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Friday, September 16, 2011

Stamp Investment Tip: U.S. 1934-38 Migratory Bird Hunting Stamps (Scott #RW1-5)

I'm initiating coverage of U.S. Migratory Bird Hunting Stamps, popularly known as "Duck Stamps", because I believe that Duck stamp collectors represent a unique and growing niche market offering opportunities for the philatelic investor.

Ducks stamps are tax stamps which are sold to hunters annually to license the hunting of ducks and other migratory waterfowl. The revenues obtained from their sale are used to purchase wetlands. The stamps have been around since 1934, and the first was designed by Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling, a Pulitzer-Prize winning cartoonist and prominent conservationist. Since 1949, the Department of the Interior has chosen the stamp designs via a contest, in which thousands of wildlife artists enter their proposed designs. Those who win are entitled to sell prints, which are sought by both stamp collectors and art collectors.

Within the U.S., Duck stamps are issued by the Federal government (the Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service), by states, and by some Indian tribal organizations. Since 1995, the Fish and Wildlife Service has also issued "Junior Duck Stamps", for which the designs are chosen by a nationwide contest in which students in Kindergarten through the 12th grade may participate. While Junior Duck Stamps have no validity as tax stamps and might strictly be considered labels, they do promote interest in Duck stamps in general, and have become very popular among collectors.

The Duck Stamp collecting community is interesting because it represents an atypical crossover market which includes collectors of general U.S. stamps and U.S. Revenues, along with collectors of Duck hunting memorabilia and Wildlife art. Because the sales of the stamps protect wildlife habitats, it may be considered a "green" collectible, and Duck stamp collecting is actively promoted by the Fish and Wildlife Service. I estimate that currently there are between 8,000 to 10,000 "serious" Duck stamp collectors in the U.S., and many others who buy them to them to fill spaces in their general U.S. albums.

I recommend purchase of the first five Duck Stamps (Scott #RW1-5) in F-VF or better, LH or NH condition. These were issued from 1934 to 1938 by the Department of Agriculture (the Interior Department took over the operation in 1939), and they were sold at post offices. Each of the stamps cost $1.00, which was a lot of money during the Depression, when the unemployment rate rose as high as 22% and the average earnings of an American family were about $1,400 per year. Quantities issued of these stamps ranged from 635,000 to just over 1 million, and the Scott '12 values for unused range from $ 225.00 to $400.00 ($ 425.00 to $ 800.00 for NH). However, it it is likely that very few were collected mint, partly because of the expense, and also because at the time, the post offices were instructed to sell only one Duck stamp per customer.

Hunters used the stamps by affixing them to licenses, and sometimes "canceling" the stamps by signing their names on them. Frequently, Duck stamps offered as "unused, no gum", or "unused, regummed" are often just used stamps which were not signed, so it's best to purchase the gummed stamps, and should there be any question as to the authenticity of the gum, obtain a certificate. Graded certificates have become de rigueur for better Duck stamps in premium condition, so if purchasing a nice one, I suggest obtaining a cert. from the Professional Stamp Experts (P.S.E.).

I wish to thank Bob Dumaine, President of Sam Houston Philatelics, for providing much of the information used in this article.

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