Walter A. Weber: Winner of the First Federal Duck Stamp Contest – Part Three

We continue our story about Walter Weber by first taking a look at two of the paintings he had published in The National Geographic Magazine, in 1949 and 1950 – around the same time he painted his winning federal duck stamp entry. It is for this exquisite wildlife art that Walter is, perhaps, best remembered.

Then, it will be necessary to amend some of what we believe to know about the first federal duck stamp contest. After wrapping our minds around this new information, we shall begin our survey of Walter’s trail blazing 1950-51 stamp – and set the stage for a real treat in the next and final post in this series.


The National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society was founded in 1888 “to increase and diffuse geographic knowledge”. The Society believes in the ability of exploration, science and storytelling to impact the world in a positive way. It’s stated purpose is to illuminate, inspire and teach.

The National Geographic Magazine was first published in October of 1888, nine months after the Society was founded. The magazine contains articles about culture, geography and history and features artwork and photography of places and things from around the world.

Walter returned to working freelance from 1944 to 1949. During this time he did contract work for the National Geographic Society and also for private collectors. In addition, he found time to create a group of charming pen and ink drawings that were used to illustrate the book Meeting the Mammals, by Victor H. Cahalane (see Figure 1).



Figure 1. Dust jacket for Meeting the Mammals, artwork by Walter A. Weber.



In 1949 Walter accepted the position of chief staff artist and naturalist for the National Geographic Society. He would remain with the Society in this capacity until he retired in 1971. It was in 1949 that Walter completed one of my personal favorite paintings, titled Snowy Egrets (see Figures 2 and 3).



Figure 2. Walter Webber works on one of my favorite paintings, Snowy Egrets, circa 1949.



Figure 3. Snowy Egrets display their courtship plumage in a mangrove swamp, by Walter A. Weber.



While Walter was employed by the Society, he traveled the world as part of scientific expeditions and painted exotic wildlife (see Figure 4). These expeditions caused Walter to be away from home for up to three years at a time.



Figure 4. An evocative painting used to illustrate Peerless Nepal – A Naturalist’s Paradise, circa 1950.



The First Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest

In The Making of and Icon – Part Three, I revealed that after observing the 1948 selection process for the 1949-50 federal waterfowl stamp (Roger Preuss’ American Godeneyes), Robert Hines proposed an open contest with stated rules, guidelines and impartial judges –  the format that is still used today.

In researching this post, I made a startling discovery that forever changes one of the central tenets of waterfowl stamp dogma. Everything I had previously heard or read stated that Walter A. Weber won the first art contest, held in 1949 (for the 1950-51 stamp). 

Even the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service website, under Duck Stamp Contest & Event Information, states “The first art contest, in 1949, was open to any U.S. artist who wish to enter”.

In The Making of an Icon – Part Three, I stated “Following Walter Weber’s first win in 1949, Maynard Reece won the contest for the first time in 1950”.

In fact, the first contest was held to select artwork for the 1950-51 stamp. However, it was not held in 1949 – it was held in 1950 (see Figure 5 and b).




Figures 5a (top) and b (bottom). USFWS press release announcing the first federal duck stamp art contest.



As we can see from the press release above, the first contest was announced in 1949 but paragraph three clearly states “… entries, which are to be submitted on or before January 2, 1950 …” After discovering this, I decided I better do some more homework.

First, I check a letter in my possession that was written by Robert Hines and describes how he went about establishing the contest. He states “… and we were able to establish such a contest in time to select Walter Weber’s Trumpeter Swan design for the 1950 stamp, the first to be selected by open competition.” Period. He does not actually say in what year the contest was held.

Next, I checked records for the contests held in subsequent years. I found that it was not until 1954 that the contest was held in the year prior to that in which the stamp was issued. (see Figure 6).



Figure 6. USFWS press release announcing a new deadline for the duck stamp contest.



This document is interesting for several reasons. First, aside from the obvious, it provides evidence that in 1954, two federal duck stamp contests were held in the same year! Second, the official press release states the [second] 1954 contest will be the “SIXTH ANNUAL”, when, in reality, this was not the case.

It should be noted that in The Making of an Icon, I was not only incorrect about Weber winning in 1949 – but also about Reece winning for the first time in 1950. The contest that Reece won was actually held in January of 1951.

How did everyone miss this for over 60 years? Well, I guess since the contest has been held the year prior to issue for so many years  – and it become such an established tradition – that everyone, myself included, assumed it was always so. In other words, everyone just incorrectly assumed that the first contest was held in 1949.


Walter Weber is the First Contest Winner

On Wednesday, January 18, 1950, the USFWS announced “A picture of two trumpeter swans flying over Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Montana was chosen today for the 17th duck stamp in the U.S.”

The press release went on to say that “Walter Webber is the first former duck stamp artist to win the competition a second time” (see Figures 7a and b). In fact, it was Walter’s first contest win. As we saw in part one of this series, his 1944 his artwork was selected by a committee.




Figures 7a (top) and b (bottom). USFWS press release announcing the winner of the 1950 duck stamp art contest.



A total of 88 designs were submitted by 65 contestants. Here again, there is a pronounced difference in the way the contest was originally set up as compared to the way we know it today. At some point, each artist was limited to only one entry.

It should be noted that Walter’s painting was chosen over what must have been some pretty stiff competition – coming from the likes of Richard Bishop, Joseph Day Knap and Lynn Bogue Hunt, among others. Many of our greatest wildlife artists were vying for the honor of becoming the first duck stamp contest winner.


1950-51 Stamps issued

The medium chosen by Walter was gouache with a black and white wash (see Figure 8). This is the same medium that was used by Maynard Reece to create his iconic painting of King Buck. For a description of gouache, see The Making of an Icon – Part Four.



Figure 8. The original gouache with black and white wash painting by Walter A. Weber. Photo courtesy of Richard Prager.



After the artwork was chosen by the judges, it was sent to designer Victor S. McCloskey. For more on this consummate designer, see My Favorite Federal Duck Stamp. McCloskey took Walter’s work and used it for the central vignette. He then designed the finished stamp, complete with frame lines, lettering and denominations (see Figure 9).



Figure 9. 1950-51 federal waterfowl stamp, top plate number single.



Once McCloskey was finished designing the stamp, it was turned over to the Engraving Department at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Two engravers were assigned to produce die proofs. The vignette was engraved by Arthur W. Dintaman, while the frame lines, lettering and numerals were engraved by Reuben K. Barrick. No large or small die proofs are known to be in collector’s hands.

Once the die proofs were approved, large printing plates of 112 subjects were created by duplicating the metal dies. For Weber’s 1950-51 stamp, four plates were created, numbers 161533, 161534, 161535 and 161536. After plate proofs were pulled and approved, regular sheets of 112 subjects were printed, gummed and perforated.

The large sheets were cut down into four panes of 28 for easy distribution to post offices. Each pane was imprinted with a plate number in the top or bottom selvage to indicate which metal plate was used to produce the larger sheet it was cut from (see Figure 10).



Figure 10. Complete pane of 1950-51 federal waterfowl stamps. Note this is the upper left pane which was cut from the original sheet of 112 stamps. The plate, number 161536, was one of four used to print Weber’s stamp.



As we saw in The Making of an Icon – Part Three, the 1946-47 stamp designed by Robert Hines was the first to have a printed message on the reverse.

An offset plate number (47510) was added to the reverse of each sheet of 112 stamps. It was placed in the upper right pane margin (or selvage) of stamp number UR24, and in no other position.

While the 1946-47 stamp was the first occurrence of an offset plate number on the reverse selvage of a federal waterfowl stamp, the 1950-51 stamp was the last (see Figures 11 and 12). Of the five possibilities, the 1950-51 issue is the most difficult to acquire  – especially an example that shows the entire number and which has not been partially trimmed.



Figure 11. Reverse of a 1950-51 federal waterfowl stamp showing inscription and complete offset plate number in the attached selvage.



Figure 12. Reverse offset plate number block of the 1950-51 federal waterfowl stamp. Note the plate number (47510) is only partially visible. For this issue, the number should have been completely removed when the selvage was trimmed.



The reverse plate number block in Figure 12 is believed to be the only recorded example and has a rather impressive provenance. It was originally in the collection of Jeannette C. Rudy; then went to the Csaplars and was included in the national version of their award-winning exhibit; then I acquired it from them in a trade for my own collection. Currently, it is owned by Michael Jaffe and can be seen in his new exhibit, A Philatelic Survey of Waterfowl Hunting Jurisdictions.



Continue to Part Four



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