Wednesday, 11 October 2017

French Equatorial Africa - 1937 International Exposition in Paris

Let the festivities commence! From motorboat races on the Seine to the Grape Harvest Festival, and from World Championship Boxing Matches to Shakespeare in the park. The 1937 Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne (International Exposition of Art and Technology in Modern Life) had it all. The Expo was held from 25 May to 25 November 1937 in Paris, France. Countries from around the globe converged on the "city of lights" to flex their muscles of national pride. Participating countries were invited to build their own pavilions. Some pavilions were rather modest. While others such as the Soviet and Nazi pavilions opted more for the ostentatious and colossal. For more on the Expo, click HERE.


This World Expo was also a big deal in the world of philately. A group of France's best artistic minds were assembled to create a six stamp set that would be issued in twenty-one French colonies. This was the second omnibus series printed in France, the first being in 1931 for the International Colonial Exposition. Engravers such as Rene Cottet, Emile Feltesse, Pierre Munier, Antonin Delzers, and of course Albert Decaris contributed to the set. In fact, Albert Decaris both designed and engraved two stamps in this set. Below is a list of all colonies in which this set was issued.
  • Cameroun
  • Dahomey
  • French Equatorial Africa
  • French Guiana
  • French Guinea
  • French India
  • French Polynesia
  • French Sudan
  • Guadeloupe
  • Indo-China
  • Ivory Coast
  • Madagascar
  • Martinque
  • Mauritania
  • New Caledonia
  • Niger
  • Oceania
  • Reunion
  • St. Pierre & Miquelon
  • Senegal
  • Togo

To celebrate the beginning of my studies into Albert Decaris' philatelic work for French Equatorial Africa, which in 1958 became the Central African Republic, I thought I would showcase his first stamps issued for this country. The 1937 International Exposition in Paris. Indeed, these were the first stamps issued with his name attached for many French colonies.

Before seeing the stamps, let's have a little look at the country in question. French Equatorial Africa (French: Afrique équatoriale française), or the AEF, was the federation of French colonial possessions in Equatorial Africa, extending northwards from the Congo River into the Sahel, and comprising what are today the countries of Chad, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, the Republic of the Congo, and Gabon. After a referendum in 1958, in which the citizens voted for independence, AEF became the temporary association called The Union of Central African Republics. Then in 1960 the fully independent Central African Republic was formed. But we'll look at that change when I start studying the stamps Decaris produced for CAR.


Now to the stamps. As I mentioned above, Decaris both designed and engraved his two stamp contribution to the Paris Exposition omnibus series. To look at the full set, click HERE. The issue dates of this series vary by colony. The FAE set was issued on 15 April 1937.

The first stamp is the 50c value, labelled in French: Groupe de trois femme. (Group of three women)

The 1f 50 stamp, my favourite of the two designs, is called:  Tête de femme et masque. (Head of woman and mask)

Until next time...

Monday, 2 October 2017

France 1957 - Europa

Way back in 1956 a decision was made to create a common design stamp issue for the European community. The idea was not only to promote the rewarding pursuit of philately, but also to educate people in the history of Europe and the common roots that Europeans share. Thus the EUROPA stamp issue was born. Initially, there were six participating countries: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and Netherlands. All participating countries issued stamps of the same design to be produced in their own countries, using their own printing techniques and engravers when applicable. The common design chosen for the first EUROPA issue was a tower in the form of the 6 letters of the word EUROPA. The design was created by Frenchman Daniel Gonzagu. France's first EUROPA stamps were issued in two values, and the 'common' design was engraved by Jules Piel. 

In 1957 EUROPA allowed participating countries to issue stamps based on the common "theme" instead of a common design. The theme was Peace and Welfare through Agriculture and Industry. This idea of providing the participating countries with just a theme gave individual designers freedom to come up with their own artistic interpretation of the theme. Incidentally, the number of participating countries had now risen to eight to include Saarland and Switzerland.


On 16 September 1957, France issued its EUROPA design, printed in two values. The issue was designed and engraved by Albert Decaris. Decaris has brilliantly captured the essence of the theme in his design. It features two hands. One hand is holding an olive branch and wheat, symbolising peace and prosperity through agriculture. The other hand holds a large gear, through which another olive branch is entwined. Machinery and nature are here almost one with each other in a symbiotic relationship.

Until next time...

Thursday, 28 September 2017

France 1956 - Benjamin Franklin

To say he was a man of many talents would be a massive understatement. He was the very definition of the title "polymath". Inventor, scientist, politician, printer, and diplomat to name but a few of his pastimes. The man, if you haven't already guessed, is Benjamin Franklin. 

To write an in-depth biography of Benjamin Franklin I'd need far more space than I usually allow for a blog - probably need a rather large book actually! So what I'll do here is try to concentrate on some of the more uncommon things about Benjamin Franklin. First off let's quickly get acquainted with Benjamin Franklin. He was born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 17 1706. His father, Josiah Franklin, was a soap and candle maker. Josiah had two wives, fathering seven children with the first, and a staggering ten with the second wife! Ben was the fifteenth child. Ben started out working in his father's shop, but melting wax all day wasn't for him. He then tried his hand at the printing business under the tyrannical rule of his brother. He hated working for his brother, so he struck out on his own by moving to Philadelphia. From here his career thrived.

Now to some things about this great man that I personally didn't know.  Ben Franklin is rather famous for his inventions such as bifocal glasses and the lightning rod. But I did not know that he also invented the flexible urinary catheter. I also didn't know that he never chose to patent any of his inventions, believing that they should be freely accessible to all.

Franklin also revitalized the idea of Paying it Forward. This is the concept of doing a good deed of some kind to a person and instead of the person paying you back they in turn do a good deed for someone else. An excellent practice in my opinion. This idea was first introduced as a key plot in Menander's play Dyskolos (The Grouch) which was performed in Athens in 317 BC. In a letter to Benjamin Webb dated 25 February 1874 Ben Franklin suggests the use of such a concept.

Another interesting tidbit I just read about. Ben was a very accomplished chess player, and his travels in Britain and France gave him the opportunity to duke it out with some of the greatest chess minds of the time.. When in Paris, both as a visitor and later as ambassador, he visited the famous Café de la Régence, which France's strongest players made their regular meeting place. Unfortunately, no records of his games have survived, so it is not possible to ascertain his playing strength in modern terms.

I also didn't realize Ben Franklin was the first Postmaster General of the United States. And interestingly, aside from George Washington,  Ben Franklin appears on US postage stamps more than any other famous person. He first appeared on a US postage stamp in 1847. 

Benjamin Franklin also appeared on the famous long-running Washington-Franklin series from 1908 to 1923. And many more issues, but amazingly on only a few commemorative issues. One commemorative issue he did appear on was engraved by perhaps the best stamp engraver in the world, Czeslaw Slania. This stamp issued in 1983 was a joint issue with Sweden.

He died on April 17 1790 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at the ripe old age of 84. 


On 12 November 1956 France issued a set of six stamps featuring famous foreigners who worked in France. One of the stamps features Benjamin Franklin, who, as mentioned above, worked as a ambassador in France. The stamp was designed and engraved by Albert Decaris. In this design, Decaris captures the witty and playful nature of Franklin not seen in a lot of his portraits. I like this stamp. It was fun and quirky.

Until next time...

Friday, 22 September 2017

France 1956 - Samuel de Champlain

His skills and accomplishments were numerous. Among other things, he was a navigator, cartographer, draftsman, soldier, and explorer. He was instrumental in the founding of Quebec City. And he was later dubbed "The Father of New France". So who is this rather remarkable fellow? We are, of course, talking about none other than Samuel de Champlain.

Samuel de Champlain was born in Brouage, France. There is some contention as to the actual date of his birth. Some say as early as 1567. Other theories include dates up to and including 1575. Scholarship is now fairly certain he was born on or before 13 August 1574. Whatever the year of his birth was, we do know that he began his life as an explorer and seaman in 1598 when he travelled on the ship Saint-Julien with his uncle-in-law. The ship had been commissioned to carry Spanish troops to  Cádiz. During the journey, which was apparently long and hard (over two years) Champlain was given the opportunity to "watch after the ship". This was an excellent opportunity for him to learn the art of seamanship - to "learn the ropes" as it were. And Champlain also took the opportunity to hone his burgeoning writing and cartography skills. He wrote detailed notes of his journey, including illustrations. So good was the work that upon return to France, King Henry IV rewarded Champlain with an annual pension. Then when his uncle died in 1601, he left Champlain his considerable estate along with a merchant ship. His future as an explorer was set.

In 1603 he made his first voyage to North America as an observer on a fur trading expedition. Making the trek across the Atlantic and exploring parts of North America became second nature to Champlain. Indeed, in 1604 and again in 1605 he was back over there, exploring the eastern coastline as far south as Cape Cod.

But it was in 1608 that Champlain would forever cement himself in the annals of history. Sent back across the Atlantic at the command of a fleet of three ships to find a suitable spot for a colony on the St Lawrence River, he came across a nice spot which he would name "Quebec", which comes from the Algonquin word kébec meaning "where the river narrows". This was the origin of Quebec City. The first settlement consisted of three buildings, a stockade, and a moat, which Champlain called the "Habitation". The Habitation became Champlain's lifelong passion. He even built himself a large dwelling he called Fort Saint Louis.

Throughout his life, Champlain also settled the area that became the city of Montreal, and he made detailed maps of the Atlantic coast and the Great Lakes. By 1620 he had settled into an administrative role as the de facto governor of New France from a command post in Quebec. Samuel de Champlain died on December 25, 1635, in Quebec.


On 11 June 1956 France issued a set of six stamps honouring famous French people. One of the stamps features Samuel de Champlain. The stamp was designed and engraved by Albert Decaris. The stamp is a semi-postal with a face value of 12f with a 3f surcharge for the benefit of the Red Cross. When I first saw this stamp I wasn't really all that enamoured by it. But over time I have come to like it. The strong bold lines and the penetrating eyes of the explorer, the eyes of a visionary. And of course I love the beard!

I'd like to end this blog with a nice little quote by Champlain himself:
“The advice I give to all adventurers is to seek a place where they may sleep in safety.”
—Samuel de Champlain
Until next time...