The Federal Duck Stamp program is one of the most successful conservation programs ever devised. Since 1934, revenues from the sale of Federal Duck Stamps have been used to acquire millions of acres of natural habitat for America's waterfowl in the National Wildlife Refuge System. The Artistic License exhibit, formerly on display in the Jeanette Cantrell Rudy gallery at the National Postal Museum, explores the history of rare and collectible Federal Duck Stamps created as a result of this extraordinary conservation program.
This exhibit was made possible through the generous support of Jeanette Cantrell Rudy.
A morning's work - duck hunters, Lake County, California, 1906
Bringing Back the Birds
In 1934, our nation discovered its natural bounty had limits. The continental population of waterfowl reached its lowest point in recorded history—approximately 27 million birds.
Through the Federal Duck Stamp Program, conservationists, artists, hunters and the federal government joined forces to conserve our country's natural resources. Together, they found a way to save our migratory waterfowl for future generations.
The First Federal Duck Stamp
Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling (1876-1962), the designer of the first Federal Duck Stamp, was a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist for the Des Moines Register. His greatest enthusiasm was for conservation. In the 1930s, he answered a call from Washington to aid the migratory waterfowl crisis. He served as a member of two committees that examined the crisis, and also was chief of the U. S. Biological Survey, 1934-35. He was one of the leading advocates of the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act.
Ding Darling's etching Mallards Dropping In became the design of the first Federal Duck Stamp issued in 1934. Haunted by the inadequacies of this hastily composed artwork, Darling sketched variations and gave them to friends for more than twenty years after the issuance of the stamp.
The 1934 Federal Duck Stamp graces this North Dakota hunting license. For the first time, all waterfowl hunters over the age of 16 were required to purchase a Federal Duck Stamp and affix it to a state hunting license.
Courtesy of an anonymous lender.
Art In the Service of Conservation
The Federal Duck Stamp is the only U. S. stamp whose design is traditionally chosen through an art contest. Each year, hundreds of wildlife artists from all over the country enter the Federal Duck Stamp Design Contest. The winning design appears on the following year's stamp.
Although the winner receives no money from the federal government, the artist can expect to earn hundreds of thousand of dollars, mostly from the sale of limited edition prints of the original artwork.
Accomplished wildlife artist Bob Hines was chosen to created the 1946 Federal Duck Stamp. Until 1949, the stamp was designed by an artist appointed by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 1947, Hines was hired to administer the program, a position he held for 32 years.
The original artwork for the 1946 Federal Duck Stamp, an ink drawing by Bob Hines, shows a male Redhead Duck landing amid a small swimming flock. The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service returned Hines' first attempt, requesting that he take out a second flock of ducks.
Fulvous Whistling Duck painted by Burton Moore. This southern species had never been featured on a Federal Duck Stamp until this 1986 issue. Courtesy of an anonymous lender.
Artists create special collectibles called remarques by painting or drawing an image on one of the duck stamps they have designed. The image can either mirror the design of the stamp or be a different pose of the same species. A tribute remarque results when an artist creates an image on a stamp designed by another artist.
The evolution of Federal Duck Stamps can be seen in this series, which includes a stamp from each decade. The stamps signed by Ken Michaelsen are tribute remarques to deceased artists on the stamps they created. Michaelsen designed the 1979 Federal Duck Stamp.
Ding Darling and Maynard Reece
Artists, Conservationists and Friends
Perhaps the two most significant artists in the history of the Federal Duck Stamp Program were Ding Darling and Maynard Reece. The two duck stamp artists, hunters and Iowans seemed destined to become close friends.
As a hunter, Reece knew duck stamps were, but he found out about the Federal Duck Stamp Design Contest from Darling. Darling critiqued the aspiring wildlife artist's paintings and offered advice. Reece improved to the level where Darling felt he could not longer teach him. "He was wrong," Reece said. "He helped me until the day he died."
For more information on the Federal Duck Stamp, visit the website of the Federal Duck Stamp Office.
For more information on collecting Federal Duck Stamps, visit the website of the National Duck Stamp Collectors Society.
This cartoon on conservation typifies the many created by Ding Darling. Courtesy Ding Darling Foundation
Artist Frank Benson, 1935
Artist Bob Hines, 1946
Artist Stanley Stearns, 1955
Artist Claremont Pritchard, 1968
Artist Lee LeBlanc, 1973
Artist Burton Moore, 1986
Artist Joe Hautman, 1992
Reece created these remarques of the five Federal Duck Stamps he designed.
Maynard Reece became one of the greatest duck stamp artists. Between 1949 and 1971, he won the Federal Duck Stamp Design Contest five times. Courtesy Maynard Reece Gallery.
Tribute remarque to Ding Darling.
Reece's letter explains his tribute remarque to his longtime friend Ding Darling.
Courtesy Ding Darling Foundation.
Jay N. "Ding" Darling, 1876-1962. Courtesy Ding Darling Foundation.