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National Duck  Stamp
Collectors Society

APS Affiliate #210

The President’s Corner
by Ira Cotton

With this issue I am starting a series of articles on "What To Collect." I will discuss the various collecting options available to all of us interested in duck stamps. I don’t presume to suggest what anyone should collect; I just want to discuss some of the choices as to what you can collect. In this issue, I will start with federal stamps and then continue to the state stamps, forerunners, non-pictorial stamps, and ephemera in future issues. I will try to illustrate as many of the choices as I can.

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The federal duck stamp program began in 1934 with Scott #RW1 (see illustration). The events leading to the establishment of this series of stamps are well documented, most recently in The Duck Stamp Story by Eric Dolan and Bob Dumaine (the latter a prominent dealer and Board Member of our society).

Federal Duck stamps are revenue stamps issued by the federal government to raise funds for wetlands preservation. The stamps validate a license to hunt migratory waterfowl when affixed to the license and signed by the hunter. Since the hunting season for waterfowl begins in the fall and may extend into winter of the following year, the stamps are issued midyear and display the date of expiration in the next year. Since the first issue in 1934 ("void after June 30, 1935"), 67 federal duck stamps have been issued through the current stamp issued in 2000 and void in 2001.

The initial stamp was issued by the Department of Agriculture; in 1939, the duck stamp program was transferred to the Department of the Interior (DOI), where it is currently managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Through 1976, the stamps bore the inscription "Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp." In 1977, the inscription changed to "Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp."

Although the issue price of the federal stamp remained at one dollar for the first fifteen years of the program, it has risen steadily since then. The table below lists the issue price of federal duck stamps from 1934 through the present, showing the number of years each rate lasted:

Face Value

# of Years




1934 - 1948



1949 - 1958



1959 - 1971



1972 - 1978



1979 - 1986



1987 - 1988



1989 - 1990



1991 - ?

Inscriptions on the back of federal issues were introduced in 1946, printed under the gum. The first inscription stated that:

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In 1954, the inscription was changed; eight different inscriptions have been used to date. Starting in 1954, duck stamps were printed on dry, pre-gummed paper; thus, the inscription is removed when the stamp is moistened to affix to a license.

Stamp Formats

As singles, the stamps are collected mint or used. Since some hunters don’t sign their stamps (as they are required to do), there are two categories of used stamps: signed and unsigned. Any stamp appearing mint on the face but without gum was almost certainly soaked off a license after the season. Another popular way to collect mint stamps is signed by the artist, either on the stamp or on attached selvage.

As singles, the stamps are subject to the same condition grading as for postage stamps. A set of the 67 mint-never hinged (MNH) issues can range from about $3700 in fine (F) condition to about $9000 in extra fine (XF) condition. Hinged stamps sell for significantly less: in used (signed) condition, the range is about $650 to $1200, with a set of unsigned (no gum) stamps costing about $1600.

The federal stamps have all been printed by the Bureau of Engraving & Printing and issued in panes of various sizes with plate numbers. As for postage stamps, duck stamps are printed in large sheets that are then cut into panes and assembled into pads.

3.jpg (51909 bytes)From 1934 through 1958, the stamps were printed in 112 subject sheets that were cut into 28 stamp panes. The plate number was printed above or below the 2nd stamp in from the corners on top and bottom. These plate numbers are collectable as plate singles and blocks. For reasons of symmetry, these early issues are collected as plate blocks of 6, with full selvage on two adjacent sides and a vertical pair of stamps to the right and left of the pair with the plate number.

In 1959 the sheet format was changed to 120 subjects, resulting in panes of 30 stamps. In addition, the plate number was moved to the side of the corner stamps. These issues are collected as corner plate singles (with all selvage) and as plate blocks of 4. As explained by Dolan & Dumaine, the 1964 issue is an exception, because the plate number was mistakenly placed in the former position, above and below the 2nd stamp from the corner. Thus, this issue is also most desirably collected as a plate block of 6, though for several years the Scott catalog did not indicate this, resulting in a shortage of plate blocks of 6 and corresponding high prices after the error in guidance was corrected.

With the 2000 issue, the sheet format was changed again to 80 subjects and panes of 20. Plate numbers were printed on all four corners to accommodate the demand for plate singles and blocks that had resulted in much wastage of partial sheets. This issue is also collected in plate blocks of 4.

Since 1998, the duck stamp has also been printed in a single-stamp self-adhesive format that can be sold through an automated teller machine (ATM). Indications are that this will be the preferred format for sales to hunters around the country. The sheet format will be continued, but primarily for sales to collectors through the USPS Philatelic Service.

In 1985, in connection with the 50th anniversary of the duck stamp program, the FWS auctioned 14 full sheets of RW51, each consisting of four panes of 30 stamps with vertical and horizontal gutters and special numbered marginal inscriptions. The fifteenth sheet was provided to the National Philatelic Collection.

One dealer purchased eleven of the sheets and broke them down into vertical and horizontal gutter pairs and cross gutter blocks for sale to collectors. Interior singles were also sold as premium items, after being marked on the reverse with plate position and provided with a certificate of authenticity from the Philatelic Foundation. Without the plate marking and certificate, they are indistinguishable from the normal issue that year.

Printing errors are relatively rare for federal duck stamps, though imperforate multiples, color omissions, color shifts, plate flaws, paper folds, and inverts and omissions of the back inscription exist for some issues. The Dolan & Dumaine book contains a listing of recognized errors and varieties.4.jpg (56909 bytes)

The most recent innovation in duck stamp collecting is the introduction of artist remarques in the selvage of mint stamps. These are miniature informal drawings, often in color, of the duck species featured in the stamp (see illustration). Individually drawn by the artist who drew the art pictured on the stamp, these make an attractive addition to a duck stamp collection.

So far we have discussed collecting federal duck stamps as mint or used singles, plate singles or blocks, and errors. There are many more ways, however.


Covers & Licenses

Postal historians collect stamps on covers and prize the cancellations and markings. For duck stamps, the true equivalent of a cover is a signed stamp on license (see illustration). Licenses are available from all the states and some territories (e.g., pre-statehood Alaska and Hawaii).

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Collecting a full run of federal duck stamps on license is much more challenging than simply buying a set of mint or used stamps. Assembling a full set of duck stamps on license from the same state is even more challenging, as is collecting a license from every state.

In the first year of use of the federal duck stamp, not every state or territory required hunting licenses. For these areas, the federal government issued a special certificate (Form 3333) that contained a place for the stamp to be affixed and separate places for the certificate to be signed by the hunter and validated by a postmark. Properly validated certificates currently sell for many hundreds of dollars.

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Some collectors also created "first day covers" for duck stamps, by affixing a duck stamp and current first class postage on an envelope and having both cancelled on the day the duck stamp was issued. As this practice gained in popularity, attractively cacheted covers were produced and special cancellations were offered by the Post Office at first day ceremonies for the duck stamps, though strictly speaking it was the first class postage on the cover that was being cancelled. As for postage stamp first day ceremonies, there are now commemorative programs on which the duck stamps (with appropriate postage) are also cancelled.

Certificates & Cards

Since 1960, the Fish & Wildlife Department has issued a series of "Appreciation Certificates" and souvenir cards that were generally provided free with the purchase of a duck stamp. These provided a printed rectangle or a wide margin where the stamp could be affixed and optionally cancelled with postage. From 1985 to 1996, the Service brought specially overprinted cards to many stamp shows where they could be cancelled with a special show cancellation. In 1987 the Bureau of Engraving and Printing began issuing an annual Souvenir Card in full color. In 1995 the FWS issued the first in a series of "Artist Cards" honoring two or more artists and with room or two or more stamps to be affixed and canceled. Both certificates and cards are collected mint and with stamps affixed and canceled.

Junior Duck Stamps

7.jpg (99765 bytes)Finally, no description of the federal duck stamps is complete without mention of the Junior Duck Stamp program. This is an educational and development program for aspiring young artists. The program has grown rapidly since it was begun in 1989 as a pilot project. Educational materials are provided to public and private schools (K-12) and state and national art competitions are held for the design of a "Junior Duck Stamp." In 1992, the USFWS issued a souvenir sheet showing nine winning artworks from state competitions held during 1991 and 1992 across the nation (see illustration). Five thousand sheets were printed, which sold for $10 each. Since 1993, a single $5 stamp has been issued showing the winning artwork. These stamps are collectibles only and are not valid for any hunting purpose. They do make an attractive and inexpensive complement to any duck stamp collection.2000-2001 Junior Duck Stamp

Have I missed any ways to collect federal duck stamps? Please let me know and I will mention them next time.


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