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 Revenue Duck Stamp Collection Scott AlbumCkstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw3 $1 1936 Mint H Og Cv$175Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw1 $1 1934 Mint H Og Cv$4001978 Wisconsin Duck Stamp & Print Le 5225/5800 Owen J. Gromme SignedCkstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw12 $1 1945 Mint Nh OgCkstamps:us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw19 $2 1952 Mint Nh OgCkstamps : Wonderful Mint & Used Us Federal & State Ducks Stamps Collection Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw15 $1 1948 Mint Nh OgCkstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw5 $1 1938 Mint H Og Cv$425Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw34 $3 1967 Mint Lh Og Cv$125Dr Jim Stamps Old Us Scott Rw1 Dept Of Agriculture Duck $1 No Gum No ReserveCkstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw2 $1 1935 Unused NgU.s. Migratory Bird Hunting Stamps ~ $3.00 Duck Stamps~mint Numbered Plate BlockCkstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw33 $3 1966 Mint Vlh Og Cv$110Rw18-rw26 1951-1959 Duck Stamp Used F-vf Scott Catalog $120.00Buffalo Stamp, Us Duck Stamp Lot, Rw13//rw50, Rw21 Mint Dog, Hi Cv QqNystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw65 Mint With Gum $50Nystamps X Old Us Bob Revenue Duck Stamp Collection Stock Page1959 Rw26 Federal Duck Stamp Unsigned -no Gum Or Hinge-giant Sale-best WholesaleCkstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw29 $3 1962 Mint Lh Og Cv$125Lot Of 28 Federal Duck Stamps Mostly Signed D27United States Hunting Permit Stamps (duck Stamps): Rw13 // Rw50Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw32 $3 1965 Mint Lh Og Cv$110Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw7 Mint Og Nh $275Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw7 $1 1940 Mint H Og Cv$130Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw16 Mint Og Nh $75Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw26 $3 1959 Mint Nh Og Cv$1251977 Michigan Duck Stamp, Mi-2, Canvasbacks, MnhNystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw3 Mint With Gum $1851978 Iowa Duck Stamp Print Le & Stamp 522/600 Nick Klepinger SignedCkstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw39 $5 1972 Mint Nh Og Cv$27.5Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw35 $3 1968 Mint Nh Og Cv$75Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw11 Mint Og Nh $135Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw16 $1 1949 Mint Nh Og Cv$60Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw13 $1 1946 Mint Nh Og Cv$55Rw27-rw36 1960-1969 Duck Stamp Used F-vf Scott Catalog $120.00Dr Jim Stamps Old Us Scott Rw2 Dept Of Agriculture Duck $1 Used No ReserveNystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw2 Mint With Gum $400Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw25 $2 1958 Mint Lh Og Cv$95Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw2 Mint With Gum $400Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw8 $1 1941 Mint OgNystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw1 Mint With Gum $400Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw18 $1 1951 Mint H Og Cv$95Ckstamps: Us State Duck $6 North Dakota Sheet.30 1998 Mint Nh Og Face Value $180Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw37 $3 1970 Mint Nh Og Cv$75Ckstamps: Us State Duck $6 North Dakota Sheet.30 1994 Mint Nh Og Face Value $180Rw76, 2009 Federal Duck Stamp; Mnh; Joshua Spies; Nice Centering & MarginsCkstamps : 1996 Us Hawaii State Ducks Stamps, Complete Sheet Of 30, Mint Nh OgCkstamps: Us State Duck $6 North Dakota Sheet.30 1993 Mint Nh Og Face Value $180Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw63 $15 1996 Mint Nh Og Cv$35Rw37-rw50 1970-1983 Duck Stamp Used F-vf Scott Catalog $95.00Rw12-rw17 1945-1950 Duck Stamp Used F-vf Scott Catalog $100.00Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw4 $1 1937 Mint H Og Cv$350Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw10 $1 1943 Mint Lh OgMaryland Md23 Waterfowl Duck Stamp 1996 Mnh - Gem - Og - Artist Signed Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw22 Mint Og $95Ckstamps: Us State Duck $6 North Dakota Sheet.30 1999 Mint Nh Og Face Value $180Rw 71 Federal Duck Stamp 2004- Mnh - Gem - Og - Artist SignedCkstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw21 $2 1954 Mint Lh Og Cv$95Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw31 $3 1964 Unused Ng