The Beginning of State Duck Stamps
One of the main purposes of the state waterfowl stamp programs has been to generate revenue for waterfowl conservation and restoration projects. In addition, waterfowl stamps validate hunting licenses and often serve as a control to limit the harvest within a specific geographical area.
The federal government recognized the need to protect waterfowl in the U.S. with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. On March 16, 1934, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act into law. Sale of Federal waterfowl stamps provided funding for the purchase and development of federal waterfowl areas.
Soon, state and local governments began requiring hunters to purchase waterfowl hunting stamps. Since these agencies did not have collectors in mind, most of the early stamps are printed text only. These include Pymatuning, Marion County, Honey Lake and the states of California, Illinois, North and South Dakota as well as several Indian Reservations.
Pictorial state waterfowl stamps saw their beginning in 1971, when California commissioned Paul Johnson to design the state's first duck stamp, a relatively simple rendition of a pair of pintails in flight. California's decision to issue pictorial stamps was prompted by the growing number of collectors interested in fish and game stamps. State officials estimated that any added production costs could be more than made up through the increased sale of stamps to collectors. In 1971 Iowa became the second state to initiate a pictorial waterfowl stamp program.
The appearance of new pictorial issues, combined with the publication of E.L. Vanderford's Handbook of Fish and Game Stamps in 1973, led to a surge in waterfowl stamp collecting.
Maryland and Massachusetts began to issue their stamps in 1974. All Massachusetts stamps depict waterfowl decoys by famous carvers. Illinois started a pictorial stamp program in 1975. The face value of this stamp was $5, and half of the revenue obtained through its sale went to Ducks Unlimited, a private conservation organization which has done much to aid in waterfowl restoration throughout North America.
These pictorial stamp programs were so successful in raising funds for waterfowl conservation projects that many additional states adopted similar stamp programs. Between 1976 and 1980, 13 additional states began issuing pictorial waterfowl stamps. Tennessee became the first state to issue separate pictorial waterfowl stamps for non-residents. These non-resident stamps were discontinued after only two years.
In response to an increasing demand for waterfowl stamps on the part of stamp collectors, many states started to print their stamps in two different formats in the 1980's. There was one type, usually printed in booklet panes, for license agents to issue to hunters, and a second type, usually printed in sheets, that was sold to collectors.
The 1981 Arkansas stamp was printed in booklet panes of thirty and issued with protective booklet covers to license agents. Sheets of thirty, without protective covers, were kept in Little Rock for sale to collectors. South Carolina issued their first stamp in 1981. They were printed in sheets of thirty. Starting with their second issues in 1982, a portion of the stamps were serially numbered on the reverse and distributed to license agents. Collectors who bought stamps directly from the state were sold stamps from sheets lacking the serial numbers. The agent, or "hunter type" stamps as they are often called, were only sold to those collectors who especially requested them.
When North Dakota introduced their first pictorial stamps in 1982, the first 20,000 stamps were set aside to be sold with prints or to be signed by the artist. These were printed in sheets of ten. Stamps numbered 20,001-150,000 were printed in booklet panes of five and distributed to license agents. Stamps with serial numbers higher than 150,000 were printed in sheets of thirty and reserved for sale to collectors. The stamps that were distributed to license agents were available to collectors for a brief period of time following the end of the hunting season and then destroyed. The collector type stamps, on the other hand, were kept on sale for three years. This accounts for the relative difficulty in obtaining unused examples of early North Dakota booklet-type (hunter stamps.
New Hampshire's first stamp was printed in two different formats. When collectors placed their orders, they were asked whether they wanted stamps with straight edges on three sides (booklet type) or fully perforated (from sheets printed for collectors). Not understanding the difference between the two types, the majority of collectors requested fully perforated stamps.
Collector interest in state duck stamps exploded in the mid 1980's. This can be attributed to the large number of states issuing stamps by this time and the fact that an album containing spaces for federal and state waterfowl stamps was published in 1987. In the years since, every state has initiated a waterfowl stamp program.
Nearly half of the states print their stamps in two formats today. Hunter stamps from Montana are printed in booklet panes of ten (2x5) with selvage on both sides. These are most often collected in horizontal pair. (Connecticut 1993-1996 and Virginia 1988-1995 issued stamps in the same format). The selvage on each side of the pair makes it easy to differentiate them from the collector-type stamps, which are printed in sheets of thirty. When the 1986 Montana stamps were issued, some representatives at the state agency did not recognize a difference between the booklet and sheet type stamps. Therefore, only a small number of booklet-type stamps were obtained by collectors.
There have been some occasions when the waterfowl season was ready to begin and the state license sections had not yet received their stamps from the printer. This occurred in 1989 for Oregon and in 1991 for Idaho. In these instances "temporary" non-pictorial stamps were printed and distributed to license agents for issue to hunters until the regular pictorial stamps were received.
In the late 1980's the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service encouraged many tribal governments to formally organize their fish and wildlife programs. Many of these programs were made to include stamp and license requirements in their general provisions. In 1989 the Crow Creek Sioux of South Dakota became the first tribal government to issue pictorial waterfowl stamps. These stamps were not printed with collectors in mind. Rather, tribal Department of Natural Resources officials was simply attempting to conform to standards set by South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission with their pictorial stamps. Separate stamps were printed for reservation residents, South Dakota residents who did not live on the reservation and non-residents of the state. For each classification only 200 stamps were printed.
In the last few years, several tribal governments have issued waterfowl stamps that are more readily available to collectors. For more information, see the Introduction to the Indian Reservation stamp article on this site.