Saturday, 9 December 2017

France 1958 - Lagrange

His name is on a plague on the Eiffel Tower. A street in Paris bears his name. There is even a crater on the moon named after him! Joseph-Louis Lagrange, born Giuseppe Lodovico Lagrangia on 25 January 1736, was a mathematician and astronomer during le Siècle des Lumières, the Age of Enlightenment, an intellectual and philosophical movement in Europe during the 18th century. He was known as a kind and quiet man, who had a life-long devotion to, and passion for, science.

Lagrange was born in Turin, Italy. His father was of French descent and his mother was herself born in Turin. His father, who worked as Treasurer of the Office of Public Works and Fortifications in Turin, had decided his son was to have a career as a lawyer. Lagrange attended the University of Turin, seemingly happy with the vocation that had been chosen for him. During the course of his studies he was obliged to complete some mathematical studies, such as geometry, which he found boring (who can blame the guy!).  His favourite subject at the time was Latin.

But Lagrange's attitude towards maths did an abrupt U-turn after reading a paper by Edmund Halley, after whom a comet was later named (which I was fortunate to see as a teenager). After a year of self-study, he was hooked on maths. And at the age of just 19 (some even say 16!) he was teaching mathematics at the artillery school of Turin. During this time his work focused on 'calculus of variations', which was well received in the mathematical community.

By the time Lagrange was 25 in 1761 he was already recognised as one of the greatest living mathematicians. Not bad for a guy who initially thought maths stuff boring! Three years later in 1764 he was the recipient of a prize awarded by the French Academy of Sciences for his essay on the libration of the moon, which is basically the study of the slight wobble or oscillation of the moon, which in turn present to us on Earth a visual change of lunar features. He also worked on theories relating the the motions of the satellites 'moons' of Jupiter.

In 1766 Lagrange was offered a teaching post at the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin. He was invited by the king Frederick the Great, who is believed to have said that it is the wish of “the greatest king in Europe” to have “the greatest mathematician in Europe” at his court. While in Berlin he worked tirelessly on the areas such as the 'three-body problem' (which relates to Newton' law of gravity),  differential equations, prime number theory. and the mechanics and stability of the solar system, He also devoted much time to the study of algebra, culminating in a long paper published in 1770, titled: Réflexions sur la résolution algébrique des équations (Reflections on the Algebraic Resolution of Equations”).

In 1787, after the death of King Fredrick, Lagrange was invited by Louis XVI to take a position at the French Academy of Sciences, which he gladly accepted. In fact, he remained in Paris till the day he died. His move to Paris was right before the French Revolution in 1789. During this turbulent time, Lagrange was, shall we say, prodded into joining the committee working to reform the metric system. then in 1794 the École Centrale des Travaux Publics (later renamed the École Polytechnique) was opened and Lagrange took a position as a leading professor of mathematics. Here Lgrange continued his work on calculus, producing the first analytical textbooks in the area. He also continued work on new edition of his  Mécanique analytique, but Lagrange died 10 April 1813 before it was published.


On 17 February 1958, France issued a set of four stamps honouring famous scientists. Two of these stamps were designed and engraved by Albert Decaris. One of these two stamps featured Joseph-Louis Lagrange. it is a lovely design, which captures the true essence of this brilliant, kind, and gentle man.

Until next time...

Monday, 27 November 2017

I Muse...On Soaking Results

Several weeks ago I wrote a blog describing my successful win of two Tunisia 1953 airmail stamps. One of these two stamps, the 1,000f value was designed and engraved by Albert Decaris. The 500f value was designed and engraved by Rene Cottet. The catalogue value of these stamps was quite high, but I managed to win them for just a couple of dollars. You may recall that the condition of the stamps wasn't 100%. They both had quite a bit of toning, the 500f more so. Of course, this is my Albert Decaris blog so I will only deal with the 1,000f stamp here. The 500f I will deal with in my French Stamp Engravers! blog (when it is done I will insert a link to it here). 

The stamp arrived a couple of weeks ago, and the other day I finally got round to giving it a peroxide bath. I have already written a blog detailing the method I use for soaking stamps in peroxide. You can check it out HERE. This time round I had to give the stamp (both stamps actually) two longer soaks than normal. And even then not all of the toning was removed. But it did freshen the stamps up quite a bit, and of course, it killed any and all mould present. That being said, I am still very happy with the results. Below is a 'before and after' for you to judge for yourselves.

So what do you think?

Until next time...

Sunday, 19 November 2017

France 1957 - Cervantes

Perhaps the greatest writer in the Spanish language the world has seen, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra was born c. 29 September 1547 in Alcalá de Henares, Habsburg, Spain. It is said that his most famous work Don Quixote has been translated into more languages than any other book except the Bible.

Rather little is known of Cervantes's youth. What is known suggests his family was far from well-to-do. His father, who was deaf, was a barber-surgeon, a poor paying job at that time. Possibly due to their low income status, the family moved around a lot when Cervantes was a kid. Regarding his schooling, next to nothing is certain, but it is a hot topic of debate among modern scholars. It is very possible, based on analysis of his later literary work, that Cervantes was taught by the Jesuits. One fact is certain. Cervantes was an avid reader as a child.

Cervantes's first foray into the field of writing came in 1569 when he contributed some poetry to a collection compiled as a memorial after Elizabeth of Valois, the wife of Spain's King Philip II, died. But according to Cervantes himself poetry was not his strong point. Interestingly, for some reason not known now, Cervantes was forced into exile in this same year, and he moved to Rome. Cervantes hung up his quill, as it were, and worked for a short time as chamber assistant to a cardinal before joining a Spanish military unit stationed in Italy in 1570. As a soldier, he fought with distinction against the Ottoman Empire in the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 aboard the ship La Marquesa. During this conflict he sustained several serious, debilitating injuries. He suffered "two chest wounds and the complete maiming of his left hand" ( Despite these terrible injuries Cervantes continued to serve as a soldier for a further five years.

Compounding on his injuries suffered during his years of service, Cervantes was captured in 1580 by Turkish ships while attempting to return to Spain. He was imprisoned and for the next five years forced into slavery. After numerous failed attempts to escape, he finally gained freedom after his family paid a ransom for his release.

Safely back home in Spain, Cervantes decided to dust off his quill and resume writing. His first novel, La Galatea, was published in 1585. Unfortunately, this his first novel was not exactly a rip-roaring success among his contemporaries. To make ends meet, he took up a job as a purchasing agent for the Spanish Armada, which might sound impressive but was really nothing more than collecting grain from rural communities. Perhaps disillusioned by this grunt-work he decided to try his hand at writing for the theatre. Plays were all the rage in Spain at that time and becoming a successful playwright promised lucrative career possibilities. Alas, none of his plays were show-stoppers. 

We are perhaps fortunate that he did fail as a playwright. If he had been successful we may never have had the tremendous benefit of his most famous work Don Quixote. Cervantes published the first part of Don Quixote in 1605. This novel "tells the story of an elderly man who becomes so enamored by the old stories of brave knights that he seeks out his own adventures. The title character soon gets lost in his own fantasy world, believing he is one of these knights, and convinces a poor peasant, Sancho Panza, to serve as his squire. In one scene, the deluded Don Quixote even fights a windmill, mistaking it for a giant. Quixote finally regains his senses before the novel ends" ( It is from this novel that the phrase 'tilting at windmills' to suggest madness was coined. This novel was a huge success, but since authors didn't receive royalties for their work at this time, it did not make Cervantes a wealthy man as it undoubtedly would have now. In fact, it has now been translated into over 60 different languages. 

Cervantes eventually went on to publish the second part of Don Quixote in 1616. This story has inspired many authors and artists through the centuries. It inspired the musical The Man of La Mancha and an artwork by Pablo Picasso.  


On 12 November 1957 France issued a set of seven stamps featuring a cast of foreign celebrities (Célébrités étrangères). One of these stamps features Miguel de Cervantes. It was designed and engraved by Albert Decaris. Decaris here manages to capture the brooding intelligence of Cervantes as he gazes into deep into his own creative imagination. Studying this portrait we could well believe Cervantes is right at that point of conceiving that quirky character, Quixote. A splendid portrait by the Master Engraver.

Until next time...

Sunday, 12 November 2017

French Equatorial Africa 1939 - New York World's Fair

Experience "the world of tomorrow" and witness the "dawn of a new day". These were the slogans of the 1939 New York World's Far (NYWF). The event was held at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, which up until then was an ash dump (the largest ash pile was so big, some 90 feet tall, that it was actually given a name - Mount Corona). 

The event was conceived in 1935 by a group of New York businessmen in order to help lift the city and the country from the doldrums of the Great Depression. From offices high up in the Empire State Building, the committee imagined the biggest international event the world had seen since the horrors of the Great War. The theme of looking towards a bright and peaceful future full of scientific wonders was more relevant than ever in the current climate. In all, it took four years for the NYWF committee to bring their colossal vision into the realm of reality. 

The date chosen for the grand opening of the fair was Sunday, April 30, 1939, the 150th anniversary of the inauguration of the first President of the United States, George Washington. The opening speech was to be given by the current President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, in front of a crowd of 206,000 people. But this was to be no ordinary speech. Since new technologies and future innovations was the central theme of the fair, this was the perfect opportunity for RCA to introduce a new thing called 'television' to the public. Roosevelt's speech was not only broadcast by radio, but it was actually televised.  It is said that some 1,000 people watched the speech on 200 television sets scattered around the New York metropolitan area. In fact, many events throughout the course of the fair were broadcast on television. The speech coverage was used by the New York station W2XBS (now WNBC) to inaugurate their new system of regularly scheduled broadcasts in the New York area.

Anticipating skepticism among the public, RCA set up a television in their pavilion with a transparent case so the internal components could be easily seen. Also, in this pavilion (one I would have made a beeline for if I were there) a mini-studio was set up allowing people to see themselves on television. People could also see television demonstrations at the General Electric and Westinghouse pavilions.

Innovative architecture was for the various displays and pavilions was highly encouraged. Architects had nearly free-rein to be as "creative and energetic" as possible with their designs. Perhaps none typified the stunning vision for the future more so than the Theme Center, designed by Wallace Harrison and Max Abramovitz. This center "consisted of two all-white, landmark monumental buildings named the Trylon (over 700 feet (210 m) tall) and the Perisphere which one entered by a moving stairway and exited via a grand curved walkway named the "Helicline". Inside the Perisphere was a "model city of tomorrow that visitors" viewed from a moving walkway high above the floor level." (Wikipedia).

Some of the highlights of the fair included exhibits featuring nylon fabric, Secentovision (a forerunner to Smell-O-Vision), and an exhibit featuring what was perhaps one of my favourite toys as a kid, the View-Master (remember those?). People could also see a new futuristic car design in the General Motors pavilion. There was even a talking robot that - you wouldn't believe it - actually smoked! As the song goes: "it's all happening at the fair!"


On 10 May 1939 an omnibus set of two stamps of a single design was issued in twenty-four French colonies to celebrate the New York World's Fair. The stamps were designed and engraved by Albert Decaris. This was Decaris' second foray into omnibus stamp design, the first being the 1937 Paris Exposition set. Below is a list of all the colonies in which this set was issued (it should be noted that these stamps are available with several different overprints, but I'll leave that for another time).

  • Cameroun
  • Dahomey
  • Fr. Equatorial Africa
  • Fr. Guiana
  • Fr. Guinea
  • Fr. India
  • Fr. Polynesia
  • Fr. Sudan
  • Guadaloupe
  • Indo-China
  • Inini
  • Ivory Coast
  • Kwangchowan
  • Madagascar
  • Martinque
  • Mauritania
  • New Caledonia
  • Niger
  • Reunion
  • St Pierre & Miquelon
  • Senegal 
  • Somali Coast
  • Togo
  • Wallis & Futuna Islands.
Of course, it would be difficult to display images of all the stamps of all the colonies, so considering I am in the process of studying Albert Decaris' work for French Equatorial Africa, I will showcase those ones here (in the future, I will be doing separate blog posts for each of these omnibus issues).

Until next time...