10% off on
web orders over $100

Federal duck stamps with number on reverse

by Bob Dumaine

A little known thing happened to duck stamps printed from 1946 through 1953. Beginning with RW13 in 1946, reverse writing appeared on the federal duck stamp. The purpose was to inform hunters of the requirement to sign their stamps in ink on the face, ostensibly to prevent reuse by another hunter.

It was necessary to apply this printing with a press, in this case an offset press, with an accompanying plate number. The writing was applied to these issues directly onto the stamp paper, which was then gummed. The stamp image itself was engraved, requiring a different plate number than the reverse writing, and appears on the front selvage.

The mysterious plate number used on the RW13 through RW20 issues was #47510. All of these issues for eight years used the same plate to print the back inscriptions. The number correctly appears on the reverse of the selvage on only one stamp per sheet of 112 stamps. This is position 24 of the upper right pane of 28 stamps.

The obscurity and scarcity of the number, (only one exists for every four plate blocks with conventional front selvage numbers) meant most collectors were totally unaware of their existence. The Durland Standard Plate Number Catalog notes their existence, but does not price the plate blocks. The Scott Specialized Catalog neither lists, mentions, nor values these items.

Although plate #47510 was used from RW13 through RW20, only RW13 through RW17 have numbers present, while the RW18-20 numbers were trimmed off. I have seen one misperforated RW18 which bears about 30% of the number, but no others.

A plate block of this issue would capture the plate number in the center, and be surrounded by two stamps above, one at left, and two on the bottom, as seen on the full sheet illustration (see below). Plates should have both right side and bottom selvage attached to be considered full plate blocks.

Recently, an advanced collector asked me about how many of these plate blocks existed. It is a good question, and I have no factual idea, but after 30 years of dealing with duck stamps, my feeling is they are as scarce as some of the early duck plate blocks.

Regarding value, several auctions have offered these items, with mixed results, generally in the range of $425-700. Relative to their scarcity, they should be bringing prices in the $2,500 range, but due to many collectors not understanding exactly what these items are; they go relatively unchallenged in the bidding process. An oddity is reverse plate number singles fetch prices in the $250 area, making plates a bargain.

The other possibility is collectors simply do not care about the plate number printed on the reverse. To observe it, one must mount the item gum side showing, a rather dull presentation. Owning all six possibilities, RW13-18, would mean all six plates mounted with gum side showing.

My gut feeling is they are not more popular since they are unlisted in Scott, and are not included in their duck stamp plate block album. Many collectors often tend to fill spaces in an album, rather than mess up the balance of the overall collection. Of course, blank pages were made expressly for this purpose, and give a collection pizzazz.

Early duck full panes are very unusual, and unseen by a majority of collectors. An often-puzzling area is the existence of straight edges on early stamps, namely RW1 through RW12. Thereafter, perforations existed on all four sides on all duck stamps. Beginning in 1959, the flat press was replaced by the rotary press, stamps issued in panes of 30, a format used through 1999, and beginning in 2000, the size was changed to 20 stamps per pane.

A layout of a full sheet has been diagramed to obtain a better understanding of straight edges and the plate block of six formats, as well as the back inscription plate blocks. The rotary press stamps beginning in 1959 are plate blocks of four, plate number in the corner, except RW31, an anomaly, which has a plate number similar to the flat press issues and is therefore considered a plate of six stamps.

Take a look at the straight edges on RW1 through RW12. Of the 28 stamps per pane,

10 are straight edges. With 35.7% of each pane being straight edge copies snubbed by

collectors, and an estimated 92% being used by hunters, with many, many of these early issues being hinged, and many others off-center, one can easily understand the high value for early never hinged very fine and better stamps.

For example, 635,001 were sold of RW1, the 1934 issue. Of that, an estimated 584,201 were sold to hunters, leaving 50,800, of which 18,135 were straight edge stamps, and “most,” let’s estimate 75% of the 32,665 remaining were hinged, leaving

8,166 stamps never hinged with perforations on all four sides. Subtract the off-center and F-VF examples, and that leaves a miniscule amount as XF never hinged.

Now consider that the RW1 quantity sold is the third lowest, but this stamp has the highest listed value in Scott Specialized Catalogue, and most other catalogs. Both RW2 and RW3 have lower quantities sold, so theoretically they should have higher values, but they do not; in fact the RW3 value is only about half of the value of RW1.

Since most duck stamp collectors collect sets, it would seem the sheer number of stamps sold would force the scarcest stamps to have the highest values. RW1 is priced much higher due to demand, and is a great example of demand dictating price. The same is the case for plate blocks listed in Scott versus those not listed, or not in collector albums, as is the case with the RW13-17 reverse number plate blocks discussed earlier.

Another possibility is RW3 and the reverse number plate blocks are woefully undervalued, a matter to be decided by collector demand, which is the tail that wags the value-dog. Because of the straight edged scrap, collectors should be wary of stamps with reperforated edges on the early issues. Gum is also a variable, as many early issues were unsigned and soaked off licenses. Both circumstances can be difficult to detect and expert certification is recommended.

Back | News Page