Sunday, 31 January 2016

France 1944 - Edouard Branly

On 21 February 1944, France issued a stamp commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the birth of Édouard Eugène Désirè Branly. This stamp was designed and engraved by Albert Decaris.


Édouard Branly was a Professor of Physics at the Institut Catholique de Paris. He was also an inventor. His best known invention was the coherer. Basically, this was a radio wave detector, which became the basis for radio communications. Branly's design was further modified by the likes of Guglielmo Marconi. For more info on the coherer click HERE. For his scientific work, Branly was three times nominated for the Nobel Prize, but he never won it. But in 1911, he was elected to the French Academy of Sciences. In gaining this prestigious position he beat out another name huge in the field of sciene, one Marie Curie. Apparently they were great rivals in the field.

Let's take a look at the stamp designed and engraved by Decaris. The stamp has a face value of 4f.

This portrait, still rather stiff for the style for which Decaris became renowned, is rather attractive. What do you think?

Until next time...

Stay Decaris Crazy!

Thursday, 28 January 2016

France 1944 - Labour Charter

In 1944, Albert Decaris designed and engraved a stamp for France, the topic of which, from what I've read and tried to deduce, seems rather controversial.

The topic of the stamp is the Labour Charter under the Marshal of France, Philippe Petain. This charter changed France from its republican values which was represented by the slogan "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" to a very different nationalist slogan "Work, Family, Fatherland". Petain was given the Marshal of France title due to his leadership during World War I. But his authoritarian regime whilst Marshal, which included the Labour Charter, was not terribly successful from what I can gather. By the end of World War II Petain was tried and convicted of treason, which is very complicated and not really suitable for this blog. For more info check out these sites: HERE and HERE

Let's take a look at the stamp. It has a face value of 4f with a 6f surcharge. The stamp, although rather austere in nature, is loaded with great detail. The cogs of industry grinding away in the background, made alive by smoke billowing from the stacks. The workers in the foreground personifying the Work aspect of the nationalist slogan. And in the top right corner we have a fine rendering of the man himself, Philippe Petain.

Until next time...

Stay Decaris Crazy!

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

France 1943 - 18th Century Regional Caps

On 27 December 1943 France issued a beautiful set of six stamps depicting the regional caps of France in the 18th Century. Two of the stamps from this series are of particular interest for this blog. Both of the stamps I'm about to showcase were designed by Decaris, but only one of these he engraved.


First we'll study the stamp Decaris designed but did not engrave. For the sake of details, the stamp was engraved by Emile Feltesse. This stamp illustrates an example of headdresses worn by women in the province of Breton. The Bretons are an ethnic group located in Brittany, France. The heritage of the Bretons can be traced back to Great Britain, particularly the south western regions including Cornwall. These people fled Britain to evade rampaging Germanic tribes.

Let's take a peek at the stamp, remembering Decaris was only responsible for its design. The face value of this stamp is 1f20 with a surcharge of 2f designated to the Relief Fund. The stamp has a lightness and frivolity captured well by the cheeky grin on the girl's face and the birds frolicking in the background. Also religious devotion is a strong theme here with the church in the background and the cross around the girl's neck. All in all a charming design.


The second stamp we will look at was both designed and engraved by Decaris. The cap is an example of the headdresses found in Provence, France. Provence can be found in southeastern France, bewteen the Mediterranean in the south, the Rhone River to the west, and the Italian border to the east. Provence was the first Roman province beyond the alps. They called it Provincia Romana. This is from where the modern name evolved.

Now let's take a look at the stamp itself. The face value of the stamp is 5f with a 7f surcharge to be donted to the Relief Fund. The cap is engraved in exquisite detail. The eye is also drawn to the fan and the beautiful border. The mood on the woman's face belies calmness, and a sense of confidence born out of wisdom. This is a true stunner, and a fine example of Decaris' growing talent for engraved portraits.

Until next time...

Stay Decaris Crazy!

Sunday, 17 January 2016

France 1941 - SS Pasteur

Of Albert Decaris' first four engraved stamps for France three were ships. It seems ships became one of his specialities. In 1941 Decaris engraved his third ship, the SS Pasteur, which, in my opinion, was his best ship engraving to date.

The SS Pasteur had quite a colourful history. The ship's keel was laid in 1938 at Chantiers de l'Atlantique in Saint Nazaire, France, and on 15 February of that year, the incomplete vessel was christened Pasteur after the French scientist, Loius Pasteur. In March 1939 work on the ship ground to a halt when a fire broke out onboard. As a result of the fire the fitting out of the ship got delayed. By August 1939 the Pasteur was complete. And a beautiful vessel she was. At 212.4m long and 26.8m wide, she had 11 decks and was able to carry 751 passengers.

The ship was completed, as it turned out, right before the beginning of WWII. I mention this because in 1940 she was taken by the British and placed in service by Cunard-White Star as a as a troop carrier and hospital ship. During her service in this role she carried some 300,000 soldiers. Here is an image of her during service.

During the course of her 41 year life from 1939 until 1980 when she sank, the ship had five name changes, earning her the nickname ship-of-five-names.

  •      Pasteur (1939-57)
  •      Bremen (1957-72)
  •      Regina Magna (1972-77)
  •      Saudphil (1977-80)
  •      Filipinas Saiudi (1980)

In 1980, en route to the ship breakers in Taiwan, the ship sank in the Indian Ocean while under tow. This, I feel, is a more fitting end for the ship. Here is some images of her last moments.


Now let's take a look at Decaris' lovely interpretation of SS Pasteur.

Isn't it striking! The ship assumes a truly commanding presence in the water as she ploughs toward her destination with pride.. As with his first ship design The Normandie (click HERE), Decaris here utilises a small sailing boat in the foreground to provide a sense of scale.

As I mentioned earlier this stamp was issued in 1941. Its rate was changed from 70c to 1f with a 1f surcharge to benefit the Society of Sea Works. Apparently there are still some copies of this stamp without the surcharge floating around. I personally have never seen one. I hope if I ever do it'll be for sale!

Until next time...

Stay Decaris Crazy!

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

France 1939 - Battleship Clemenceau

One of the things that drew me to the hobby of stamp collecting was studying stamps from different countries, learning about those countries, and discovering the meaning behind the artwork on each stamp. Each stamp was like a little mystery for me to solve. All the clues are there. One just has to know how to look.

When I first looked at the Decaris designed and engraved stamp entitled Clemenceau issued by France on 18 April 1939, I considered it to be a fairly straight forward commemorative issue. No mysteries. No intriguing errors. Right? Well,! There's lots of good stuff packed into this little rectangle of paper. But I'm racing too far ahead.

First, why don't we dig into a little history. The battleship Clemenceau was named after Georges Clemenceau, a French statesman who was twice Prime Minister of France: the first time from 1906 to 1909, and again from 1917 to 1920, a period which included the end of the First World War. He was one of the architects of the Treaty of Versailles, which earned him the nickname Pere la Victiore (Father Victory). Clemeneau's bust is also depicted on the stamp.

Now to the fun stuff!

Before we go any further let's take a moment to peruse the stamp in question. It is a rather fine engraving in its own right. And the likeness of Georges Clemenceau is excellent.

First up I'd like to draw your attention to the fact that Decaris has drawn the battleship ploughing through the ocean. Here we encounter our first problem. The Clemenceau never made it anywhere near the ocean. In fact, the ship was never even finished!

The keel of the battleship was laid down in the Salou graving dock at Brest shipyard on 17 January 1939. Work on her moved very slowly. So slowly that by 1941 she was only 10% complete. She was taken, partially complete, by the Germans as war booty, floated, and used as a ship blocker in the harbour of Brest. On 27 August 1944 she was sunk during a U.S. air raid, which was the beginning of an offensive to liberate Brest.

Believe it or not the intrigue in the stamp does not end there. There is another rather cool secret locked in the design. What f I were to tell you that the ship depicted on the stamp wasn't even the right class of battleship! The Clemenceau was a Richelieu class battleship. But there is strong evidence to suggest that the ship depicted by Decaris is actually  the Dunkerque, the lead ship in the Dunkerque class of battleships.

Here's the evidence. I'd like to give credit to the website, for the following image.Click HERE to check out the site.

As you can see there are three areas of detail which suggest the ship on the stamp is actually of the Dunkerque class of battleships.

  • The first point of interest is the bow section. The bow of the Dunkerque has a pronounced step.
  • Number two is the smokestack which is present on the ship on the stamp, but is absent from the design profile of the Clemenceau class battleship.
  • Thirdly, the stamp includes a catapult for a plane, which appears to be absent from the Clemenceau design profile.

So what do you think? Has the wrong type of ship been inadvertently engraved onto the stamp?

Until next time...

Stay Decaris Crazy!

Monday, 11 January 2016

Monaco 1960 - 50th Anniversary of the Oceanographic Museum

In 1960 Monaco issued a set of six stamps to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Monaco Oceanographic Museum. One of the stamps in this set was engraved by Albert Decaris.


The Monaco Oceanographic Museum is located in Monaco-ville, and the building itself is built into the side of a cliff face overlooking the ocean. It is an amazing building in the baroque revival style, and it took workers some eleven years to complete.


The museum was inaugurated in 1910 by Monaco's Prince Albert I. In looking up the history of the museum, I was surprised to discover that the great Jacques Cousteau was the director of the museum from 1957 to 1988. I recall watching Mr Cousteau on TV as a kid. The singer/songwriter John Denver wrote a song dedicated to him, called Calypso, which was the name of Cousteau's boat. The museum is also known as the Jacques Cousteau Museum.

The museum is home to a large variety of sea fauna such as starfish, turtles, sea urchins ,jellyfish, crabs, sharks, lobsters and many more sea critters. There are even some skeletons!

It is also home to an amazing octopus sculpture.


Of the six stamps in the set, the one engraved by Decaris is rather striking...

In the background we find the façade of the museum. and in the foreground various Cephalopods are displayed, swimming around an oscilloscope, a device used to study the electrical properties of marine life.

Until Next time...

Stay Decaris Crazy!

Sunday, 10 January 2016

France 1962 - Gallic Rooster

The Gallic Rooster has long been the unofficial symbol of France, the official symbol being Marianne who stands for the Republic. The story of how the rooster claimed the role of unofficial symbol is actually quite an interesting one. It all starts back in Ancient Rome when the biographer, Suetonius (c. 69-140 AD), noted in his book The Twelve Caesars that, in Latin, gallus, which means rooster, and Gallus, which means Gauls were homonyms, which is a fancy word that means two or more words which share the same pronunciation, but mean different things. This is not, however, how the Gauls, who became the French, came to use the rooster as a national symbol.

The rooster's close association with France seems to have begun in the Middle Ages, and not in the way you may think. The Latin similarity between gallus and Gallus mentioned above was used by the enemies of France to make fun of them! Eventually the French came to use the Rooster as a symbol due to its religious connections - one can also see that the French would've taken on the supposed derogatory symbol to take the sting out of the taunts of their enemies. But, anyway, back to the religious connections. In the bible it is mentioned that just before Jesus was arrested by the Romans, he foresaw that Peter (a disciple) would deny him three times before the rooster crowed the following morning. It turns out, according to the bible anyway, that Jesus was right. From this tale, it is believed that every morning the rooster crowing was a symbol of the daily victory of light over the darkness. It is also a symbol for Christianity of watchfulness and readiness for the return of Christ. France, being a Catholic state, thus adopted the rooster as a symbol. And the rest is, as we say, history.

France began a long tradition of portraying the rooster on stamps back in 1944. The initial design was by Henry Razous. And it is a lovely stamp indeed...

In 1954 a new design, with somewhat more energy than the first design, was released. This new version was designed by Pierre Poulain.

In 1962 Albert Decaris created a new iteration of this French classic. A design, I feel, is striking in its simplicity.

This lovely design was reprinted in 1965 with a new denomination of 30 centimes.

But that's not the end for this charming design. Decaris' masterpiece was again used in a 2013 Fifth Republic stamp with the denomination, of course, in Euros.

Over the years the Rooster has appeared on many a French stamp. In fact, I'm willing to bet one could create an entire thematic collection of French roosters!

Until next time...

Stay Decaris Crazy!