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 Us Duck Stamp # Rw1 Mint Dg Nh $800Us, Locals, Ducks, State Revenues & Other Revenue Stamps In StockpagesNystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw3 Mint Dg Nh $375 Scott #rw1 Mint No Gum Federal Duck Stamp Xf/sup BeautyCkstamps: 1999 Mint Nh Us State Ducks Stamps Collection In Album(face Value $244Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw6 Mint Og Nh $275Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw2 Appears Mint With Gum $400Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw28 Mint Og $110Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw36 Mint Og Nh $75Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw16 Mint Og Nh $75Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw7 Mint Og $130Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw17 Mint Og $95Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw8 Mint Og $125Ckstamps: 2000 Mint Nh Us State Ducks Stamps Collection In Album(face Value $238 Scott #rw2 Mint No Gum Federal Duck Stamp Xf/sup BeautyNystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw22 Mint Og Nh $95Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw30 Mint With Gum $115Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw32 Mint With Gum $110Ckstamps: 2002 Mint Nh Us State Ducks Stamps Collection In Album(face Value $247Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw24 Mint Og $95Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw37 Mint Og Nh $75Noblespirit~no Reserve~valuable Us Duck Stamp Mint Plate Block & Singles Estate!Ckstamps: 2001 Mint Nh Us State Ducks Stamps Collection In Album(face Value $243Federal Duck Stamp Collection - See All PhotosNystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw34 Mint Og Nh $125U.s. #rw37//66 Used - 1970-99 Duck Stamps ($215)Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw68 Mint Og Nh $33 Scott #rw5 Mint No Gum Federal Duck Stamp Xf/sup Beauty1999 Du Federal Duck Stamp PrintDuck Stamps - Scott #rw14, Rw16, Rw18, Rw20-rw21, Rw33, Rw45, Mint, NhU.s. #rw67a//71a Unused - 2000-4 $15 S.a. Ducks ($75)Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw63 Mint Og Nh $35U.s. #rw4//18 Mint Or Used - 1937-51 $1 - $2 Ducks ($540)Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp, Duck, Scott Rw26 1959 #2Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw33 Mint With Gum $110Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw59 Mint Og Nh $35Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw26 Mint Og $1252000 Du Federal Duck Stamp PrintNystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw9 Mint Og $125U.s. #rw48 Nh Plate Block - 1981 $7.50 Ruddy Ducks ($75)Nystamps G Old Us Bob Duck Stamp Collection Scott Album PageNystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw35 Mint Og $75Nystamps Us North Carolina Duck Stamp # 1 Mint $50U.s. #rw58//71 Mint Nh - 1991- 2004 Duck Stamps ($350)Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw25 Mint Og $95Ckstamps: 2003 Mint Nh Us State Ducks Stamps Collection In Album(face Value $240Wtdstamps - #rw11 - Us Federal Duck Stamp - Mint H OgNystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw54 Mint Og Nh $18Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw11 Mint Og Nh $135Nystamps Us Duck Stamp # Rw27 Mint With Gum $95Nystamps Us South Carolina Duck Stamp # 4 Mint $65Fl 1 - 1979 - Florida State Duck Stamp MnhRw14 1947 Federal Duck Stamp Ognh Superb $130.00 BcvUs Duck Stamp Scott# Rw32 $3 1965 Duck Mint Vf Nh? But Gum Skip And FingerprintLa 18 - 2006 Louisiana Resident State Duck Stamp MnhFl 24e - 2002 - Error-reverse Image Florida State Duck Stamp MnhKy 18 - 2002 - Kentucky State Duck Stamp MnhKy 20 - 2004 - Kentucky State Duck Stamp MnhCt 7 - 1999 - Connecticut State Duck Stamp MnhCt 10 - 2000 - Connecticut State Duck Stamp Mnh