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    

Nystamps S Old Us Bob Duck Stamp Collection Harris Album PageNystamps Old Us & Bob Duck Stamp Collection White Ace Album Scv $2200United States Federal Duck Permit Stamps G300Ckstamps : 1987 Mint Nh Us State Ducks Stamps Collection ( Face Value $198.00Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw16 Mint Og Nh $70* 1934 Us Sc# Rw1 $1 Federal Duck Stamp Blue Used Hr - Catalog Value = $150 *Ckstamps: Lovely Mint & Used Us Federal & State Ducks Stamps Collection In PagesCkstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw14 Mint Nh OgCkstamps : Beautiful Mint Nh Us State Ducks Stamps Collection ( Face Value $149Ckstamps : Beautiful Mint Nh Us State Ducks Stamps Collection ( Face Value $1701966 Us Sc# Rw33 $3 Federal Duck Stamp Mint Never Hinged Mnh Og - Cv = $100Us Duck Stamp Rw % Mint Og Nh List Price $225.001935 Us Sc# Rw2 $1 Federal Duck Stamp Used Signed Lh Ng - Catalog Value = $1602001 Us Stamp Sc# Rw68 Federal Duck Plate Block Mnh $60 Face Value - Og Cv =$120Ckstamps : 1988 Mint Nh Us State Ducks Stamps Collection ( Face Value $204Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw75 Mint Og Nh $23Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw1 Used $150Us Duck Stamp Rw 4 Mint List Price $250.00Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw15 Mint H OgNystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw15 Mint Og Nh $60Us Eight Different Used Federal Duck Stamps In Nice Condition!Scott Rw20 $2.00 1953 Mint Never Hinged Duck Stamp Value $90.00Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw2 Used $160Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw34 Mint Og Nh $110Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw13 Mint H Og1959 Us Federal Migratory Waterfowl Duck Stamp Rw26 Mh OgUnited States Sc.# Jds9 Junior Duck StampCkstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw11 Mint H OgNystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw74 Mint Og Nh $23Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw72 Mint Og Nh $23Us #rw5//rw40 (26) Federal Duck Stamps, Used, Faults To Fvf, C$465.00Keith Warrick Duck Migratory Water Fowl Stamp Print Signed Numbered 002306 FrameCkstamps : 1990 Mint Nh Us State Ducks Stamps Collection ( Face Value $230.00Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw17 Mint Og Nh $90Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw50 Mint Nh Og Us Department Of Interior "duck" Stamp $2.00 1958 Mint Condition Nh EiderScott Rw26 $3.00 1959 Beautiful Duck Stamp Mint No Gum Value $40.00Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw13 Mint Og H $200 P#4Rw2 1935 Federal Duck Stamp Unsigned No Gum $75 Bcv-penny StartRw1 1934 Federal Duck Stamp Unsigned No Gum $45 Bcv-penny StartUs Jds10 $5 2002 Junior Duck Stamp Mallards Vf Unused Og Spot Of Disturbed GumCkstamps : 1989 Mint Nh Us State Ducks Stamps Collection ( Face Value $209.00Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw32 Mint Og Nh $100#rw59 Plate Block, 1992 "spectacled Eider" Migratory Waterfowl Duck Stamp, Mnh#rw61 Plate Block, 1994 "red-breasted Merganser" Waterfowl Duck Stamp, Mnh1965 Us Federal Migratory Waterfowl Duck Stamp Rw32 MnhogNystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw30 Mint Og Nh $1008 United States Duck / Bird Hunting Stamps $15 $12.50 $10 $7.50 Mint Unused NhRw21, Plate Number Single - 1954 Federal Duck Stamp; Harvey D. Sandstrom2003 Us Federal Migratory Waterfowl Duck Stamp Rw70a MnhogU.s.a. Duck 1982 Federal Hunting Permit #rw49 Vf-nh Sheet Corner Plate BlockUs State Duck And Wildlife Collection Glassine Lot G7 Us Department Of Interior "duck" Stamp $3.00 1961 Mint Condition Nh Wtdstamps - #rw74a - Us Federal Duck Stamp - Po Fresh / No Creases $30Rw25 (rw 25) 1958 Federal Duck Stamp (kouba) Premium Used- Tiny Signed- ExNystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw37 Mint Og H $70Duck Stamps Nice Lot Of 12 Used Different In A Very Good QualityNystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw29 Mint Og Nh $110Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw15 Mint Og H $240 P#4Lot Of 19 Duck Stamps Migratory Bird Hunting Stamps Various Years