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”)

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]

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]

Alphabetilately

Alphabetilately

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



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Nystamps G Old Us Bob Duck Stamp Collection Album PageScott #rw26 Unused 1959 Federal Duck Stamp Cv $125.00Ckstamps : Attractive Mint & Used Us Federal & State Ducks Stamps CollectionNystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw1 Mint With Gum H $375Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw2 Mint With Gum H $375Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw5 Mint Og Nh $475Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw29 Mint H OgNystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw3 Mint Og Nh $375Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw24 Mint Og Nh $90Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw31 Mint Nh Og Cv$100Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw37 Mint Nh Og Cv$70U.s. #rw16-rw19 Mint Never Hinged O.g. Ducks $340.00 Scv Nice!!Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw26 Mint Og H $1251992 Us Stamp Sc# Rw59 Federal Duck Plate Block Mnh $60 Face Value -og Cv =$110+Rw26 - 1959 Federal Duck Stamp Small Group Of Ducks And Geese That Are Actually DogsCkstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw38 Mint Nh Og Cv$4524 - U.s. Mint & Used Duck Stamps $1.00 To $7.50 - EstateNystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw38 Mint Og Nh $45Rw27 Redhead Ducks Ognh (with Plate Number) Beautiful Duck Cv $1o5.00Us Sc#rw76a Mint 2010 Duck Stamp Die Cut Issue Souvenir Sheet Nh Og Vf Sc$22+Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw34 Mint Nh Og Cv$110Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw17 Mint Nh Og Cv$90Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw27 Mint Lh OgCkstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw4 Mint Nh Og Cv$350Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw30 Mint Nh Og Cv$100Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw4 Mint With Gum H $170Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw68 Mint Nh Og 1958 Us Sc# Rw25 $2 Federal Duck Stamp Mint Never Hinged Mnh - Og - Cv = $85Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw60 Mint Nh Og Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw33 Mint Nh Og Cv$100Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw8 Mint Nh Og Cv$225Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw16 Mint Nh Og Cv$70Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw26 Mint Lh OgNystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw36 Mint Og H $701980 Us Stamp Sc# Rw47 Federal Duck Plate Block Mnh $30 Face Value - Og Cv =$64+Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw35 Mint Og Nh $70Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw34 Mint Og H $110Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw10 Mint Nh Og Cv$125Rw57b - 1990 Federal Duck Stamp - Used ** Major Error ** Efo - Back Inscription Ckstamps: Us State Duck Stamp Collection Hawaii 1996 Mint Nh Og Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw35 Mint Nh Og Cv$70Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw36 Mint Nh Og Cv$70Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw36 Mint Part GumCkstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw12 Mint Nh Og Cv$95Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw23 Mint Nh Og Cv$901934 Us Sc# Rw1 $1 Federal Duck Stamp Mint Never Hinged Mnh Regummed? Cv = $750Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw33 Mint Lh OgNystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw65 Mint Og Nh $45Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw59 Mint Nh Og Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw15 Mint Nh Og Cv$60Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw18 Mint Nh Og Cv$90Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw6 Mint H Og Cv$110Rw63 Plate No.single, 1996 Federal Duck Stamp; Mnh; Wilhelm Goebel, Surf ScotersNystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw63 Mint Og Nh $33Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw14 Mint Lh OgCkstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw52 Mint Nh OgCkstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw49 Mint Nh OgNoblespirit No Reserve (my)/1177 Mint & Used From Rw1 Duck Stamp Collection!Ckstamps: Us Federal Duck Stamp Collection Scott#rw34 Unused Ng