Since 1934, hunters of migratory waterfowl have been required to purchase a Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, commonly known as a duck stamp, at the beginning of each hunting season. These revenue stamps must be signed by the hunter and affixed to his or her hunting license.

From the beginning, though, the program was aimed at more than just hunters. Conservationists and wildlife-art lovers were also its audience, and the revenues generated by sales of the stamps were earmarked specifically for the purchase of wetlands and other wild spaces used by migratory birds. Thanks to these three interest groups, the stamps have been a resounding success. More than $700 million has been raised by the sales of these stamps, resulting in the acquisition of some 5.2-million acres for the National Wildlife Refuge System.

The first head of the Duck Stamp Program, a conservationist and Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist named Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling, drew the first duck stamp. His pencil sketch depicted a pair of mallards coming in for a landing, with waving reeds in the background. Tinted blue, the stamp cost a dollar, racked up sales of 635,001, and was valid through June 30, 1935.

Frank Benson’s 1935 stamp, which was good through June 30 of 1936, also cost a dollar. His trio of canvasbacks was given a maroon hue. Canadian geese, greater scaups, northern pintails, and green-winged teals filled out the rest of the 1930s, while the 1940s were sprinkled with black ducks, ruddy ducks, wood ducks, buffleheads, and two types of geese. Stamp sales crested the 1-million mark in 1938, and 2 million was reached in 1946.

All this time, the stamps still cost $1, and artists were selected by invitation. But in 1950, the price of a duck stamp was raised to $2. That number would hold until 1959, when the price was raised to $3 and the first multi-colored stamp was issued. Based on a tempera drawing by Maynard Reece, it featured a Labrador retriever with a mallard in its mouth next to the words "RETRIEVERS SAVE GAME."

But the biggest change of 1950 was the way in which duck-stamp artists were selected. That year, a competition was held and 65 artists entered. The winner was Walter Weber, whose black-and-white gouache drawing of a pair of trumpeter swans flying over a lake, with mountains in the background, was printed in purple.

In 1971, states got into the pictorial-stamp act, beginning with California. As with the federal program, the goal was to raise money for wetlands. Paul Johnson created the first...

For serious collectors, mint-condition stamps that are unsigned and have their original gum backing bring the highest prices. That said, some people prefer to collect stamps that have been affixed to licenses or signed by the hunters who originally purchased them. In these cases, the collector is not only getting a collectible stamp, but a piece of cultural history, too.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

1847USA

1847USA

Bob Allen's beautiful and well organized catalog of US stamps from 1847 to 1970 is a fantastic resource for all US … [read review or visit site]

The Stamp Collecting Round-up

The Stamp Collecting Round-up

Don Schilling's long-running, in-depth blog on stamp collecting and postal operations. Schilling stays up on all th… [read review or visit site]

National Postal Museum

National Postal Museum

If you're into postal history or collectibles, check out the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum. This extensive s… [read review or visit site]

R. A. Siegel Auction Galleries

R. A. Siegel Auction Galleries

This auction house site offers an extensive online database of US stamp information. Includes PDF catalogs of past … [read review or visit site]

Post Office in Paradise

Post Office in Paradise

Post Office in Paradise showcases Hawaiian postal history from the years before Hawaii became a part of the United … [read review or visit site]

Private Die Proprietary Stamps

Private Die Proprietary Stamps

Bob Hohertz's impressive database of U.S. Private Die Proprietary stamps from the Civil War and Spanish American Wa… [read review or visit site]

Alphabetilately

Alphabetilately

First shown in 2008 to celebrate the Smithsonian National Postal Museum's 15th anniversary, Alphabetilately is esse… [read review or visit site]

National Carousel Association

National Carousel Association

Since 1973, the National Carousel Association has been dedicated to preserving and restoring carousels and carousel… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

1935 Usa Duck. $1 Sc Rw2. Never Hinged. Cat $750Us Revenues Scott #rw14/rw64, 142 Used Ducks Mostly Sound & Well CenteredUnited States Scott #rw1 Mh Og, Duck Stamps, Revenues, Mallards AlightingUnited States Scott #rw7/rw55 All Mint Original Gum Hinged Federal Duck StampsUnited States Scott #rw5/rw48, 14 Different Unused No Gum Duck Stamps Cv$422Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw2 Mint Og $400Ckstamps: Us Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw1 Unused Ng Cv$175Ckstamps: Us Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw2 Unused Ng Cv$200United States Lot Of 11 Mint Original Gum Hinged Federal Duck StampsCkstamps: Us Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw29 Mint Nh Og Cv$110United States Scott #rw1 Mint Ng, Se, Duck Stamps, Revenues, Mallards AlightingNystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw31 Mint Og Nh $120Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw27 Mint Og Nh $95Us Sc Rw1 Mallards Alighting 1934 Duck Stamp - Unsigned / Unused No GumUnited States Scott #rw1 Mint No Gum, Duck Stamps, Revenues, Mallards AlightingCkstamps: 1987 Mint Nh Us State Ducks Stamps Collection In Album(face Value $192Nystamps S Old Us Bob Duck Stamp CollectionNystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw30 Mint Og Nh $115Ckstamps: 1988 Mint Nh Us State Ducks Stamps Collection In Album(face Value $199Ckstamps: 1989 Mint Nh Us State Ducks Stamps Collection In Album(face Value $209United States Scott #rw3-rw11 Used Sound Duck Stamps, Cat Value $500Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw22 Mint Og Nh $95United States Scott #rw3-rw6 Mint No Gum Duck Stamps Few Straight Edges, Cv $330Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # R26w Mint Og Nh $125United States 20 Different Used Duck Stamps #rw6-rw8, Rw11, & Rw13-rw28Ckstamps: Us Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw30 Mint Nh Og Cv$100Lot Of 2 Binders 1989 1990 1991 America's State Duck Stamps Collection 87 StampsNystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw77b Mint Og Nh $601943 Usa Duck. $1 Sc Rw10. Never Hinged. Cat $125United States Scott #rw3/rw11 Used Federal Ducks On Piece/license Cv Used $5252013-14 Federal Duck Stamp M.n.h. Very Fine #rw80aUnited States Scott #rw12 Mint Og Hinged, Shoveller Ducks In Flight, Duck StampsNystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw7 Mint Og $130Us,rw65,federal Duck Hunting Stamp,mint NhNystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw9 Mint Og Nh $275Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw15 Mint Og Nh $60United States Collection Of Misc State Ducks & Hunting/fishing Permits 30 TotalCkstamps: Us Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw31 Mint Nh Og Cv$100Rw9, 1942 Federal Duck Stamp; A. Lassell Ripley, American WigeonsUnited States Scott #rw22 Mint Og Hinged, Blue Geese, Duck Stamps, Cv $90.00Us,rw62,federal Duck Hunting Stamp,mint NhNoblespirit~no Reserve~magq4/26~very Desirable Multi-vol Us Duck Stamp Fdc's!!!!Rw19 Federal Duck Stamp 1952 Mint - Xf - Og - VlhLot Of 3 Binders America's State Duck Fish Game Birds Stamps Collection 63 TotalCkstamps: Us Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw35 Mint Nh Og Cv$70Rw72, 2005 Federal Duck Stamp; Mnh; Mark Anderson, Hooded MergansersNystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw23 Mint Og Nh $95Us Used Collection Of Older Duck Stamps, Most Still On LicenseRw78a, 2011 Federal Duck Stamp Pane Of 1; Mnh; James Hautman, White Front GeeseU.s. #rw27 Mint Vf - 1960 $3 Redhead Ducks ($95)Ckstamps: Us Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw2 Used Cv$160Rw75a, 2008 Federal Duck Stamp Pane Of 1; Joe Hautman, PintailsNystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw11 Mint Og $60Dr Jim Stamps Old Us Scott Rw65a Self-adhesive Duck Single Og Nh No ReserveBeautiful Framed Set Of All 5 Of Maynard Reese Federal Duck Stamps Signed By Him12-federal Duck Stamps Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw17 Mint Og Nh $95Rw22 Federal Duck Stamp 1955 Mnh - Xf - Og - Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw18 Mint Og $95Rw18 Federal Duck Stamp 1951 Mint - Superb - Og - Vlh