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Tropical Birds

Canada and USA card no. 43 - the Spot-Breasted Oriole
Why does the card background look dirty?

Collectors of Canadian and USA Tropical Birds may have noticed that it is impossible to find a version of card number 43 that does not have a 'dirty' looking background. Even when the main subject of the card, the Spot-Breasted Oriole, appears clean and sharply printed the background looks smudgy, blurred and dirty.

To try and find out why this might happen it would be useful to look at the original artwork. However much of the original artwork is not available for general scrutiny, so another option would be to see if the artwork has been used elsewhere. In this instance the artwork was originally prepared for the National Wildlife Federation, and was used after the card set was issued, on their stamps - which have been produced over a number of years in the United States. The artwork for this particular card can be found on the National Wildlife Conservation Stamps series issued in 1968. This series also use the artwork from cards 7 and 28.

The stamp is physically larger in size to the card and also a different shape proportionally. The stamp shows more of the original artwork to the left and right but is similar top and bottom. It shows the main subject, in front of a background of trees and vines which have been subtly toned back to allow the subject to dominate.

NWF stamp artwork
Card 43
Card 43
How it might have looked

It would seem that in the production of the card set each artwork was cropped for the new format size, so that the subject was again the focal point, and the remainder of the artwork was fitted into the display area as best as possible. In the case of card 43, although the image has been cropped the background would still have been recognizable as tree vines, however as the actual colours used in the printing of the cards are very different those used on the stamp, the main subject remains vibrant in colour but the background tones of green on the original background now appear as a washed out grey/brown colour giving the card its dirty look.

With slightly different preparation and printing with the same colours as those used on the stamps, it is possible to see how this card may have looked (see example above). Much of the National Wildlife Federation artwork that was used on the Red Rose cards has also appeared on their own stamps and is an interesting source for comparison and research.

Thanks to Terry Calleyne for help in the preparation of this article - April 2003