The Jeanette C. Rudy Duck Stamp Collection

The Jeanette C. Rudy Duck Stamp Collection

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Jeanette Cantrell Rudy

The Migratory Bird Hunting Act, shepherded through Congress by Jay N. “Ding” Darling and passed in 1934, has spawned the longest running series of stamps in American history, fondly referred to as “duck stamps.” Funds raised by the sale of these revenue stamps have secured incalculable benefits for migratory birds, wildlife, sportspersons, and all those who struggle to safeguard the nation’s vanishing natural landscape. The stamps are among the most beautiful ever printed and, thanks to the annual Duck Stamp Contest, have engaged the public’s imagination and anticipation far beyond that of any other issue.

The lovely, alluring duck stamps have captivated many collectors, including Jeanette Cantrell Rudy. The indomitable Mrs. Rudy, however, occupies a niche all her own. Over a fifty-year span, she assembled the hobby’s foremost collection. Further, as a philanthropist, businesswoman, conservationist, lifelong collector, and hunter, she has transcended stereotypes in each category, claiming distinction as a woman in domains dominated by men. Thanks to her foresight and generosity, for over a decade rotating displays at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum offered visitors the opportunity to view the unique and often extremely rare items from her collection.

Jeanette Rudy Interview
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Lovely, alluring duck stamps have captivated many collectors, including Jeanette Cantrell Rudy. The indomitable Mrs. Rudy, however, occupies a niche all her own. Over a fifty-year span, she assembled the foremost duck stamp collection. Further, she has transcended stereotypes claiming distinction as a woman in domains dominated by men.

Rudy: You know that we had post office material. And then I joined a philatelic society. And then they said well, what are you collecting? Of course, I wasn't collecting anything. I just went in as a new member. And I boldly said, I collect duck stamps, because I had four or five, and I took those with me. So that is how - because I said, I collect duck stamps.

Interviewer: When you were a child did you collect?

Rudy: Oh, I did like all children, I sent out for these packages, you know? And got back a package of, maybe you sent off $2, and from a catalog advertisement. And then they send in the packet of a bunch of stamps, you know. Then I bought a catalogue, you know, a folder, and I began to lick them and put them on. Then I learned that you don't lick stamps. Went to the stamp society, I learned about stamp collecting then. Because the others in the society, stamp society, stamp club, had their little books, you know, and they said this one. I said, well when did ducks first begin? And I didn't know. So I began to read and from the library, our library over there, had some books on stamp collecting. But they didn't have anything on ducks. And then I begin to, I wrote to Washington. You know there was a little flyer. I wrote the duck stamp headquarters and asked them to send me material on duck stamps. And from then on, I began to seriously put my stamps, not licking them, on.

And when I bought one, duck stamps, I did not sign them across the face. And I always prayed that the warden wouldn't come by. Hey, but I had my pen real handy so I signed it right quick. Now my husband signed his, but I didn't sign mine.

And then I began to find out about plate blocks. Then I begin to find out about all the other, the perforations. And then, learning from the other people what to look for in errors. I didn't know what an error was. I had to learn what an error was in other stamps that made me look for errors in any duck stamps. But then I began to contact other people who collected duck stamps. I thought I was the only one that collected duck stamps, but there were lots of other people that collected duck stamps.

And then we began to talk and then I began to exhibit what few I had. And believe it or not, I even won an award. Of course it was a club award but I thought that was the greatest thing that ever was.

Interviewer: What was that award for?

Rudy: It was for the new member, you know. It was a novice award for a novice exhibit. And so I said I can do better by getting more. So, I really got into it. I guess it was somewhere between 55 and 60, that my whole heart and body was into duck stamps. And I just put my other little classics and things I had done to one side. But I did a lot of letter-writing, did a lot of telephone calls, and I went to a lot of shows. And the first thing I'd look for was a duck stamp exhibit, and they were not anywhere. Genuine interest, I mean interest but you got to have a little money to go along with it. That's a terrible thing to say. But because every, there's so many, many people that want to be collectors, and they'd like to have the good things too. But they're, you know, those different people's ways, and some people don't have the financial ability to to buy them. They have to use it for the more essential things. And that's a handicap, of course. To get the rarities, is the finances part. And I hate that.

But I remember one time I exhibited at a, I won't call the name of the stamp club, and I overheard a couple conversations about, well we might as well take our exhibit down, it won't look like anything next to that Mrs. Rudy's. And I heard derogatory remarks about mine was better than theirs, you know, that they never could win if I was ever going to enter anything. And you know from that day on I never exhibited again. I thought, well, am I really taking away from, from the average person which I thought I was an average person. And I think I am. I want to be. But I can't help it, you know. If things came my way and I did get some, I didn't exhibit them in those, I mean the other big time shows, like in Washington, the Court of Honors and things like that where it is expected I'll exhibit in that. But I don't go to smaller clubs and exhibit anymore. Because I don't want to do that to them. And why should I negate anyone elses thrill and enthusiasm in it, just because I want to be a hotshot, which is not what I want. And by doing that, I think that I may encourage them to go ahead and exhibit. Whatever you may have, exhibit it, because it's always, you know, exciting to someone. And we can't do that to other people.

Interviewer: Do you remember when you first began collecting?

Rudy: Yes, I do, as if it were yesterday. I married in February of 1949. And that fall, Dan said, how about going to get me my duck stamp. And I being a nurse, a registered nurse, I had no conception of what a duck stamp was. And I said, what did you say? He said, I need a duck stamp. I said, well what is that? He said, well I'm going duck hunting. I said, okay; I've never done that, I want to go too. He said you go to the post office and get me a duck stamp. And that was my very first meeting with a duck stamp. It was the golden eye and I thought it was a beautiful, nice green stamp. And I said, well if you're going, I want to go too. He said, you don't know how. And I said, but I can learn.

Interviewer: What about duck stamps appeal to you so much?

Rudy: At the beginning, it was the beauty of it. The artwork was magnificent. I thought, you know, and I want to go. Then after that I began to get to be a better shot. I wanted to go duck hunting for the thrill of the duck hunting. And then I began to learn about where the ducks came from, and when, and how they knew that they were coming down at this time of year. I learned all about duck hunting. And then came in the conservation part of it. How they came from Canada.

And so since then, I have been privileged to have Ducks Unlimited take me to Canada and see all the holes while they were nesting and see the Ducks in their nest and being able to pick up the eggs and to put them to the light. Have you ever done that to see the eggs? And to timetable them in there through the little channel, tube. And it was then conservation came into it. Then I began to read the statistics about how much of the duck stamp went to conservation. I didn't do that at first. It was because they were pretty. Then they became more meaningful the longer I was into it. I was into it, oh I guess, four or five years before I really caught on to what it was all about.

The most, I guess, thrilling, what really got me going, was having bought the number one stamp. And Dumaine brought it down here to my home, and I said, I won't buy it unless I see it. And he had a six-figure number on it, price. I said bring that ... I didn't know him, he didn't know me. And I have a real close policeman friend. And I asked him, I said I don't know this man. He's coming into my home, I said, I want you to be present, armed of course. But in a civilian clothes. I said, I just want you to watch the deal. And I had the newspaper people here. And I said, if it's going to be, I'm going to, if I'm gonna be rooked, I'm gonna be rooked royaly. And it all turned out to be that it was absolutely perfect. It was the stamp. He had the documentation. And I was thrilled to death. And of course the newspaper people were. And of course, I didn't need my policemen. But Bob, you know, was quite, at first you know, he didn't know, he was intimidated to think that I had a policeman there. And I said, well I didn't know who you were.

But that, I guess, that was the greatest moment of my whole life, just to get that number one stamp because I knew that I could go from there. Because no one else had that. And I was trying to get to things that were the rarest, and to try to see to it that there are writings on the back of the stamp. I wanted to know everything about the writings on the back. I wanted to know all about the gums on the back of the stamps. Some had gums, some of them did not have gums. The writings were all different. And I set them aside in their own little exhibits. And then the errors were a different collection altogether.

I began to get serious because I knew then, that I was way behind in calling myself a collector. And I wanted to be a good collector. And I wanted to have a good exhibit. I wanted to win the big-time exhibits. And I started going and exhibiting stamps in what little I knew then. I went to the others. I went to Denver to exhibit. I've been to Washington to exhibit, Georgia, Alabama, and certainly Kentucky, and Tennessee.

In Washington, when I took it to Washington and it was exhibited next to the Queen's exhibit, I thought I had arrived. And it was spectac... Do you remember that Jim? At the Washington exhibit? I had the gold medal in there, nice, big gold medal that I won for my exhibit. And it was exhibited in the Court of Honor and the Queen's exhibit was in the Court of Honor right next to my ducks. That she was next to me, that I was next to her, and that to me, I thought that I had really done what I wanted to achieve. And that was make the best exhibit that I could possibly make.

Being a judge, oh, it was the greatest thrill I had ever, ever known. And to be selected, I think you know Norma Opgrand, I knew who she was and I thought she was one of the greatest women ever to have that position. And I was, you know, quite fascinated with her, and, having never met her. And I'd never got to, had the chance when I was up there to meet. Then to get that telephone call to say that this is Norma Opgrand. And I thought, awe, somebody was bugging me, you know. One of those, one of those kind of deals. I said, yes? And she said, Jeanette, we went through this procedure, she said, we have selected you as one of our judges for this year's duck stamp contest. And then it came to me, well, maybe this really was Norma. And I said, oh, you're kidding. She said, oh, no. Can you be in Washington at such-and-such time? I said, yes, I can be there tomorrow if you want. And to this date, Norma I have a great, great remembrance of that first conversation. And when I was there during the judging, I was just, they don't know but I was floating on cloud nine the whole time. Yeah, I didn't just walk, I floated all through that. And it is a wonderful experience. And believe it or not, I have a twin sister and she was a judge. Also one of the Hautmans, it was Jim, Jim. So we both were judges.

I just wanted them, it's something very special to know they were special. And if they were to be exhibited if I were to give them to the... And I thought about that a long time, years, before I ever acted upon it. Because I know that without any children to pass them on to, that might not have any interest in them. And I thought, well I have had them to myself for so many years.

You know, God's been good to me. And I think, we all think about a legacy and this would be what I could leave for someone else. That's what a legacy is. And I've done this and enjoyed it so much. And it I hate to brag on it, but it is a fabulous collection. And I know that it is. I don't like to brag on what you do. But, but so I still enjoy it. And I still get a thrill every time I see one of those stamps.

Gosh, you know, I just somehow, they say men, men make history and then women preserve it. And this is true. You look back in our general history, men make that history. Remember the Daughter of the American Revolution? And we preserve everything. And I thought, well, you know I would like to be a history maker too. And there are a few women that came through during my lifetime, like Amelia Earhart, some of these other great people are women. And the first, one of the first women doctors, I thought that was the greatest thing there ever was. And I was quite interested in Florence Nightingale, that first nurse, you know supposedly. I've researched her history; not only it's a beautiful history, it's a pathetic history, but how nurses came about, and that's why I did my nursing school.

But I wanted to be remembered somehow. And not that I mean anything special. I thought well everyone wants to be remembered somehow. And somehow it's always their children. And with people without children, what are we going to do? We must find our way. You know, in the miles of life that we travel before the end comes.

You go through the woods, and you know, I look back and see if I've left a footprint. Sometimes I walked heavily, and I think that that footprint will be there when I'm gone.

A donation from the S. D. Bechtel Foundation has made the Rudy collection accessible to viewers worldwide as a virtual exhibition, “Glorious Flight: The Jeanette C. Rudy Duck Stamp Collection.” The display features a sampling of the collection’s premier items, including the first duck stamp ever sold, errors, artist-signed issues, and remarques.