Federal Duck Stamp Program

 

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J. N. "Ding" Darling is an extraordinary example of an artist at work in conservation education. His poignant editorial cartoons awakened the public to the need to save our dwindling natural resources. His superb etchings of waterfowl in their natural surroundings strengthen our resolve to preserve that habitat.

Darling's Design for the First Federal Duck Stamp~1934 is especially significant to conservation. After he had guided the funding for the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act through Congress, Darling sketched his concept of a suitable image for the First Federal Duck Stamp. With its enthusiastic adoption, a remarkable program of stewardship was born that endures today, more than a half-century later. 

Creating the program was not an easy task. In 1934, our country suffered in severe economic depression. Real needs were many; financial resources were slim to non-existent. 

At the same time, our abundant natural resources were rapidly disappearing. In an era when hunting still provided the meat on many tables, it seemed there were more hunters than ducks. 

As chief of the U.S. Biological Survey, forerunner of today's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Darling devised a program wherein hunters became stewards of the wildlife they hunted. Each waterfowl hunter would have to purchase a Federal Duck Stamp to affix to his or her hunting license. The revenue would be used to purchase wetland habitat critical to the preservation and increase of the species. 

The impact of the Federal Duck Stamp Program was immediate, and it has been lasting. As of today, hunter-stewards have purchased 100 million Federal Duck Stamps, which have provided over 600 million dollars for the purchase of six million acres of wetland habitat. Adjusted for inflation, the amount raised exceeds two billion dollars. 

More recently, philatelic interest in the Federal Duck Stamp has become significant to sales, offsetting a general decrease in the number of duck hunters. Recently, the very first of the 1934 Darling duck stamps, thoroughly and officially documented as the first stamp sold, resold at hundreds of thousands of times its original one-dollar face value. 

In 1984, the United States Postal Department celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act by issuing a commemorative reprint of Darling's first federal duck stamp. Never before had the postal department honored a non-postal, "revenue" stamp in this manner. 

The U.S. Postal Department sold 123,575,000 of these 20-cent (then first class) stamps. Taken together with the 635,000 original Darling stamps sold, Darling's image of a mallard drake and hen alighting in wetlands surely is among the most widely published and recognized examples of wildlife art in the world. 

Darling created his superb wildlife drawings as a diversion from the intensity of his profession. In these drawings he was able to express his appreciation of nature in a medium far different from his editorial cartooning. Although he has been recognized as perhaps the most masterful of artists at depicting birds in flight, he did not sell his etchings. Only those that met his demanding standards were given to friends and family. These few existing etchings are now avidly sought by collectors for their excellence and their rarity. 

Darling earned his living drawing daily editorial cartoons that appeared in more than 100 major newspapers across the country. In the years before television—indeed even before radio—he was as widely recognized as today's network anchors, and his clearly-expressed ideas shaped the thoughts of the nation. While some of his cartoons addressed topical subjects like political personalities, many addressed such timeless values as hard work and honesty. Still others dealt with economic or social issues such as the threat of inflation and, especially, the need to conserve our country's marvelous natural resources. 

The J. N. "Ding" Darling Foundation proudly operated in the tradition of its namesake in conservation education. As all services needed to administer the Foundation were contributed by our trustees, nearly 99 cents of each dollar of our income went directly into ongoing conservation projects. It is especially appropriate that proceeds from the sale of many of the Darling etchings herein portrayed enabled the continuing work of the J. N. "Ding" Darling Foundation from 1962 to 2006.