\Meadowlark Gallery: The Artist Biographies

"An Evolution of Effort a.k.a. Federal Duck Stamp Program"
Gary L. Temple
Copyright 2012

An Evolution of Effort
by Gary L. Temple

Recently, I agreed to comment about how Jay “Ding” Darling selected Richard E. Bishop to do the third design. Darling had approached Bishop early in 1935 based upon the pair of etchings, “Coming In” and “Getting Out” done in 1928. “Coming In” became more difficult to find on the market due to it being very similar to the final design.

Bishop submitted four designs with two stipulations. The first stipulation was there were to be no alterations and the second stipulation was for no lettering to be within the design. At the Department of Agriculture a staff artist felt they could improve the design. Bishop objected and threatened to withdraw his submission.

Bishop wanted to promote his career so he decided to produce an etching of the design in a larger format. The pulling of the prints would also be done during his career. Sadly, the Federal Duck Stamp print history still lists the edition size as unlimited. The plate for the etching was steel annealed so it could withstand a larger edition. From the personal records of the artist in his studio, he pulled and signed 1483 impressions during his career.

The history of the duck stamp program is interesting for not only the monies raised over the years but the politics of just maintaining it. Franklin D. Roosevelt was in his first year of office as President in 1933 and appointed Ding to a “duck committee.” The hope of the committee was to draft a waterfowl recovery plan.

The committee got their act together which resulted in a recommendation for the government to spend $25 million on wildlife restoration by purchasing twelve million acres of wetland. Another $25 million was requested for the Public Works Administration to restore the lands. Darling was then appointed Chief of the Biological Survey. Roosevelt promised $1 million from the federal treasury but when pressed gave Darling an “IOU” on a scrap of paper.

Senator Peter Norbeck of South Dakota introduced and wrote the 1929 Migratory Bird Conservation Act. The Senator was at the end of his career and he requested $1 million for wetland from the unused federal relief fund. They attached the request to the omnibus bill for the Biological Survey.

Just in the final minutes due to possibly his seniority and being at the end of his career, Norbeck changed the amount from $ 1 million to $ 6 million as the bill came to a vote. Norbeck was asked to read his amendment and he spoke with a strong Scandinavian accent which was difficult to understand. A simple reading was complicated by the Senator having recently had his teeth extracted. New dentures were not fitting well with the Senator so he took them out and put them in his vest pocket. Darling described Norbeck’s reading of the amendment as “totally devoid of understandable articulation.”

The amendment passed and the bill was carried to the White House. Roosevelt wrote how Darling was "the only man in history who got an appropriation through Congress, passed the budget and signed by the President without anybody realizing that the treasury had been raided."

The production of the 1934 duck stamp was ready to go to the hunters. Ray Holland who was a former U. S. Game Warden and later the editor of Field and Stream Magazine, described the distribution in a 1935 editorial, “the Post Office Department got out its rolls of red tape and wrapped and rewrapped each stamp." Holland elaborated how hunters waited in line to buy a stamp. They were then told to affix the stamp to their hunting permits in the presence of a postmaster. They told the normal stamp collector they could not purchase them. When the stamp was not available, an “Application for Migratory-Bird Hunting Stamp” was to be mailed to Washington. Many hunters were unsuccessful in getting a stamp but hunted during the season in full violation of the new federal regulations.

The second stamp design was an invitation from Ding Darling to Frank W. Benson. The invitation was based on a black and white painting of three canvasback ducks landing in a marsh done by Benson.

After Richard Bishop decided to pull an etching of his design, succeeding invited artists also followed his lead. Subsequent invitation artists began producing as well prints of their stamp designs. In addition, Ding Darling did an edition of his design. It was not until 1942 when Frank W. Benson finally did an etching of his design.

The selection process became a competition in 1950. Finally in 1970, they allowed color artwork in the competition and the world of the Federal changed for whatever the reader may decide. Many factors came into play such as the edition sizes and the type of printing processes used by the artists. The fine art era of the Federal Duck Stamp history ceased with the introduction of the photomechanical process for each edition. The integrity of the Federal Duck Stamp market was weakened severely with the photomechanical process.

Unusual characteristics started vaguely to appear but even past participating artists could not put their thumb on the problem. Something existed but no one could find it, be allowed to find it, or just move away from the area. Self preservation was the proper approach rather than be faced with the end of the program. New factors started to emerge in the selection process of the program which caused many suspicions. One year an artist had heard ahead of the competition how a particular artist was going to have a certain theme and be from a certain state. When requesting further information about the possible selection, they were met without an answer until after the competition. Any efforts after the competition were responded to with the threat of ending the program if further attempts continued.

Finally in the mid-1970's, new regulations were placed on the program for the artist. The regulation dealt into the artwork submitted, the final design, and the printing process for the Duck Stamp print from the stamp design. Clearly the increase in edition sizes allowed speculation into the market but in actuality the collectible value began to fall. This decline of the federal duck stamp print done in the photomechanical process would mirror itself again in the consumer market after 1990. Edition sizes of the Federal designs now showed deterioration in the numbers being destroyed after the printing due to lack of interest by the public.

Now sadly efforts have been underway to change the Federal Duck Stamp into an electronically transmitted entity. The government still want the fees for the right to hunt waterfowl but I am very concerned whether or not the wetland money generating program will survive.

March 16. 1934--President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act into law authorizing the first federal duck stamp.

August 1934--Duck stamps were distributed to post offices for sale across the country. A total of 635,001 stamps were sold at $1 each.

1935--Hunters were required to sign their duck stamps for the first time. The 1935 stamp is the rarest of all stamps because only 448,204 were sold.

1936--Richard E. Bishop does a print of his Federal design to be pulled and distributed to promote his career. For most of the Federal program it is listed as unlimited but from Bishop’s records he did 1483 prints.

1938--Duck stamp sales exceeded 1 million for the first time.

1940--Prior to 1940, the U.S. Postal Service required the destruction of all stamps not sold during the year of their issue.

1946--The text, “it is unlawful to hunt waterfowl unless you sign your name in ink across the face of the stamp” was put on the back of the stamp. Duck stamp sales exceeded 2 million for the first time.

1948--This was the first year that unsolicited art submissions were allowed along with those of invited artists. Previously, only invited artists submitted entries.

1949--Stamp cost was increased to $2. It was the first issue to sell more than 3 million.

1950--This was the first year of an open national competition.

1952--Although the number of entries was unknown it was still a significant open national competition. Receiving an Honorable Mention was a twelve year old girl, Judy Ellen Wines. This was a significant event but little publicized. The 1991 competition finally resulted in another woman, Nancy Howe, to win the design. Sherrie R. Meline won the competition in 2006.

1957--The first year that competition rules banned entry any species used on a stamp in the previous five years.

1958--This was the last year that stamps were printed on a flat-bed press and the first year that a species, the Canada goose, repeated on a duck stamp. Public law was changed to permit duck stamps to be reproduced as illustrations but only in black-and-white; color reproductions, with size restrictions, were allowed under a 1984 law.

1959--Stamp cost was increased to $3. First year stamps were issued in 30-stamp panes rather than 28; first multicolored stamp was printed on a rotary press.
first stamp with a subject other than waterfowl (a Labrador retriever holding a mallard in its mouth) and to carry a conservation inscription: Retrievers Save Game. This was the first of three consecutive stamps bearing a conservation message.

1970--First year colored artwork was allowed in the competition and the stamp was issued in full color. Previously limited color had been added on stamps based on black-and-white original artwork.

1972--Stamp cost was increased to $5.

1973--Lee LeBlanc, the animator of cartoon characters Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig, won the stamp competition.

1975--This stamp design had the primary subject of a decoy with the species in the background.

1976--Last stamp printed in black-and-white.

1977--Name changed from Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp to Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp to encourage nonhunters to contribute to waterfowl habitat acquisition and maintenance.

1979--Stamp cost was increased to $7.50.

1982--A record 2,099 art entries, a number never exceeded. In 1983 a $20 contest entry fee was initiated and the number of artists submitting work dropped to 1,564.

1984--50th anniversary stamp. A record 33,940 prints were published.

1987--Stamp cost was increased to $10.

1988--Last year artists were allowed to submit any species.

1989--First year only five species selected by USFWS were allowed as entries so that all North American species would have appeared on the duck stamp. Stamp cost was increased to $12.50. Junior Duck Stamp Conservation and Design Program introduced to encourage youth interest in waterfowl conservation.

1991--Stamp cost was increased to $15. First and only woman winner.

1997--Change in law allowed stamps to be sold by entities other than the U.S. Postal Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

1998--First self-adhesive stamps were sold in addition to traditional gummed version.


John Ordeman

“The Federal” by Jon Farrar; Nebraskaland Magazine; Nebraska Game Parks, publication date unknown.

Content taken from the Duck Stamp Collection. The Duck Stamp Collection was originally printed in a loose-leaf, hole-punched format that was available for sale through the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) and updated annually. The document is no longer in print.

Copyright 2012 by Gary L. Temple
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this article,
or any parts thereof in any form, except the use of brief quotations in a review.