Poster-Sized Duck Stamps!

For those of you that still have a balance on a Visa gift certificate you might have received over the holidays, or if you just want a really cool piece of art, you should check out Dog and Drake for inexpesive, yet high-quality, poster-sized duck stamps.

Less than $50 gets you a 19.5-x-14-inch giclee print of your favorite duck stamp, and at the same time you'll be helping wetland conservation as 10 percent goes back into the duck stamp program, which, of course, purchases land for the National Refuge System.

My favorite duck stamp is from 1959-60 and features King Buck, one of the greatest retrievers in history.

Born partly out of love for duck stamps and partly out of necessity, Dog and Drake was launched just before Father's Day in 2010 by John Vogel. With the economic downturn, Vogel, an advertising copywriter, suddenly found himself out of a full-time gig and was scratching out a living as a freelancer. The flexibility, however, allowed him the time to work on an idea that had been kicking around in his head for quite some time.

"I had collected stamps as a kid and knew just how detailed and beautiful they can be when magnified. Plus, I'm part of the target market and thought if I completely enjoy these stamps, then there must be a handful of other folks who would, too," said Vogel.

"Then I did my homework and became an even bigger fan. For example, Jay "Ding" Darling, the guy who created the art for the first duck stamp, also won the Pulitzer Prize twice for political cartoons. The art that we see on the stamp was just a quick sketch, a first draft, that was somehow pushed through without his knowing - and he was head of the U.S. Biological survey. Unreal!" he continued. "Almost every stamp was produced by someone just as interesting, with even more skill--one guy even sent in his entry with wet paint and still managed to win--or with a unique back story."

The stamp-collecting kid that turned into a duck-stamp poster seller pays it forward with a donation that's in the spirit of the stamp itself. "The money is given back to the duck stamp program who then purchases the land for the refuge system. A lot of business books I read always talk about doing something outlandish and unreasonable -- in a good way. So I think Dog and Drake will stay committed to giving back 10 percent no matter what kind of art we offer," said Vogel. "There's also the fact that if we didn't give back to such a great program with a 75-plus year tradition, we'd just be jerks."

Not surprisingly, one of the most popular stamps (mine included) is the 1959-60 edition featuring the black Labrador retriever King Buck. It was painted by Maynard Reece who, as Vogel points out, won the duck-stamp competition five times--more than any other artist. It is the only duck stamp to feature a dog, and not a species of waterfowl, as the centerpiece.

King Buck was and is, undoubtedly, one of the best retrievers in history. Check out this 1958 Sports Illustrated feature that details his sickly beginnings and then successful years under the training of Cotton Pershall while owned by John Olin -- the maker of Winchester shotgun shells, an early adopter and supporter of game preserves and benefactor of animal-health research.

It's a damn good read if you love hunting, retrievers and the history of shotguns, ammo, dogs, business and the outdoors!