The No Fee Fish and Game Stamps of California

by David R. Torre, ARA






An overprint on a stamp frequently stimulates special interest on the part of collectors. The overprint, be it rubber-stamped or printed, is an additional element to be appreciated and studied. Typesetting varieties may be discovered and in examples derived from a rubber stamp in particular, different colors of ink may have been used. More intriguing is the idea that an overprint often implies a usage that is out of the ordinary as compared to that for which regular stamps were issued. An above average rarity factor may be inferred from an overprinted stamp, if it is assumed that the usage was so limited as to preclude a separate stamp from being printed for it.

Prior to fish and game stamps being issued in the 1930s, California issued paper hunting and fishing licenses with beautiful designs in multicolor chromolithography. The pictorial licenses were printed starting in 1909 and ended in 1926. During this time, California made use of overprints to designate licenses for specific classifications of hunters and fishermen, aside from residents that had not lost their license (see Figure 1).



Figure 1. California made extensive use of overprints on their pictorial fishing and hunting licenses issued from 1909 through 1926.



In the field of fish and game stamps, the use of over prints is relatively unusual. Small quantities of stamps are routinely printed to serve limited usages without resorting to overprints. The earliest recorded use of an overprint was by Marion County, Kansas, in 1942 (See Figure 2). Remainders of county waterfowl stamps from the previous year were rubber-stamped with the 1942 year date and then put back into service (Torre, 1993).



Figure 2. The earliest recorded use of an overprint was by Marion County in 1942.



Virginia was the first state government to utilize overprints starting in 1944 with their bear- deer damage stamps. The stamps were required to be purchased by sportsmen intending to hunt bear or deer within certain counties in the state. Funds collected from used to reimburse farmers for damage done to their crops by these animals (Vanderford, 1973). Generic stamps depicting a walking bear were overprinted to specify the county in which the stamps were valid (see Figure 3).



Figure 3. Starting in 1944, Virginia overprinted generic bear-dear damage stamps to specify what county they were valid in.



The next state or local government to overprint a fish or game stamp was Indiana in 1957. In the middle of the fishing season the fee charged for trout stamps was increased from one to two dollars. At that time, all 1957 stamps on hand were rubber-stamped with a large “$2.00” to indicate the new fee (see Figure 4). Since the overprint changed the face value of the stamp exclusively, it is correctly classified as a surcharge (Williams, 1990).



Figure 4. In 1957 Indiana applied an overprint to trout stamps in order to indicate a mid-season fee increase.



Starting in 1958, California began requiring the purchase of inland fishing stamps. A small portion of those issued the first two years may be found with overprints. The overprints were used to differentiate various classifications of resident sportsmen that were issued licenses and stamps free of charge. Many of the overprints also contain the phrase “NO FEE.” Since this effectively alters the face value of the stamps, they may be said to bear both an overprint and a surcharge.

No Fee sport fishing licenses and overprinted stamps were issued to the aged, disabled veterans, Indians and blind persons. Those overprinted “INDIAN” are believed to be the first fish and game stamps issued specifically for use by Native Americans in the United States. Inland fishing stamps are also known to have been overprinted “VETERANS WIFE.” Originally thought to be No Fee stamps, research for this article suggests that they may be more accurately classified as “Reduced Fee” stamps. California continued to use No Fee overprints on other types of fish and game stamps through 1980-81.

Very little information has previously been published about these stamps. E. L. Vanderford briefly described most of the No Fee stamps that had been issued up until that time in his Handbook of Fish and Game Stamps, published in 1973. The purpose of this article will be to cover the stamps in detail. All of the stamps that have been recorded will be listed and described. They will be examined in chronological order, as determined by the year of issue of the first stamp in each series. An emphasis will be placed on the legislation, regulations, news releases, etc. which authorized the stamps and explained these extraordinary usages.

The author would like to note at the outset that it is primarily due to the efforts of Bill Oliver, longtime chairman of WESTPEX and a true philatelist, that most existing examples of California’s early overprinted stamps have been preserved. It is to Bill that this article is dedicated.



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