After debuting just over two years ago, Waterfowl Stamps and More is pleased to announce our first major expansion – the Federal Home Page. You will find it located in the upper left corner of the website, just to the right of the Main Home Page. This area of the website is intended for collectors who have an interest in the beautiful federal migratory bird hunting stamps, more commonly known as federal waterfowl stamps or simply duck stamps.
Their vignettes have been designed by our country’s most notable wildlife artists, however, their true beauty is much more than meets the eye. These are the first fish and game stamps and have the distinction of being the longest consecutively-issued series of single-themed stamps in U.S. history. In addition, they have served as an indispensable tool in waterfowl conservation and management. The license and stamp system that was developed in the United States subsequently served as a model for the rest of the world.
The Federal Home Page was developed to provide an overview to this venerable collecting area, as well as to provide a source of in-depth information for those who wish to collect them.
The Introduction explains the stamps have been produced by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (until very recently) and have been made available to hunters, stamp collectors, wildlife enthusiasts and conservation minded philanthropists, annually, since 1934-35 (see Figure 1).
Next comes a section titled Philatelic Definitions and Context. This section explains how and where federal waterfowl stamps fit into the parent hobby of stamp collecting. It explains that the specialized area of waterfowl stamps is the largest subcategory of fish and game stamps and that fish and game stamps is the largest subcategory of revenue stamps. It then defines revenue stamps and explains the similarities and differences between revenue stamps and postage stamps.
The next section is titled Background. This section traces waterfowl populations back through time for millions of years, focussing on their importance to Native Americans as a food source and the impact firearms made on waterfowl populations once non-native hunters arrived in the new world. Important topics include the flyway concept (see Figure 2), the development of the shotgun and market hunting.
The focus of the introduction is titled Waterfowl Need and Purpose. The first paragraph explains that by the beginning of the 20th Century, an inverse relationship existed between the sizes of the non-native human and waterfowl populations in North America. Further, the need for waterfowl restoration and conservation was now coming into focus.
Important topics include the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, the newly envisioned federal wildlife refuge system and the need for funding. We then are introduced to the men who played key roles in bringing the federal waterfowl stamp into being and solidified the refuge system.
These included Connecticut Senator Frederick C. Walcott, who promoted the idea of the federal waterfowl management areas; Chief U.S. Game Warden George A. Lawyer, who first proposed the idea of a national hunting stamp; South Dakota Senator Peter Norbeck, a nationally known conservation legislator who was largely responsible for the Migratory Bird Conservation Act in 1929; President Franklin D. Roosevelt who appointed a special committee to secure funding; Committee member Aldo Leopold, known as the father of game management; Jay N. “Ding” Darling, the nationally known political cartoonist who, along with Leopold and Roosevelt, helped guide the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act through congress in 1934 and created the artwork for the first stamp (see Figure 3) and J. Clark Saylor II, who was appointed by Darling as the first Chief of the Wildlife Refuge Program, a position he held for 30 years.
The introduction concludes with data that strongly suggests that the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Program, together with the Wildlife Refuge Program, have now started to mitigate the negative impact non-native human populations had on waterfowl populations in North America through the early part of the 20th Century.
One of the most rewarding things about our hobby is that by buying federal waterfowl stamps – we all get to help make a difference. After clicking on an icon located at the end of the introduction, you may purchase a duck stamp directly from the United States Postal Service.
There are now three new online catalogs located on both the Federal and Main Home Pages: the Catalog of Federal Waterfowl Stamps, the Catalog of Federal Waterfowl Stamps – Graded and the Catalog of Federal Waterfowl Stamp Prints.
It is strongly recommended to read the Preface for each catalog in its entirety before entering. The first catalog provides current retail values for unused (with gum), unsigned (without gum) and signed (by a hunter) federal waterfowl stamps in very fine condition. For unsigned and signed stamps, we have included values for stamps affixed to their original hunting license, showing the usage for which they were intended. For unused stamps we have included values for plate number blocks and legitimate errors.
The Preface states that on license values in this catalog reflect common usages, then a paragraph explains which usages (states) are considered common and identifies others that are scarce to rare and usually bought and sold for a premium. Values for combination usages – licenses that bear other kinds of stamps in addition to the federal – are also discussed. For more in-depth information, visit the Usages Page.
The Preface for the graded catalog explains that in recent years many collectors of not just stamps but also coins and paper currency have begun to collect federal waterfowl stamps that have been graded by a professional third party.
While the values in the regular catalog correspond to grade 80 (very fine), the graded catalog has four columns for valuing federal waterfowl stamps that have received the higher numerical scores of 90, 95, 98 and 100 (see Figure 4). The values in this catalog are up-to-date as of June, 2018.
Then we have the first catalog for federal waterfowl stamp prints, ever. The Preface states that traditionally print values have been obtained from price “guides” that were printed and distributed by major wildlife art dealers. These guides have listed a single value for each edition of each print.
We now have an actual catalog, which takes into consideration not only dealer price lists, but recent auction results including those from Ebay and other online sources. The fundamental basis for this catalog is two-fold. First, as most of the early prints (pre-1974) were purchased and subsequently framed (sometimes repeatedly) prior to today’s museum standards, the population of prints today exists not in a homogenous state as implied by the traditional price guides – but in a wide range of conditions including unrestored, restored and never framed.
Second, while the cost of professional restoration remained relatively constant throughout much of the country for a long period of time (1970s-1980s), these costs have risen dramatically over the past 20 years – especially along the west coast, the northeast and in the bigger midwestern markets such as Chicago and Minneapolis. It is important to understand that it is in these areas that the vast majority of duck stamp prints are bought and sold.
While some collectors are happy with prints in “as is” condition, most dealers seek out the services of a museum-trained restorer before offering a previously framed piece for sale. Therefore, it is our opinion that a meaningful catalog must factor in the average current cost of professional restoration in the areas mentioned above.
Dealers in other areas of the country (where restoration costs have not risen as dramatically) may be able to to buy prints for a higher price, have them restored and sell them for a price close to the stated catalog values or – alternatively – sell them at a discounted price from the catalog values and still maintain a reasonable profit margin. This is the reality of a free market economy.
The catalog lists every edition of every print (with the exception of some esoteric special printings) and provides the name of the artist, the edition size (the total number of prints in the edition) and values for prints in unrestored, restored and never framed conditions.
The first step in producing a federal waterfowl stamp is to have an artist create original artwork for the central part of the stamp design (see Figure 5). In philatelic terms, this central image is referred to as the vignette.
This page of the website discusses this process and includes links to other areas of the site that go into greater detail. Key topics include the Bureau of Biological Survey Committee that originally selected the artwork; the Federal Duck Stamp Design Contest (which began in 1950), initial artist design renderings in pencil, the finished product that was submitted to the committee or the contest and genuine artist copies.
In many cases, the artist was consigned to make copies of the original submission. This often occurred shortly after the artwork was selected to appear on the stamp. However, in some cases, the copy was made many years later. A brief discussion on the relative values of the original submission vs copies is included.
It should be noted that Richard Prager, an active collector, has (to date) assembled over 50 of the original artist submissions. Richard has been kind enough to allow his important reference collection to be included on our website. To see a gallery featuring his collection, click here.
Proofs and Essays
After the artwork was either selected by the committee or chosen by the judges, it was turned over to a stamp designer at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. The stamp designer takes the original art and incorporates it into the actual stamp design, including frame lines, lettering and denomination (face value).
This page of the website includes a thorough discussion of the subsequent proofing process. Topics include the engraving process, essays, photo essays, large and small die proofs and plate proofs (see Figure 6).
To see a gallery containing images of essays and proofs for federal waterfowl stamps, click here.
Errors and Unusual
This page is devoted to federal waterfowl errors, freaks and oddities (EFOs), which are very popular with collectors of all levels. There are many to choose from in all price ranges. While these pieces often have tremendous eye appeal and ‘buy me” written all over them, one has to be somewhat cautious – for some pieces are not what they seem to be.
The first part of this section is devoted to an in-depth discussion of the “major errors” that have been recorded for RW1 (1934-35). It turns out that these are not really errors. They are printers waste. The discussion concludes by saying that once this information was printed in the Scott Specialized Catalog, collectors and dealers did really not seem to care. In fact, they have actually increased in value in recent years. The reason for this is because everyone apparently agrees they rank among the best philatelic eye candy ever (see figure 7).
Among the authentic federal waterfowl errors and varieties that have been recorded, we find stamps that were gummed on both sides, paper fold errors, minor “gutter snipes”, dramatic shifts, reverse inscriptions omitted, reverse inscriptions inverted, reverse inscriptions missing, colors missing and pieces that are legitimately imperforate. This is truly a fun area to collect!
To be taken to a gallery featuring examples of the above, click here.
Originating for the coin and paper currency hobbies, grading is now offered for many other major collectibles, including movie lobby cards, sports cards and stamps. This page explains the difference between professional third party grading and traditional expertization.
Topics include a list and links to a number of professional grading organizations, numerical scores and relation to value, set registries, grooming, the evolution in grading techniques and the need for periodic resubmission as technology improves with time.
The set of federal waterfowl stamps owned by California collector Gordon Wrubel includes many stamps that have received a perfect score of 100 (see Figure 8) and currently occupies position #1 on the PSE Registry. Gordon has generously allowed this extraordinary set to be included on our website. To enjoy it, click here.
One method of collecting federal waterfowl stamps is attempting to find them still affixed to their original license – thus demonstrating the conservation and regulatory purposes for which the stamps were actually intended. Once pursued primarily by advanced collectors and exhibitors, it has enjoyed widespread growth with all levels of collectors over the past 20 years. Analogous to postal history, the trend toward collecting on license is expected to continue well into the future.
This page features a comprehensive overview of collecting federal waterfowl stamps on license. Topics include the right of state governments to license hunters, an explanation of the various types of state licenses, combination usages, duplicate and replacement licenses, county licenses, military and Indian reservation licenses and collecting federal stamps on Form 3333 (see Figure 9).
Collecting on license – like postal history – allows for a great deal of personal choice and creative expression. Following the discussions of Combination Usages and Collecting on Form 3333, are links to large reference photo galleries. These galleries illustrate a couple of the many possibilities for collecting federal waterfowl stamp usages.
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 are now known as limited edition prints from the original designs and market them to wildlife art enthusiasts and stamp and print collectors.
The collecting of federal duck stamp prints was actively pursued in the 1970s through the 1990s, experienced a decline immediately preceding and during the Great Recession – and has since rebounded somewhat over the last few years (see The Bill Webster Sale at Siegel’s – Part Two).
We believe there are several factors at work here, not the least of which is the relative state of the economy and personal finances during these periods. The bottom line is that spending money on collections is an ongoing choice.
Perhaps the most critical factor is the relative lack of accurate, in-depth information about fish and game stamps, licenses and prints that existed prior to Waterfowl Stamps and More. One of the primary goals of this website and blog is to provide current and potential collectors with the most comprehensive information available to guide the hobby going forward. We are sympathetic to the fact that collectors want to feel comfortable when spending their financial resources on this hobby.
With this in mind, a great amount of effort was made to cover all of the bases with regard to federal duck stamp prints. We now have the first Catalog of Federal Waterfowl Stamp Prints – with a very detailed (must read) Preface, Duck Stamp Prints by Stearns and Fink, long considered the Bible of this collecting area, The comprehensive Torre-Webster Federal Waterfowl Stamps Print Archive – split into two galleries, 1934 – 1969 and 1970 – Date and this Prints page, which provides additional background, contextual and identification information.
We start by explaining that Ding Darling was not the first artist to produce prints from his federal waterfowl stamp artwork – that distinction goes to Richard Bishop in 1936 (see Figure 10).
Then comes the revelation that there are two editions of Darling’s 1934 print. The fact there were two versions is something I have explained in a previous blog (see The First Fish and Game Stamp – Part Five). However, a hand-letter written by Ding Darling was included in one of the auction lots at the Bill Webster Sale and it helps clarify the situation.
Several images of the two versions are presented along with an excerpt from the letter. It was then left to determine which version was the 1st edition (first released in 1944) and which was the 2nd edition (Darling’s letter tells us it was released in the fall of 1953). I have documented the thought process involved and hopefully it makes for an interesting read.
Additional topics include identification of Lynn Bogue Hunt’s 1st and 2nd editions, identification of Francis Lee Jaques’ 1st, 2nd and 3rd editions, 1941 and 1944 1st edition prints are reversed, Leslie C. Kouba’s 1st and 2nd editions, how to tell the difference between the 1st and 2nd editions of Maynard Reece’s iconic 1959 print featuring King Buck, the first multicolor print in 1970 and remarques.
The section concludes with an extensive discussion with regard to condition, conservation and framing. Topics include discoloration and UV resistant glazing products (glass or plexiglass), acid burn and acid-free products (matboard and foam-core board), trimming and acceptable margin size and using archival tape vs acid free corner mounts.
Stearns and Fink
As stated above, for decades Duck Stamp Prints by Jean Stearns and Russell Fink has been an invaluable source of information about federal waterfowl stamp prints. For each there are two facing pages. The page on the left features extensive artist biographies complied by Jean and Russell, including many personal insights and anecdotes unavailable anywhere else.
The page on the right features detailed information about the original art (when available) and the prints, including medium, plate size, number of editions, etc. Originally developed as a stamp album, the lower right side of the page features some basic information about the stamp and a stamp box to facilitate mounting.
A Helpful Tip: Once you have selected the desired page from the Table of Contents and are now on that page – if you click on either facing page it will enlarge and make for a better reading experience. To enlarge further, click on the symbol at the upper left of the page to go full screen (see Figure 11).
Once you are in full-screen mode, you can navigate forward and back with the arrows located to the far sides of your screen. To get out of full screen mode, click on the same symbol – which is now located in the upper left corner of your screen.
Our sincere appreciation goes to Russell Fink for his decades of hard work in compiling this resource and for generously allowing it to be included as part of our website.
The Links Page contains valuable contact information for philatelic clubs and organizations, philatelic magazines and newspapers, philatelic expertization services, philatelic and collectibles insurance, collecting and exhibiting supplies, philatelic libraries and institutions and museums of interest to collectors of waterfowl stamps and prints.
Beneath the banner on the Federal Home page you will find blog posts that have been selected for their appeal to collectors of federal waterfowl stamps. While the blog posts on the Main Home Page appear in chronological order according to the date they were published (most recent at the top), the posts on the federal page are arranged chronologically by the year of issue for the stamps and prints discussed in the posts (1934-35 at the top, then descending to the most recent issues).
We hope you enjoy this new area of Waterfowl Stamps and More and, as always, your comments and suggestions are both welcome and appreciated.