Deliberation of Art or Fraud

James Stephen George Boggs was born in Woodbury, New Jersey on January 16, 1955.

James Boggs began drawing currency in 1984, sitting in a Chicago diner the artist began drawing on a paper napkin as he consumed his breakfast. He began with sketching the number 1, easily recognized on the $1 denomination. Boggs then transformed the image into a piece of art similar to the dollar bill. Eagerly, his waitress offered to buy it. Mr. Boggs refused, but instead payed for his 90 cent tab with the drawing and the waitress gratefully handed him 10 cents in change. Needless to say, at that very moment an idea sparked that would change the path of his life. His drawings of currency, illustrating only one side of the note, came to be known as “Boggs notes”. James Boggs notes were considered to be art. He would tell a collector where he spent the note and the details of the transaction, but he would never sell the notes directly. The buyer would then hunt down the person in possession of the note in order to purchase it. Boggs noted that after the initial transaction the notes would be resold for much more than their face value, it is said that one Boggs notes resold for $420,000.

One of his well known pieces are a series of bills done for the Florida United Numismatists’ annual convention. Denominations from $1 to $50 (and perhaps higher) feature designs taken from the reverse sides of U.S. currency, making minor changes to captions such as: “The United States of America” is changed to “Florida United Numismatists” and the denomination wording is occasionally replaced by the acronym “FUN”. Also changes to the imagery; the mirroring of Monticello on the $2, the Supreme Court building, as opposed to the U.S. Treasury, on the $10 and an alternate angle for the White House on the $20 bill. They were printed in bright orange on one side and featured Boggs’s autograph and thumbprint on the other.

 Boggs viewed his “transactions” as a type of art, but the authorities often viewed him and his work with speculation. Boggs wanted his audience to question and investigate just what it is that makes “money” valuable in the first place. 

“I create images that say things and ask things,” Mr. Boggs said in the 2013 Discovery Channel documentary “Secret Life of Money.” “I take them out into the real world and try to spend them, not as counterfeits, but as works of art that ask us about the nature of money.”

He firmly denied that he was a counterfeiter or forger, but rather maintained that a good business model between informed parties that this performance was certainly not fraud, even if the item transacted happens to resemble currency. Boggs was first arrested for counterfeiting in England in 1986, and was successfully defended by the human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC & Mark Stephens and acquitted. As detailed in Geoffrey Robertson’s book The Justice Game, all Bank of England notes now carry a copyright message on the face as a direct result of Boggs’s activities, the idea being that if they cannot secure a counterfeiting charge, then they can at least secure a copyright violation. He was arrested for a second time in Australia in 1989, acquitted and awarded the equivalent of US$20,000 in damages by the presiding judge. Boggs home was raided three times between 1990 and 1992 by the United States Secret Service on suspicion of counterfeiting. Resulting in the raids, 1300 items were confiscated, although no legal case was brought against him. In September 2006, Boggs was arrested in Florida and charged with possession of methamphetamine, possession of drug paraphernalia, and carrying a concealed weapon. He failed to appear in court a few months later.

Police bust Boggs at the Young Unknowns Gallery, London, 1986

“They said I was a counterfeiter,” an indignant Mr. Boggs told The Associated Press in 1992, when agents in the counterfeiting division of the Secret Service raided his apartment near Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he was an artist in residence, and took possession of more than 100 of his artworks. “They don’t understand the difference between art and crime.”

With the immense talent he held, it is no wonder prestigious museums sought after this work. Some of the artwork can be found in numerous places, including the Art Institute of Chicago, Smithsonian Institution, Babson College, Wellesley, Massachusetts, Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida Tampa Museum of Art, Tampa, Florida Spencer Museum of Art, Lawrence Kansas and the British Museum in London, England. Boggs died on January 22, 2017 in Tampa at the age of 62, but his story will live on forever through his work and his legacy.

Cut Out Coins

If you’re a coin collector you have likely ran across a few cut out coins at one point or another. Depending on your views, it can either be frustrating that the coin got ‘ruined’ or you might see it as an exciting and beautiful piece of art. Carving into, cutting up, clipping, and generally changing a coin has been done in several ways for centuries. With our modern technology this more precise type of cut out coin has definitely gained popularity.

s-l1600 (17)The cut coin is a dramatic and beautiful way to turn coins into jewelry and works of art. The background of the of the coin is typically cut away, leaving the stamped figure floating inside the outer rim of the coin. Even small, common coins can be made into pendants, earrings, or cuff links. While the technique is simple, it takes a lot of practice to perfect.

Two of the most popular ways to create these cut out coins is with a scroll saw or with a jeweler’s saw. The jeweler’s saw is a bit more traditional and is a delicate saw with an adjustable frame. Typically a carver will choose a coin with a well-defined, smooth-edged image, like a head or profile to start. Then, drill small holes in the background portion of the coin, using a drill bit and place the holes near the center of the area that is to be removed.

A carver would then insert the jeweler’s saw into one of the pre-drilled holes, using the saw to carve away the background material around the figure. And leaving the top edge of the figure attached to the rim. Lastly a coat of clear acrylic is applied to the coin to protect it and give it a luster. While seemingly simple this is an art that can take years to master and gets more difficult depending on the coin one wishes to cut out.

The second method, uses a scroll saw, a precise electric saw. While the method is very similar to the jeweler’s saw is takes a completely different practiced skill set. Just like before, the carver will start by drilling small holes into the coin. From there, the coin is smoothly moved along the pattern with the scroll saw. Once finished, the coin is dropped in a jar of acetone.

Every cut out coin takes hours of precision and dedication to the art of creating the cut out. If you’re interested in pursuing this art or owning a coin of your own — don’t worry it is not illegal! They do not violate any U.S. statute provided that the alteration to the coin is not done with fraudulent intent. Section 331 of Title 18 of the United States code provides criminal penalties for anyone who fraudulently alters, defaces, mutilates impairs, diminishes, falsifies, scales, or lightens any of the coins coined at the Mints of the United States. This statute means that you may be violating the law if you change the appearance of the coin and fraudulently represent it to be other than the altered coin that it is.

While one can hope that carver’s won’t carve an incredibly rare coin or verity, bar those possibilities it is hard not to admit that cut out coins are beautiful works of art.

Phrygian Caps


Bust of Marianne, with the Phrygian cap

The Phrygian cap is a soft cap with the top pulled forward often depicted as being red in color. It is historically associated with Eastern Europe and Anatolia, including Phrygia, Dacia, and the Balkans. In early modern times it came to signify freedom and the pursuit of liberty. Perhaps one of the biggest connections modern culture has to the cap is the imagery of it on coinage. The Phrygian cap is seen on 20 centimes and seated liberty dollars to name a few.

By the 4th century BC the Phrygian cap was associated with Phrygian Attis, the consort of Cybele, the cult of which had by then become graecified. At around the same time, the cap appears in depictions of the legendary king Midas and other Phrygians in Greek vase-paintings and sculpture. Such images predate the earliest surviving literary references to the cap.

While the Phrygian cap was made of wool or soft leather, in pre-Hellenistic times the Greeks had already developed a military helmet that had a similar flipped-over tip. These so-called “Phrygian helmets” (named in modern times) were usually of bronze and in prominent use in Thrace, Dacia, Magna Graecia and the rest of the Hellenistic world from the 5th century BC up to Roman times.  Also confusingly similar are the depictions of the helmets used by cavalry and light infantry, whose headgear also included stiff leather helmets in imitation of the bronze ones.

The cap only began to become a symbol of freedom when it got linked up with the pileus cap. In late republican Rome, the soft felt pileus cap was symbolically given to slaves when they were granted freedom, which granted them not only their personal liberty, but also freedom as citizens, with the right to vote (if male). Following the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC, Brutus and his co-conspirators utilized the symbolism of the pileus to signify the end of Caesar’s dictatorship and a return to the republican system.

These Roman associations of the pileus with liberty and republicanism were carried forward to the 18th-century, when the pileus was confused with the Phrygian cap, with the Phrygian cap then becoming a symbol of those values. Since then, around the world the Phrygian cap has popped up during many cases of war and battles for freedom.


Tinted etching of Louis XVI of France

In 1675, the anti-tax and anti-nobility Stamp-Paper revolt erupted in Brittany and north-western France, where it became known as the bonnets rouges uprising, named after the blue or red caps worn. Although they are not known to have preferred any particular style of cap, the name and color stuck as a symbol of revolt against the nobility and establishment. The use of a Phrygian-style cap as a symbol of revolutionary France is first documented in May 1790, at a festival in Troyes adorning a statue representing the nation, and at Lyon, on a lance carried by the goddess Libertas. To this day the national allegory of France, Marianne, is shown wearing a red Phrygian cap.


In the 18th century, the cap was often used in English political prints as an attribute of Liberty. In the years just prior to the American Revolutionary War of independence from Great Britain, Americans copied or imitated some of those prints in an attempt to visually defend their inherited liberties as Englishmen. Later, the symbol of republicanism and anti-monarchical sentiment appeared in the United States as headgear of Columbia, who in turn was visualized as a goddess-like female national personification of the United States and of Liberty herself. The cap reappears in association with Columbia in the early years of the republic, for example, on the obverse of the 1785 Immune Columbia pattern coin, which shows the goddess with a helmet seated on a globe holding in a right hand a furled U.S. flag topped by the liberty cap. The cap’s last appearance on circulating coinage was the Walking Liberty Half Dollar, which was minted through 1947 (and reused on the current bullion American Silver Eagle).

The U.S. Army has, since 1778, utilized a “War Office Seal” in which the motto “This We’ll


Seal of the U.S. Senate

Defend” is displayed directly over a Phrygian cap on an upturned sword. It also appears on the state flags of West Virginia (as part of its official seal), New Jersey, and New York, as well as the official seal of the United States Senate, the state of Iowa, the state of North Carolina, and on the reverse side of the Seal of Virginia.

Many of the anti-colonial revolutions in Latin America were also heavily inspired by the imagery and slogans of the American and French Revolutions. As a result, the cap has appeared on the coats of arms of many Latin American nations. Such as, the coat of arms of Haiti, which includes a Phrygian cap to commemorate that country’s foundation by rebellious slaves.

The cap had also been displayed on certain Mexican coins (most notably the old 8-reales coin) through the late 19th century into the mid-20th century. Today, it is featured on the coats of arms or national flags of Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Paraguay.

No matter the true intentions of the Phrygian cap, it has been used around the world to represent revolution and freedom. Through art, protest, and war, the cap is forever a symbol of change and rebellion against tyranny.

Classic Flower Stamps Have a Special Story


The art featured on US stamps can come from anywhere, but it’s always special when the artist comes from your area. While listing sets of stamps for our eBay store, we came across a sheet of beautiful flower stamps, that were not only created by an artist from a nearby town, but also signed by that artist.




Anacortes artist Karen Mallery had been painting for several years before she got a brilliant idea: her work should be on stamps! She sent a letter to the United States Postal Service with her proposal, and went back to the business of painting flowers.





aThree years after her original proposal, the Postal Service finally replied: they wanted to commission her to paint a block of four garden flower stamp designs. Mallary was thrilled, and decided to do a flower for each region of the United States. She chose Jacob’s ladder for the north, the California poppy for the west, waterlily for the south, and trillium for the east. When the review committee received her work, they loved it so much that the project was massively expanded.



s-l1600 (1)Mallary ended up painting 50 stamp designs, something completely unheard of for a first-time stamp artist. The flower paintings were also reproduced in a 64-page album, including details about each flower. There was one condition: Mallary couldn’t tell anyone about her big project. She was doing research at the Lady Bird Johnson National Wildflower Research Center at the time, and they assumed Mallery was producing a book. “I didn’t tell them otherwise,” the artist stated.


The designs were completed in 1991, and printed in 1992, after a delay caused by first-class postage rate uncertainties.




Mallary’s personal favorite design? The cactus.



A signed commemorative sheet of these stamps is currently available in our eBay store.

Stars and Stamps



One of 2016’s most popular Forever stamp sets was the National Parks set, with the stunning view of star paths over Mount Rainier being the stand-out image; this beautiful photograph made the cover of the official USPS 2016 Forever Stamp Yearbook. Astrophotographer and astronomy educator Matt Dieterich, who took the photo, talked to us about how this beautiful stamp came about.



Past and Present (PP): First of all, tell us a little bit about how you got started with astrophotography.

Postmaster General Dedicates National Parks Stamps: Special Dedication Ceremonies at 14 Locations Including Simultaneous Live Webcast from MD/VA Assateague Island National Seashore. Matt Dieterich, photographer of Mount Rainier National Park Stamp.Matt Dieterich (Matt): I began taking astrophotos in 2007 as a 16 year old in high school. My curiosity for the night sky was jump-started after taking an astronomy class in high school, thanks in part to a passionate and motivating teacher, Mrs. Batson from North Hills Senior High in Pittsburgh, PA. Even though my grades weren’t the best in her class, I was eager to learn about the constellations and night sky in the planetarium we had at school. That year in high school, I received a small telescope from my parents, but I wanted to show people what I was seeing through the telescope. I learned that connecting a camera to the telescope was a great way for me to share astronomy with others.



PP: How did you get started in astronomy education and outreach? Why is astrophotography an effective form of outreach for you?

Matt: For the last 10 years, the goal of my photography has been to use the images as astronomy education tools. I shared the photos with friends, family, my teachers, and on various astronomy forums online. I loved showcasing beautiful objects in the night sky that the human eye cannot see. For me, astrophotography is an incredibly effective outreach tool because it gets people excited about science. I am thrilled seeing how inquisitive people are about the photos, especially kids, during outreach presentations. Simply put, astrophotos spark creativity, curiosity, and inspiration for learning. As a firm believer in education by hands-on activities, astrophotography is a perfect way to get kids involved in science.



PP: How did this photo go from your camera to being on a stamp?

stamp setMatt: When I took my camera out after teaching an astronomy program at Mount Rainier National Park in June 2015, my goal was not to capture an image for a stamp. I drove down to Reflection Lake and setup my camera, tripod, and shutter release cable to capture a timelapse video. The Northern Lights were active that night, a rare event which happens maybe once every couple years at Mount Rainier. Weeks later I edited the timelapse video into my first star trails photo. This type of image is a great beginner way to capture the stars. I joke now realizing that my astronomy teacher in high school told me to try that technique 10 years ago when I started astrophotography… I guess I am glad I waited to create my first star trails under the right circumstances!


Serendipity connected me with a person in Washington D.C. looking for a national park night sky photograph to be on a Forever Stamp collection celebrating the upcoming National Park Service 100 year anniversary. My boss forwarded me the email from that person seeing if I had any astrophotos to submit to her that I shot from Mount Rainier. I gave her a link to my online gallery and she immediately fell in love with the Northern Lights star trails over Mount Rainier. A few days later I had confirmation that my photo would be on a stamp, which I had to keep a secret for 8 months until the official USPS press release.



PP: We are based in Washington, so of course we’re thrilled to see one of our most recognizable parks featured on a stamp. What was your favorite part of working at and photographing Mount Rainier National Park?


Matt: My favorite part about working at Mount Rainier National Park was sharing the natural resources with visitors. Everyone I was able to spend time with at the park was enthusiastic and connected to nature, which for me is a huge aspect to living a healthy life. Having lived in a big city my whole life, I very much enjoyed how quiet the park was as well. One joy of the National Parks is that they are preserved regions where nature can be observed and experienced with minimal impact of humans.Thanks to the quiet nature of Mount Rainier, time seemed to slow down and I was able to live fully in the present moment, a certain kind of peace I have been striving to find.



Photo credit Matt Dieterich

As a photographer, living inside the park for 3 months helped me connect to the landscape. I was able to plan certain shots and wait for the weather to create the conditions that made for a unique photo. For instance, being at the park allowed me to create my first Astronomy Picture of the Day photo of the Perseid Meteor Shower from Sunrise, and of course the Northern Lights display seen in my Forever Stamp at Reflection Lake. In my experience, landscape and astrophotography require “being in the right place at the right time,” which means being on location at Rainier for months helped me create some incredible photos.



PP: Do you think it’s significant to have astrophotography represented on something as ubiquitous as a stamp? How does that advance your goals for education and outreach?


Matt: Having astrophotography represented on a stamp is huge. In today’s society, we have lost our connection to the night sky because city lights block out faint starlight. Sharing images that spark curiosity about what the night sky looks like away from bright city lights is something I care deeply about. I have used my stamp to help advocate for the protection and conservation of dark night skies during all my outreach programs. Most importantly, I showcase my work to raise awareness for reclaiming the night sky if we properly light our cities at night. I want my work to spark an emotional connection in the viewer. If we are not emotionally connected to the night sky like our ancestors were, will we want to become stewards of that resource?



PP: Finally, what’s it like to see your work on a real US stamp, and then on the Forever Stamp Yearbook?

Matt: For me, seeing my work on a stamp is humbling, but I know there’s more I need to pursue via photography. Having my photo on a stamp taught me that the public views astrophotography as art, something they want to hang on their wall and enjoy for years to come. Little did I know a hobby of mine that started in high school would turn into a lifelong pursuit of sharing my passion for science and the outdoors with others through astrophotography.


Ironically, my I had no clue my stamp made the Forever Stamp Yearbook cover until a week ago. My high school chemistry teacher who I stay in touch with sent me the email link. I was shocked, and of course humbled again by the fact that the image is so well received.



You can find Matt’s work online here, complete with prints to order. He is also on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

The Ladies Who Were Liberty

For much of America’s history, our coins featured Lady Liberty rather than any historic figure. Liberty has changed over the centuries, and many women have been models for the ideal: who are the women who are the face of Lady Liberty?

The Draped Bust Liberty: Ann Willing Bingham

draped_bust_se_half_dollarThe Draped Bust coin obverse design, in use from 1795 to 1807, was designed by Mint engraver Robert Scot to replace the Flowing Hair design, which was almost unanimously disliked. Though it cannot be conclusively proved, it is likely that Ann Willing Bingham, a socialite and considered one of the most lovely women of her day, was the inspiration for the Liberty on this coin. She was the subject of many portraits painted by Gilbert Stuart, who created the image that Scot used for his engraving of Liberty on the Draped Bust coins.


Ann Bingham was a regular correspondent of Thomas Jefferson, as well as other luminaries of the American Revolution. Abigail Adams wrote about her, “[Mrs. Bingham is] the finest lady I ever saw. The intelligence of her countenance, or rather, I ought to say, its animation, the elegance of her form, and the affability of her manners, convert you into admiration.” She often hosted members of the Federalist Party, including Alexander Hamilton, for informal debates at her house. She has sometimes been credited with convincing Thomas Jefferson on the necessity for the Bill of Rights. She died in at the age of 37 in 1801 after contracting a serious illness after the birth of her third child.

The Morgan Dollar Liberty: Anna Willess Williams

800px-1879S_Morgan_Dollar_NGC_MS67plus_Obverse.pngWhen Congress passed the Bland-Allison act, the Treasury began buying silver to mint into new coins, resulting in the need for a new silver dollar design to be stamped onto the newly-minted silver dollars. George Morgan, newly appointed to the Philadelphia Mint in 1876, begin taking intensive art classes; in 1877, he began work on the designs for the new coins. Morgan’s friend, artist Thomas Eakins, encouraged him to use Anna Willess Williams, an art student from Philadelphia, as a model. Morgan considered her profile to be flawless, and was struck by her “crowning glory” of golden hair.

Anna_Willess_Williams_1892.jpgThough she had been guaranteed anonymity, Anna Williams’ identity as the “Silver Dollar Girl” was outed by a reporter in 1879. She was flooded with letters and visitors, to her great distress. She was offered a role on stage that could have made her a great deal of money, but rejected it in favor of a teaching position. She later took a job as a teacher of kindergarten philosophy at $60 a month. When it became known that she was engaged in 1896, interest in Anna Williams was revived. However, the marriage never took place, and Anna preferred to spend her time talking about her role as the supervisor of kindergarten schools in Philadelphia. She suffered a bad fall in December of 1925, and died of a stroke the following April at the age of 68.

The Mercury Dime and Walking Liberty: Elsie Stevens


The Walking Liberty design is considered one of the most beautiful designs among American coins. Created by sculptor Adolph Weinman, a German immigrant to the United States, the Walking Liberty may have been inspired by the “Sower” design on French coins. It is thought that the face of Liberty was modeled on Elsie Stevens, wife of poet Wallace Stevens.


Weinmann had earlier based his design for the Liberty on the Mercury dime on a bust he had sculpted of Elsie; the Stevens’ had rented an apartment from Weinmann from 1909 to 1916. (There is some evidence that silent film star Audrey Munson may have been the model instead, but most solid evidence points to Elsie.) Weinmann asked the young housewife to model for him, pinning her hair up under a winged cap that he said represented “freedom of thought.” The bust has been lost to history, though photographs of it remain.

The Peace Dollar Liberty: Teresa De Francisci

NNC-US-1921-1$-Peace_dollar.jpgDuring WWI, the German propaganda machine tried to spread the idea that the British government did not have enough silver to back all of their paper money in circulation, especially in India. The plan worked: the hoarding of precious metals caused silver prices to rise, increasing the cost of the British war effort. When the British turned to the United States to purchase silver, the government authorized the sale. This, however, resulted in a need for more silver US coins to be struck, and a new design was needed. Numismatists promoted the creation of a design celebrating peace following the war, and the idea caught on. 34-year-old Italian immigrant Anthony de Francisci produced a design that was unanimously selected for the coin; his wife, Teresa, was the inspiration for the Liberty on the obverse of the coin, though other elements were incorporated and stylized. De Francisci stated, “ I opened a window of my studio and let the wind blow on her hair while she was posing for me,” remarking later in 1922 that “the Liberty is not a photograph of Mrs. de Francisci. It is a composite face and in that way typifies something of America.”

teresadefrancisciTeresa de Francisci was born south of Naples, Italy, and came to America as a young child. Young Teresa was struck by the sight of the Statute of Liberty as their steamer ship approached Ellis Island, and often tried to imitate the pose as she grew up. She wrote in a letter to her brother, “You remember how I was always posing as Liberty, and how brokenhearted I was when some other little girl was selected to play the role in the patriotic exercises in school? I thought of those days often while sitting as a model for Tony’s design, and now seeing myself as Miss Liberty on the new coin, it seems like the realization of my fondest childhood dream.” She was the first Italian-American to graduate from her high school. After the death of her husband in 1964, she was a frequent guest as numismatic events; on the 50th anniversary of the Peace dollar, she was presented with a plaque which read, “To a Lady of Peace.”

She passed away in Manhattan on October 20, 1990, 26 years to the day after the death of her husband.

A Stamp Saved 6 Million Acres of Wildlife Habitat


Hunting season, for many, begins this month, so there’s no better time to look at the history and use of the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, or “duck stamp.”



The duck stamp is required by the federal government of the United States in order to hunt ducks, geese, and other migratory waterfowl. 98% of the proceeds from each stamp are used for conservation efforts through the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund. State governments also require stamps for bird hunting, as do many international governments.



s-l1600 (18).jpgIn 1929, President Herbert Hoover signed the Migratory Bird Conservation Act to preserve wetland habitats for migratory waterfowl; however, this law did not include a permanent source of funding. On March 16, 1934, the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act was passed by Congress and signed by President Roosevelt. The first annual duck stamps had a face value of $1 in 1934, increased to $2 in 1949, and again to $3 in 1959. By 1991, the stamps were $15 face value, and did not see another increase until the stamps rose to $25 in 2015. Most state stamps have a face value of $5, though some, like Louisiana’s non-resident duck stamp at $25, are much higher. Some Native American tribes issue stamps that allow hunting on their reservations (as long as the hunter also has the required federal stamp) which would otherwise be off-limits.



s-l1600 (19)Duck stamps are usually issued by conservation or wildlife departments; in the United States, the stamps must be created by legislation in order for them to be a valid government issue. Like the funds from the federal stamps, money raised by state hunting stamps is earmarked for conservation, usually in very local efforts. Though many stamps are bought by hunters, some are purchased by collectors, and can carry a premium when bought this way; some stamps are even produced in limited collector editions. Several states issue different stamp sets for hunters and collectors, while others are simply defined by differing serial numbers.


One of the most collectable kinds of duck stamp is the Governor’s Edition. Several states issue these stamps as a way to bring in extra revenue; the stamps are usually printed in quantities fewer than 1,000, at face value of approximately $50. The state governor may even hand-sign some of the stamps for increased value, often up to twice the price of the unsigned stamps. These stamps are valid for hunting in the state of issue, but never used as such, as this would significantly lower the collectible value of the stamp.


s-l1600 (17).jpgArtist-signed stamps are an increasingly trendy way to collect duck stamps, and usually cost only a premium on top of the cost of a mint stamp. That cost may be increased if the artist for the stamp is now deceased; premiums may also be charged for stamps on which the artist has hand-drawn or painted a unique work of art on top of the stamp design. Living artists may be commissioned to draw such art, sometimes known as a “remarque,” or to add tribute art to a stamp drawn by a deceased artist. Other collectors prefer text stamps: stamps with printed text but no illustration of ducks or other creatures.


The initial duck stamp design was created by Jay “Ding” Darling in 1934; Darling was specifically asked to design the stamp by President Roosevelt. It shows two mallard ducks landing in a small pond. Other wildlife artists were asked to submit designs for subsequent stamps, and the first open-entry contest took place in 1949. 88 artists submitted designs that year, with the number increasing to 2.099 entries by 1981. Artist Maynard Reece is a five-time winner of the stamp design contest, taking the top place in 1948, 1951, 1959, 1969, and 1971. The judging panel for the contest is composed of bird, art, and philatelic authorities, appointed by the Secretary of the Interior. The winners receive no prize or monetary compensation for their work, save for a pane of stamps with their design; however, the winners are permitted to sell prints of the design, which are highly prized by collectors.


s-l1600 (20).jpg

In the 82 years since its creation, the duck stamp has been a phenomenal success. Sales of the stamps have resulted in more than 6 million acres of waterfowl habitat being conserved since 1934. Duck stamps are not only an excellent modern collectible, but a piece of history and an investment in the future of our spectacular wildlife.


Looking for duck stamps for your collection? Check out the stamps available right now in our store.



Colorizing Postcards

Photo postcards used to only be in black and white. While black and white is all well and good, postcard publishers quickly wanted to add a little color to their offerings.

Did you know that some companies specialized in colorizing postcards? Before cards were actually printed in color, greeting cards and postcards were sent off even to different countries to brighten the cards with exotic colors. This started with holidays like Christmas and Easter, but soon grew into a year-round practice.

The first colorizing started in Leith, Germany with a business called Lundy. Lundy started printing business messages in color.


The first color postcards emerged starting in 1893, more than 20 years after the first postcard was published. Soon the color caught on, and everybody wanted color in their postcards! That set the ball rolling for a lucrative color postcard business, making postcards more in-demand than ever before.

Often, publishers sent photographs to India or Italy to be colored. Their exciting colors stood out to consumers. The brighter the colors, the better.

The Art of Jenny Nystrom

Jenny Nystrom was a talented artist who illustrated many greeting cards and postcards. She is best known for her implementation of the tomte on Christmas cards and magazines.

The tomte is a Scandinavian mythological creature similar to a gnome, but it is also considered a version of Santa Claus. Nystrom played a part in that: thanks to her use of the tomte on Christmas paraphernalia, she created its association of Santa Claus with Scandinavian gnomes.

Nystrom had an impressive career. She was born in 1854 in Kalmar, Sweden. At eleven years old she started studying at a Gothenburg art school; she was a good student, and eight years later the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts accepted her. She studied there for eight years.


After all these years of studying, Nystrom was a pro. She used her business savvy to catch on to the booming postcard business of the late 19th century. This is where the tomte came in. The creature became quite popular in Nystrom’s art and was one of her favorite subjects.

But Nystrom was not done growing her career. Paris was calling her name, and she would answer. With her painting “Gustavus Vasa as a Child before King Hans”, she won the esteemed Royal Medal along with 2000 Swedish crowns. With this achievement, she was able to follow her dream to move to Paris. After much hard work, she finally reached a lifelong dream: having an exhibit of her work in the famous Paris Salon with her self portrait done with oil.

How Do Halftones Work?

If you look closely at old advertisements from vintage magazines, you will notice something interesting: the image is comprised of tiny dots of different colors. The tiny dots trick the eye into seeing varying tones of colors when really there are only limited colors of dots. For instance, cyan dots on top of yellow dots create the illusion of the color green.

This is not pointillism we’re talking about. The dots are much too fine for that. But before widespread use of computers, the artist involved could not possibly have sat down and dotted each and every dot to make the image; that’s simply impossible. So how, exactly, were halftones created?

It all comes down to a photography technique. The invention of photography led to many different printing techniques, but it took artists a while to figure out the most efficient techniques. At first, artists tried copying photos in pen and ink or through woodcutting, but as you can guess, this was a time-heavy project.


Soon, photographers and artists discovered better methods. In the 1830’s, William Fox Talbot thought up a technique using gauze; he suggested projecting the photo through a screen. Doing so created a pattern of dots that could be photoengraved onto a printing plate. Perfecting the process took trial and error and the breaking of some expensive glass screens, but it was worth it to reach the half toning effect.

Of course, once digital methods took over, the traditional method of half toning was no longer needed. Digital imaging made image processing much, much easier.

Next time you see genuine vintage advertisements, take a closer look at their colors. If they were made with half toning, you will see small dots – sometimes perfectly round, sometimes not – that create the bigger picture through small details.



Graphic Design