Welcome to Gallery Nine – Federal Waterfowl Stamps

We are pleased to announce that Gallery Nine is now up. Unlike the previous mixed galleries, this one is focussed on one collecting area. We are speaking about the the federal waterfowl stamps, more commonly known as federal duck stamps. These were the very first fish and game stamps and, for most collectors, still serve as the gateway to our hobby.

Gallery Nine serves the dual roles of 1) serving as a comprehensive resource covering all aspects of federal stamp and print production and 2) lays much of the needed groundwork for the website’s first major expansion – the Federal Home Page – set to launch this summer.

Gallery Nine is intended to provide a reliable overview for collecting federal waterfowl stamps, starting with the original artwork; Bureau of Engraving and Printing production pieces (essays and proofs); the stamps as issued (singles, errors, plate number blocks and complete panes) and limited edition prints produced from the original artwork by the artists subsequent to the stamps being issued. We are also taking this opportunity to introduce and explain stamp grading.

Along with usages, which are not included in Gallery Nine due to space requirements, each of these areas represent dedicated sections within the upcoming Federal Home Page. When the new home page is launched, the introductions in Gallery Nine will serve as their foundation. Toward this end, you will find the introductions are much more in-depth than is the case for Galleries One – Eight.

Once you have entered the individual galleries, you will find they contain a large number of high resolution images. Over the past week, we have worked closely with our website host to ensure that download speed has been optimized on our end. If the bigger galleries take a little extra time to load, hopefully you will find them to be worth the wait –  for you will now be able to enjoy a tremendous amount of material never before made available for public viewing.


Original Art

Each federal waterfowl stamp begins with original artwork. In the early days, a special committee within (initially) the Bureau of Biological Survey and then its successor, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, invited well known wildlife artists to submit their designs for consideration.

Prior to the first federal duck stamp design contest being held, in 1950, the committees selected one of these designs to comprise the central artwork (vignette) on each year’s waterfowl stamp. Starting in 1950, an open contest was held and a group of impartial judges chose a winner from a much larger number of original entries.

As each piece is unique, few have attempted to collect the original entries, themselves. Obviously the challenge factor is off the charts. There have been two notable exceptions, however, Richard Perry of Baltimore and (more recently) Richard Prager of New York.

For decades, Perry owned the largest private collection of original federal waterfowl stamp art. Perry’s collection included originals that were selected by the committee, original entries that were chosen by the judges as winners and, in some cases, copies made by the artists when the originals had been lost or were otherwise unavailable.

Prager acquired the Perry collection intact and has greatly added to it over the years. Thanks to Richard (Prager), we are now able to show you the largest number of original federal waterfowl stamp art pieces ever assembled in one place (see Figures 1 and 2 for examples).



Figure 1. RW11 (1944-45) Original Selected by Committee.



Figure 2. RW50 (1983-84) Original Entry – Contest Winner.



In the wildlife art world, and (to a lesser extent) in the world of philately, there exists a misconception that the wildlife artists design the stamps, themselves. As we are about to see, this is not really true. The production process involves many talented people – each of whom deserves some measure of credit for the finished product.


Essays & Proofs

After the artwork was either selected by the committee or chosen by the judges, it was turned over to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP), until 2005, when the United Staes Postal Service (USPS) started using private printers. Starting in 2011, the USPS handled all stamp production in house. The BEP is responsible for creating security products for the federal government, including currency and, until recently, stamps.

The first step was to have a stamp designer take the original waterfowl artwork and incorporate it into an actual stamp design with frame lines, lettering and denomination. Within the context of a complete stamp design, the artwork is the basis for the central image or vignette, only.

When the stamp design is finished, it is turned over to the the Engraving Department at the BEP. Here, two or more engravers produce die proofs by etching the design into a metal plate, referred to as a die. Usually, one engraver is responsible for creating the vignette and a separate engraver(s) are responsible for the frame lines, lettering and numerals.

This is a multi-step process and images are periodically pulled from the die for inspection by supervisors and various officials. This is known as proofing. Occasionally, the stamp designer’s original design was changed or modified during the proofing process.

If the proof’s design differs in any way from the issued stamp, it is known as an essay. If the design is exactly the same as the finished stamp, it is a proof. There are several different kinds of proofs. If the proof has large margins (greater than 5-6 mm) it is a large die proof. Typically, large die proofs were mounted on a larger piece of card stock (see Figure 3). If the large die proof is printed in a color different from the issued stamp, it is a trial color large die proof.



Figure 3. RW3 (1936-37) Large Die Proof.



If the margins have been trimmed to 5-6 mm, it is a small die proof. All recorded small die proofs for RW1-4 (1934-35 – 1937-38) have been mounted on card stock that was trimmed close to the size of the proof, itself. From RW5 (1938-39) on, all recorded federal waterfowl small die proofs are unmounted (see Figure 4).



Figure 4. RW5 (1938-39) Small Die Proof.



Once the final die proofs have been approved, the die, itself, is copied many times to create large metal printing plates. From RW1 (1934-35) through RW25 (1958-59), the printing plates consisted of 112 subjects. Starting with RW26 (1959-60), the plates were increased in size to 120 subjects. After the printing plates were created, another round of proofs were pulled form the entire plate and these are known as plate proofs.

Plate proofs are often difficult to differentiate from unmounted small die proofs. Keep in mind that plate proofs are multi-image impressions and, therefore, the size of their margins is limited by  the spacing between the images on the plate. For this reason, the size of the margins on plate proofs cannot reach the 5-6 mm of a small die proof. I have examined very few pieces I believe to be actual plate proofs. In all cases, the margins measured 3-4 mm.

This gallery contains the majority of large and small die proofs in collector’s hands. There also exists a large die proof for RW10 (1943-44) and a small die proof for RW13 (1946-47) whose whereabouts are currently unknown. Therefore, we were unable to obtain a scan.


Singles – PSE Registry #1

In recent years, professional stamp grading has come into widespread use. The grade is rendered by experts employed by third-party firms. Auction houses, collectors and dealers may submit their stamp(s) to be graded for a fee.

In the early days of stamp grading, traditional philatelic descriptions were used, such as very fine, extra fine and superb. Stamp grading has evolved and now uses a numerical grade, similar to that used in the coin and currency hobbies.

Initially, numerical grades from 1 – 100 were awarded. However, this system has since been simplified to include every 5th number plus 98. The latter is reserved for stamps that are graded as very close to perfect but barely miss. If a stamp is judged to be flawless, with mathematically perfect centering, it is awarded the top score of 100 (see Figure 5).



Figure 5. RW2 (1935-36) Graded 100.



Many collectors enjoy the challenge of attempting to assemble a set consisting of the highest-graded stamps possible. One of the prominent grading firms, Professional Stamp Experts (PSE), offers collectors an opportunity to register their set on their website. This allows collectors to see how their collection compares to others.

Currently, the highest graded set on the PSE Registry belongs to Gordon Wrubel of California. Gordon has been kind enough to allow us to include his set in this gallery for everyone to enjoy.


Plate Number Blocks

Once the plate proofs were approved, the plates were inked and large sheets were printed. Often, two or more different plates were created to produce the total number of stamps ordered. Each metal plate is serial numbered. The sheets were imprinted in four different places with the serial number of the the plate used to print it. When the large sheets were cut down into four smaller panes for easy handling and distribution, each pane retained a plate number.

Traditionally, the collecting of plate number blocks has been very popular with collectors. A multiple (more than one stamp connected together) greatly increases the eye appeal of the piece and a plate number block is a multiple consisting of either six or four stamps connected together with the original sheet margins (selvage) attached along two sides. The plate number is located in the selvage.

Starting with RW1 (1934-35) and continuing through RW25 (1958-59), federal waterfowl stamps were printed on a flatbed press. The plate number was printed in the selvage attached to a stamp one removed from the upper left (UL), upper right (UR), lower left (LL) or lower right (LR) sides. By philatelic convention, these issues are collected in plate number blocks of six (see Figure 6).



Figure 6. RW4 (1937-38) Plate Number Block.



Starting with RW26 (1959-60), a Giorgi rotary press was used to print the stamps and the plate number was printed on the selvage attached to the stamps in each of the the four corners on the large sheet. By convention, this resulted in plate blocks of four (see Figure 7).



Figure 7. RW26 (1959-60) Plate Number Block.



RW31 (1964-65) represents an unusual case where, for this multicolor issue (only), the plate number was once again printed in the selvage attached to the stamp one removed from the side.

By this point in time, collectors were accustomed to asking the post office to sell them plate number blocks of four and, therefore, very few obtained the correct plate number block of six. For this issue, most of the plate blocks in collections today were removed from intact panes subsequent to the stamps being taken off sale and destroyed (see Figure 8).



Figure 8. RW31 (1964-65) Plate Number Block.



While most collectors are satisfied with one plate block for each issue (from any position), others wish to add an additional challenge to the mix. Options include attempting to obtain all their plate blocks with the number printed in the top selvage and attempting to acquire a plate block with the same number from all four positions (UL, UR, LL and LR). The latter is referred to as a matched set.




Many stamp collectors love errors and varieties. These are often visually exciting and they spice up collections with, well… variety. There are some really great errors and varieties to be found on federal waterfowl stamps and these exist in all price ranges. Perhaps the most famous federal waterfowl stamp “errors” are not really errors by definition. I am talking about the partially and completely imperforate pieces found on RW1 (1934-35).

An extensive discussion of these items is provided in the introduction to this gallery. These pieces are actually printer’s waste that was fished out of a trash can as opposed to being sold across a post office counter. It is the latter scenario that defines a true philatelic error.

Even though this fact has become well known in recent years, the demand (and values) for these pieces has actually increased. I have found this somewhat surprising and have come to the conclusion that Jay N. “Ding” Darling’s stamp is so popular with collectors that they are willing to accept these pieces for what they are – incredible eye candy related to the first federal waterfowl stamp. In short, the coolest printer’s waste ever!

There are two versions of this error, one of which is imperforate horizontally (Type I) and one which appears to be completely imperforate (Type II). As explained in the gallery introduction, it is almost certain that the completely imperforate pairs and strips have been created from the partially imperforate pieces by way of having their vertical perforations trimmed off (see Figure 9).



Figure 9. RW1 (1934-35) Pair Imperforate (Type II).



There are also a number of stamps that have been recorded with original gum on both the obverse and reverse. I have always found these to be particularly intriguing, as the sheets would have to have been run through the presses twice – once upside down (see Figure 10).



RW11 (1944-45) Bottom Plate Number Single Gummed on Obverse and Reverse.



Some of the most interesting errors resulted from the paper being folded-over prior to or during the printing process. The most spectacular of these occurs on a corner single of RW34 (1967-68). This piece was originally in the Jeannette C. Rudy Collection and later sold to me by Bob Dumaine of Sam Houston Philatelics (see Figure 12).



Figure 12. Enlargement of the paper fold-over error on RW34 (1967-68).



This gallery is loaded with cool items from many of the top federal waterfowl stamp collections, so please enjoy!



Presentation Folios and Panes

Richard Prager, whose original art is discussed above, has been specializing in federal waterfowl stamps for decades. He has assembled one of the finest collections of this material, ever.

One of Richard’s biggest interests (aside from the original art) is attempting to acquire the first pane of each stamp issued. In all known cases, this was either sold or presented to the artist who created the original artwork.

This was done either at a private ceremony, similar to the one in which Jay N. Ding Darling was allowed to purchase stamps from the first pane, or (at least as far back as the early 1990s) at the annual federal waterfowl stamp design contest.

Within this gallery, you will find photographs of the presentation folio cover and interiors, as well as high resolution scans of the panes, themselves. In many cases, the panes are signed by the artist and/or the key government officials connected with the federal waterfowl stamp program at the time (see Figure 13).



Figure 13. RW23 (1956-57) Presentation Pane Signed by Arthur E. Summerfield, Postmaster General; Fred A. Seaton, Secretary of the Interior and John L. Farley, Director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.



In recent years, the attractive folios have been discontinued and the first pane is presented to the artist framed, under plexiglass (see Figure 14).



Figure 14. RW78 (2011-12) Presentation Pane Signed by Jim Hautman, Artist and Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior.



These images capture an important part of waterfowl stamp history and they have never been seen by the majority of collectors. Thanks to Richard for making this possible.



Complete Panes

Many collectors are interested in collecting complete panes of federal waterfowl stamps to some extant or another. In some cases, their interest extends only to their favorite stamp(s) or theirs or their children’s birth years. In other cases, it may include stamps “designed” by either their favorite or home state artist(s) or stamps with a common theme, such as depicting retrievers or lighthouses.

There are many motivational factors at play here, some of which include their tremendous eye appeal (a leveling up from plate number blocks), challenge – most of the pre RW38 (1971-72) panes are scarce to rare – and philanthropy, the desire on the part of many collectors to make a substantial contribution towards waterfowl conservation.

Over the years, many advanced collectors have attempted to acquire a complete set of panes and several have succeeded. To my knowledge, no one has yet attempted to collect matched panes, however, we thought it would be fun to try to include as many different positions as possible in this gallery. If you are interested in these pieces, please check back from time to time as we will be adding to it as time goes on.

As stated above, starting with RW1 (1934-35), the large sheets contained 112 subjects. Therefore, when the sheets were cut into four panes, each contained 28 stamps. For RW1, only, all multiples extant must have been purchased during a two-week period immediately preceding the day they were taken off sale and, ultimately, destroyed (see Figure 15).



Figure 16. RW1 Complete Pane (LR).



Starting with RW26 (1959-60), when the the change was made from a flatbed press to a Giorgi rotary press, the federal waterfowl stamps were still printed in large sheets. However, the number of subjects increased from 112 to 120. The pane size increased proportionately, from 28 to 30 stamps (see Figure 17).



Figure 17. RW26 Complete Pane (LR).



Starting with RW67 (2000-01), the size of the sheets was reduced to 80 subjects and the individual panes consisted of 20 stamps (see Figure 18). The sheet size was further reduced starting with RW70 (2003-04) to 60 subjects. However, the number of stamps in a pane remained at 20. For the next several years, the sheet size bounced back and forth from 60 to 80, however, the pane size remained constant.



Figure 18. RW67 Complete Pane (LL).



In order to facilitate download speed, the panes have been divided into two galleries. The first represents the single color, flatbed issues and the second consists of the multicolor issues starting with RW26 (1959-60).



While the artist does not receive any direct compensation from the federal government for creating artwork for the stamps, they are permitted to produce what has become known as limited edition prints from their original designs and market them to wildlife art enthusiasts and print collectors.

Along with copies of the original entry done by the artist (see introduction to the original art gallery), prints serve the purpose of allowing many different people to own and enjoy a bona fide piece of art that was either produced directly by the artist’s hand or with the assistance of a third party (printer or publisher) at the artist’s direction.

There was often more than one separate edition for each print. In many cases the artist labeled the editions when he was signing the prints. In some instances the editions can be identified based on the medium used to produce it; for example, an etching vs a lithograph. In a few instances identification depends on very slight modifications in the design. The best guide for identifying these is Duck Stamp Prints by Stearns and Fink.

The federal print collection shown here represents the combined collections of both Bill Webster (the founder of Wild Wings) and myself and is believed to be the most comprehensive extant. There is however, currently one small problem. When we went to have the collection photographed, we found that I had made a mistake many years ago.

When it came to the RW7 (1940) print by Frances L. Jaques, instead of finding the first, second and third editions we wished to show – we discovered I had saved a first and two seconds. When I am able to acquire a nice third edition print, this gallery will be updated.

In the meantime, this gallery should serve as a nearly perfect reference for the federal waterfowl stamp prints. Included are such pieces as RW1 (1934) and RW2 (1935) with full margins, RW11 (1944) first and second editions with unrestored signatures and RW38 (1971) with a color remarque (see Figures 19, 20 and 21).



Figure 19. 1935 (Full Size Margins).



Figure 20. 1944 1st Edition (Matted) with unrestored signature.



Figure 21. 1971 1st Edition with a color remarque.



Gallery Nine can be reached by clicking on Galleries beneath the Home Page banner, then clicking on Gallery Nine. As always, your comments and feedback are most welcome and appreciated.

Kay and I are off to Scandinavia in a few days, where we will be showing our support for Will and Abby Csaplar at Finlandia 2017. Upon our return, I intend to take some time to recuperate, then I will check in to see how the team is coming along on the new Federal Home Page.



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