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The Nebraska Pheasant & Quail Stamps – Part One

Many of you have contacted us to say how much you enjoyed the recent two-part blog Alex and Jean Case and the Decision at Cafe Ole. We very much appreciate your continued support and are attentive to your feedback. As several comments expressed an interest in learning more about the Nebraska Pheasant and Quail Stamp shown in part two, that will be the subject of our next blogs.



The first game law in Nebraska was enacted in 1860, just one year before the first game law was enacted in neighboring Kansas. I mention this fact because throughout the years there have been many parallels between the two states in terms of their fish and game laws and the artifacts that were produced to facilitate enforcement of these laws – the licenses and stamps we collect today. The law protected deer, elk, prairie chicken, grouse and woodcock from March 1 to July 15.

In 1879 a Board of Fish Commissioners was created to increase Nebraska’s fish populations and distribute them through the state’s public waterways. In 1901, sweeping new legislation was about to be passed and news of it was carried in the July 28 Omaha Daily Bee, under the subtitle “Idea is to Reestablish in Nebraska Many Species of Birds and Beasts Which Are Now Almost Extinct.”

The first article of the bill provided that the governor shall be the new Fish and Game Commisioner of the State and that he shall be allowed to appoint a number of deputies at various pay scales (including some at no compensation). Of primary interest to fish and game collectors, was the provision to start requiring both residents and non residents to purchase a license to hunt or fish:

“It is unlawful for any person not a bona fide resident of Nebraska to fish in the waters of the state without a license at any time, but upon application to the state treasurer he can secure [a] license to fish, subject to all the restrictions imposed upon residents, upon payment of a fee of $10. Such license is issued by the state treasurer through the county clerks of the respective counties…

“A resident of Nebraska may fish in a season in the county of his residence without taking out a license (my emphasis), but if he goes into another county he must be supplied with a license to fish therein, which he can secure from the county clerk and which will cost him $1.

“The provisions for the protection of fish are identical with those for the protection of game and birds (this statement refers to the aforementioned county of residence provision).”

On July 1, 1901, the Nebraska Legislature abolished the existing Nebraska Fish Commission and the new laws went into place. Does were protected, strict bag limits were established and the first State Game Wardens were appointed to see that the new fish and game laws were enforced.

An editorial summary of the new game and fish law was carried in the July 7, 1901 Omaha Bee, under a number of subheadings including “WHAT CONSTITUTES ONE DAY’S SPORT / Stringent measures to Prevent Commercial Hunting and Fishing – The new game law which went into effect last Monday recognizes that there must be a reasonable limit to man’s prowess with the rod and line, and makes it a crime against the state and his fellow anglers for any man, or woman either, to catch in a single day more than enough fish to reasonably supply the family larder and adorn a simple tail of angling exploits. The same applies to game and to song, insectivorous and other birds.”

The first Nebraska Licenses to Hunt and Fish were also issued. However, since they were not required in the resident’s home county, very few were sold. The licenses were oversized, measuring eight inches across and four inches tall. This has no doubt contributed to their almost non-existent survival rate (see Figure 1).



Figure 1. The 1901 Nebraska License to Hunt and Fish – one of the hobby’s Holy Grails.



As a result, the 1901 Nebraska license eventually became one of the most sought after pieces in the fish and game hobby and, by the 1990s, it’s legend had reached near mythical status. I have an anecdote to share regarding how I came to acquire the example shown above, but first I will provide some useful background information.

Through the years I have heard and seen various figures regarding the number of 1901 resident licenses that were actually sold – all consistently minuscule considering it was a statewide issue. As I knew the proceeds for the early Nebraska license sales went into a public school fund, I figured there must be an official auditors report somewhere. When doing research for this blog, I located it (see Figure 2).



Figure 2.  Nebraska school funding report for 1902.



As can be seen from the accounting above, the Game and fish license fees totaled $2,345.00 for the 1901 calendar year. This represents the combined total of both resident and non resident fees. Ira Cotton, in Nebraska Small Game Hunting, Fishing & Trapping Licenses 1901– 2009, reported that 33 non resident licenses were sold in 1901 (at $10.00 apiece = $330.00). Therefore, we are left to conclude that the number of resident licenses sold was just over 2,000.

In comparison, the number of Illinois resident licenses sold in the first year (1903) was 95,000.

After nearly a century, only one confirmed example remained – in the Nebraska Department of Game, Fish and Parks Archives. Of course, there were always rumors and, truth be told, one faulty example was widely believed to be in the hands of a “closet” collector somewhere in Nebraska. For all the rest of us serious license collectors, it was at or near the very top of our wish list. 


Yes, Virginia…

Starting in 1982, after I met my wife, Kay, we would alternate spending Christmas with my family in California and hers, in Minnesota. In 1999, we were staying at her mother’s house in Stacey – about 40 miles north of the twin cities. It was Christmas Day and in between opening packages and eating brunch, I had snuck off to my brother-in-law’s home office to play with one of my favorite toys, Ebay.

I was sitting there, enjoying my hot chocolate and running through my various searches, when a miracle happened  – an antique dealer in Lincoln, Nebraska listed a 1901 and a 1902 (see Figure 3) Nebraska License to Hunt and Fish, together in one lot! Their condition looked to be really nice and he was starting the bidding at $95.00. Not too bad, considering that one fanatical Nebraska collector had made it known he was willing to pay $5,000.00, for the 1901 license alone!



Figure 3. The 1902 Nebraska License to Hunt and Fish – 3,348 were issued.



There is a Santa Claus

These were the Wild West years of Ebay (it had just started up a few years earlier) and the dealer stated in his description that he was open to selling them outright for the right offer – and then he listed his phone number!

As I dialed the phone (in a panic) so many things ran through my mind: What if someone else had beaten me to it? What if he did not answer? Even if he did answer, how was I going to pull this off – Lincoln was nearly 500 miles away?

There was no answer, so I had to leave a message: “Hello, my name is David. I just saw your Nebraska licenses on Ebay. Please give me a call back – don’t worry about calling on Christmas.” Then I join some other members of my family in the kitchen and waited…

About an hour later the phone rang. Debbie, my sister-in-law, answered. As I stared in her direction, expectantly, she said it was for me. I told her I would take it in the back room. We exchanged holiday greetings and made small talk for a while. Then I explained I was a serious license collector and could really use those two licenses for my collection. I added that I was in the vicinity and would be willing to come by and pick them up at this earliest convenience.

Then he asked how much I would be willing to offer – and I told him $2,000.00. When I was younger, it was often tricky for me when an antique shop owner did not know what they really had. Too often, my offers of big money puts stars in their eyes and then they would not let the items go for any price (Over the years I have become more confident. Now, I simply offer top dollar and let the chips fall where they may – most of the time people are able to detect and appreciate my honesty).

There was a long silence on the other end of the line. Then he told me he would have to check with his wife and then call me back. Ten minutes later he called again and told me that if I was willing to pay $2,500.00 – he would pull them off of Ebay. I admired his chutzpah as, just over an hour earlier, he was willing to accept $95.00. Elated, I quickly responded “I guess that would be OK”.

We made arrangements to meet at his shop in Lincoln at nine o’clock the next morning. I walked back into the kitchen – where everyone was now gathering to eat Christmas brunch – and explained what had just happened. Then I asked if anyone would mind if I left right after we finished eating?

Everyone was really happy for me and very supportive. So after Debbie’s delicious brunch, I jumped in our rental car and set off – making it to Lincoln and back in time for dinner the next day. That night, I fell asleep believing there really was a Santa Claus.





Licenses Are Required in Every County

Nebraska issued one more classic, oversized license in 1903 (see Figure 4) before switching to a run of similar, relatively small, nondescript licenses that were issued from 1904 through 1911.



Figure 4. 1903 Nebraska License to Hunt and Fish – 3,744 were issued.



In 1911, the Nebraska State Legislature passed what was, initially, a temporary law requiring all men over 18 years of age to purchase a license to fish or hunt outside of their own property – even if it was in the same county in which they lived (see Figures 5 and 6).



Figure 5. Article which appeared in the April 21, 1911 issue of the Norfolk Weekly News-Journal.



Figure 6. Article which appeared in the May 3, 1911 issue of the Columbus Journal.



Pictorial Licenses Issued

After having issued non pictorial licenses through 1911, Nebraska began issuing attractive licenses with illustrations printed on them. E.L Vanderford informed me that the reason for this change was because a former official with the California Department of Fish and Game left and took a similar position with the the Nebraska Game and Fish Commission. According to Van, it was this person’s suggestion to model Nebraska’s licenses after those issued in California (see Figures 7 and 8).



Figure 7. California 1911-12 Resident Hunting License.



Figure 8. Nebraska 1912 Resident License to Fish and Hunt – a real stunner.



Unfortunately, I do not remember the man’s name. However, he and Van became friendly when he was still living in California and Van was just a young boy. They maintained a correspondence and when Van was older, he made several trips of Nebraska to hunt with his friend and visa versa. We shall come back to this later in our story.

The contract for producing Nebraska’s first pictorial licenses went to the Klopp & Bartlett Company, who specialized in printing and lithography. Aaron Thomas Klopp was born in Blackhawk County, Iowa on August 27, 1856. He would later found the firm with C.H. Klopp (presumably a relative) and A.T. Bartlett in 1885. They started small, with just a few employees, at 1114 – 1116 Farnam Street in downtown Omaha.

The firm was successful and, by the late 1890s, employed over 30 people. They experienced a temporary downturn around the turn of the century when they failed to unionize and lost numerous large contracts. However, they ultimately rebounded and moved to a large new, four story location at the corners of Tenth and Douglass Streets (see Figure 9).



Figure 9. Advertising cover for the Klopp & Bartlett Co., circa 1904.



It is interesting to note that in 1912, Klopp & Bartlett also printed the revised edition of one of the most important ornithology references of all time, The Color Key to North American Birds, by Frank M. Chapman, Curator of Ornithology at the American Museum of Natural History.

Klopp & Bartlett was responsible for producing the three most attractive pictorial Nebraska licenses, also getting the contacts in 1913 and 1915. Once more following California’s lead, the licenses were produced in two formats.

Starting in 1913, those with lower serial numbers were produced in single-license panes. They were straight-edged on the sides and at the bottom and were rouletted across the top. This allowed for a tab at the top and the licenses were then stapled into booklets of unknown size.

Licenses with higher serial numbers were produced in a sheet format of unknown size and were rouletted on two or three sides. The classic 1913 issue is a favorite with waterfowl stamp collectors, for obvious reasons (see Figures 10 – 13).



Figure 10. Booklet Type Nebraska 1913 License to Fish and Hunt.



Figure 11. Sheet Type Nebraska 1913 License to Fish and Hunt.



Figure 12. Sheet Type Resident Nebraska 1915 License to Fish and Hunt.



Figure 13. Nebraska Non Resident 1915 License to Fish and Hunt.



California continued to issue pictorial hunting and fishing licenses through the beginning of 1927, after which time they stopped and their licenses featured the Great Seal of the State of California. Predictably, Nebraska discontinued issuing pictorial licenses a couple of years later, after 1929 and, you guessed it – their licenses started to feature the Seal of the State of Nebraska.


To see all of the pictorial California Hunting Licenses, click here.

To see all of the pictorial Nebraska licenses in one gallery, click here.



Nebraska is Stocked with Pheasants

Also in 1911, the Nebraska Game and Fish Commission began to stock the state with pheasants. The goal was to stock Nebraska with ring-necked pheasants so that they could be hunted as a game bird at some point (see Figure 14).



Figure 14. A Ring-Necked Pheasant, photo courtesy of Pheasants Forever.



According to Lonnie Shafer, a retired school teacher and author of Shafer’s Nebraska Pheasant Hunting Almanac, “Nebraskans were searching for a game bird to replace the declining prairie chicken numbers. Farming practices had reduced grassland habitat needed for the native prairie chickens. After considerable investigation, it was decided to give the ring-necked pheasant, native to Asia, a try. The Game and Fish Commission began in earnest to stock the state in 1911 and in 1927 Nebraska held its first pheasant hunting season.”

The first stocking attempts were relatively small, consisting of a few dozen birds. Then, over the next ten years, additional birds were released each fall. The pheasants quickly adapted to the Nebraska habitat and, by the early 1920s, damage to corn crops was already being reported in the central part of the state.

By 1926, the pheasant population in Howard County had increased exponentially. Therefore, some 15,000 birds were trapped during the winter and redistributed to 49 other counties throughout the state. In 1927, 30,000 birds were trapped in Howard, Sherman and Valley Counties and redistributed to 76 counties.

The State Game Farm was established south of Norfolk and between 1937 and 1949 produced over 130,000 birds for release in 84 of the 93 counties in Nebraska. During roughly this same period, from 1939 through 1944, Pittman-Robertson funds allowed for over 40,000 additional birds to be raised at cooperative pheasant units and these were also redistributed throughout the state.


Quail Were Also Abundant

The bobwhite species of quail is considered to be native to Nebraska and quail have long been the second most popular game bird in the state. According to the Nebraska Game and Parks Website, “Traditionally, bobwhites are found in most of Southeast Nebraska and west along the southern border with Kansas, and as there numbers have grown, quail have spread into other regions of the state where suitable habitat exists.”

At the same time that Nebraska established the State Game farm for pheasants, Kansas established two state quail farms at Calista and Pittsburg. Also at this time, Kansas began issuing Quail Stamps (see Figure 15).



Figure 15. 1937-38 Kansas Quail Stamp.



In Morton Dean Joyce: Fish and Game Hall of Famer – Part Two, I quoted Kansas quail stamp specialist David Lucas, “[Starting in 1937] The quail stamps were issued by the Kansas Forestry, Fish and Game Commission to raise monies for the Quail Preservation and Propagation Fund, which supported the state quail farms and other efforts. All quail hunters were required to purchase the 50-cent stamp and affix it to their hunting licenses” (see Figure 16).



Figure 16. The first Kansas Quail Stamp used on license.



Kansas continued to issue quail stamps through the late 1950s, when quail populations experienced a steep decline and many hunters said they were not willing to purchase a quail (specific) stamp. In 1961 the Kansas Forestry, Fish and Game Commission withdrew the distribution of quail stamps and instituted in its place an upland game bird stamp. To read a detailed account of the Kansas Quail and Upland Game Bird Stamps, see The Kansas Upland Game Bird Stamps.


To see all of the Kansas Quail Stamps, click here.

To see all of the Kansas Upland Game Bird Stamps, click here.


There can be little doubt that these stamps served as a model for the Nebraska Pheasant and Quail Stamps that would be issued in 1955.


The Bank Note Companies

As part of our introduction I will now provide some background information on the banknote company, specifically the Columbian Banknote Company, that printed the first Nebraska stamps.

Any discussion of banknote companies must start with the American Bank Note Company (ABC). The origins of the ABC can be traced back to the late 1700s, when Robert Scott, an engraver with the U.S. Mint, helped form a company with other three partners, George Murray, John Draper (Robert Scott’s protege) and Gideon Fairman. It was originally based in Philadelphia and became known as the Murray, Draper & Fairman Company.

The company produced stock and bond certificates, paper currency for state-chartered banks and various other engraved and printed paper items. In 1814, Charles Toppan was employed to assist in engraving copper plates to be used in printing bank notes. In the beginning, Toppan worked directly under Gideon Fairman – who was widely acclaimed to be the finest engraver in the New World.

After the deaths of Fairman and Murray, Toppan became partners with Draper and George Murray’s protege, J.B. Longacre, in a new firm known as Draper, Toppan, Longacre & Company. After Draper passed and Longacre retired, it bacame Toppan, Carpenter, Casillear & Company and, in 1849, Toppan, Carpenter & Company.

On April 29, 1858, following the Panic of 1857, seven of the largest security printers, including Toppan, Carpenter & Co., merged to form the American Bank Note Company and Charles Toppan was unanimously elected to be the president (see Figure 17).



Figure 17. Charles Toppan, first President of the American Banknote Company.



The handful of other large security firms formed the National Bank Note Company (NBC). During the Civil War, the ABC and NBC, together, produced the first U.S. paper currency – which came to be called “greenbacks” (see Figure 18). At the same time, both companies produced paper money for the Confederacy. They were known as “greybacks”.



Figure 18. An 1861 United States $10 “Greenback”.



In 1861, the NBC was awarded the contract to print all U.S. Postage stamps and continued to do so through 1872 (see Figure 19). The two companies, ABC and NBC, waged a fierce competition for contracts for just over two decades, until the NBC agreed to be absorbed by the ABC in 1879.



Figure 19. 1869 15 Cent “Pictorial”, printed by the NBC.



The Columbian Bank Note Company

The Western Bank Note Company (WBC) was organized in Chicago in 1864. It occupied a fire-proof eight story building on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Madison Street. They specialized in steel plate engraving and lithography and printed bank notes, bonds and stock certificates along with bank and commercial stationary. The company’s president was C.C. Cheney (see Figure 19).



Figure 19. Trade Card for the Western Bank Note Company.



In 1904, after the ABC bought the Western Bank Note Company, C.C. Chaney and two other men who had previously been with the WBC, Samuel C. Jennings and Howard Alfson, decided to form a new firm and named it the Columbian Bank Note Company. 

Following the end of WWII, the American Bank Note Company and the Columbian Bank Note Company competed for contracts to produce fish and game stamps for several different states. In 1948, the Columbian Bank Note Company produced the first trout stamp for the State of Michigan (see Figure 20).



Figure 20. 1948 Michigan Trout Stamp, enlarged so you can easily read the Columbian Bank Note imprint at the bottom.  Ex Vanderford



The Michigan stamp trout shown above was the very first fish and game stamp E.L. Vanderford purchased directly from a state agency.  He bought it for his wife, Jane, because she had a topical collection of fish on stamps. Van liked it so much, that he soon became interested in collecting fish and game stamps in general – thus the Columbian Bank Note Company played a large role in shaping the future of our hobby. For more, see E.L. Vanderford: 1913 – 1994.


In 1949, the Columbian Bank Note Company lost the Michigan Trout Stamp contract to rival ABC (see Figure 21). However, they scored another fish and game milestone that same year with the South Dakota Resident Waterfowl Stamp – the first state waterfowl stamp to be required statewide (see Figure 22).



Figure 21. 1949 Michigan Trout Large Die Proof from the American Bank Note Company Archives.



Figure 22. 1949 Type II South Dakota Resident Waterfowl Stamp.



In 1950, the Columbian Bank Note Company won the Michigan Trout Stamp and the South Dakota Resident Waterfowl Stamp contracts (see Figures 23 and 24).



Figure 23. 1950 Michigan Trout Top Plate Block of Six.



Figure 24. 1950 South Dakota Waterfowl Complete Sheet of 50, shown courtesy of Will Csaplar.



The South Dakota Resident Waterfowl Stamps were discontinued after only two issues, however, The Columbian Bank Note Company won the Michigan Trout Stamp contracts in 1951 and 1952 (see Figures 25 and 26).



Figure 25. 1951 Michigan Trout Stamp Complete Pane of 20 with serial numbers at top and left, ex Curtis.


Figure 26. 1952 Michigan Trout Large Die Proof, missing the Columbian Bank Note imprint at the bottom.



The Security Bank Note Company

The Security Bank Note Company was founded in 1884 and operated plants in Philadelphia and Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. They won the Michigan Trout Stamp contract in 1953 (see Figure 27) but the Columbian Bank Note Company came right back in 1954 (see Figure 28).



Figure 27. 1953 Michigan Trout Stamp Specimen Sheet Marked “Previous Printing” – Likely used as a Production Proof by the Security-Columbian Banknote Company in 1959.



Figure 28. 1954 Michigan Trout Large Die Proof with Columbian Bank Note Company imprint at bottom.



Apparently the Security Bank Note Company and the Columbian Bank Note companies quickly tired of competing against each other, as they merged a few years later (1957) – forming the behemoth Security-Columbian Bank Note Company.



Continue to Part Two



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