and medicine stamps. They have been captivating stamp collectors since their introduction and Mort, himself, was very much enamored.



Figure 9. Wild private die proprietary stamp with snakes produced for Swaim’s Panacea. Ironically, this product epitomized the “snake oil” promoted to consumers during the second half of the 1800s.



Figure 10. Private die stamp proprietary stamp produced for the San Fransisco Match Company, one of my personal favorites.



Mort succeeded in putting together the best, the most comprehensive and, quite frankly, staggering collection of Private die proprietary stamps ever and this will always remain a big part of his legacy as a philatelist.

In order to accomplish this, Mort purchased individual rarities, parts of collections and even entire collections from most of the legendary revenue collectors that preceded him. Among these were Henry L. Dean, Elliot Perry, Hiram Deats, E.B. Sterling, Clarence Eagle, Col. Edward H. Green, Judge Robert S. Emerson, Philip Little and Henry Holcombe.

From the Col. Green collection, Mort acquired the unique Thomas E. Wilson medicine stamp, known as “the British Guiana of the match and medicine field” (see Figure 11).



Figure 11. The unique Thomas E. Wilson private die  stamp.



One of the truly amazing and eye-appealing parts of the Joyce collection came from the archives of Butler and Carpenter, including proofs, essays and models for the private die proprietary stamps they produced. Perhaps my favorite item from Butler and Carpenter archives was the model for the blue San Fransisco Match Company stamp (see Figure 12).



Figure 12. The model for one of my favorite match and medicine stamps.


Founding The American Revenue Association

During WWII, Mort served in the Eighth Army Air Force. He was stationed in England and held the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. A couple of familiar names served under Mort in the Mighty Eighth, actors Clark Gable and Jimmy Stewart (see Figure 13).



Figure 13. Jimmy Stewart (left) and Clark Gable, fellow officers stationed in England with the Mighty Eighth.



After he came home from the war, Mort came into contact with fellow collector and revenue dealer Elbert Hubbard, who was living in Northridge, (southern) California. At this time Bert was compiling his landmark (if sometimes misleading) State Revenue Catalog.

Getting on well with Bert and with fond memories of prior trips to southern California with his family, Mort decided to spend the summer of 1947 in nearby Beverley Hills so that he could work closely with Bert and help bring the catalog to fruition.

Mort brought his state revenue collection with him, compared it with Bert’s catalog listings and, in short, focussed on the state revenue part of his collection for an extended period of time.

It was on this same trip to California in 1947 that The American Revenue Association was conceived. Working closely with three other collectors, including John Bobo and Charles Hermann (another fish and game Hall of Famer), Hubbard (ARA #1) and Joyce (ARA #2) founded the ARA.


National Grand Award at FIPEX

Joyce continued to work on his revenue collections, spending even more time on them, while shuttling back and forth between his two residences in NYC and Kennebunkport, Maine.

The Fifth International Stamp Exhibition (FIPEX) was held in New York City from April 28 through May 6, 1956 (see Figure 14). For this huge event, one of the largest stamp shows ever held in the U.S., Mort entered an exhibit consisting of portions of his now unsurpassed revenue collection – and won the National Grand Award.



Figure 14. Souvenir sheet issued for the Fifth International Stamp Exhibition, held in NYC in 1956.



This was groundbreaking for revenue collectors and was the first time that a “back-of-the-book” exhibit had ever won such a prestigious award. In so doing, Mort paved the way for the success of contemporary revenue exhibitors such as Donald Green, Michael Mahler and myself.

Between 1959 and 1960, Mort donated extensive material related to revenue stamps to the Smithsonian Institution, as well as his fabulous collection of Christmas seals.

Mort would continue to work on the Hubbard State Revenue Catalog for over 13 years and in 1960, on his last day as President of the ARA, the catalog was finally published (see Figure 15).



Figure 15. Front page of the ARA Journal in December, 1960, where immediate Past President Morton Dean Joyce announced the publication of Elbert Hubbard’s State Revenue Catalog.




Continue to Part Two





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