Wednesday, 26 July 2017

I Study... Aspects of an Airmail Design

Sometimes it is difficult admire the beauty of a lone tree amid a vast forest. This can also be the case when viewing a beautifully engraved stamp vignette with an elaborate border. It is true, of course, that the border should compliment the vignette, but I find it a bit of fun and quite interesting to separate the relative parts. I do this with the use of basic editing software. There are loads of editing software packages out there, and different people have their own preferences. I personally use  But enough of that. On with the show, as it were!

A great specimen to use for an exercise such as this is the France 1950 1,000f airmail stamp. Not only does it have a stunning vignette and lovely decorative border, each aspect of the design had a different engraver. This enables us to single out the vision of each engraver. It is true that I have already written a blog studying this stamp and the other stamps in this series - click HERE. But by employing the method mentioned above, hopefully we will see this stamp in a whole different light. And if not, it was a bit of fun.


First, let's take a look at the entire stamp.


Now let's manipulate the image a bit so we can focus solely on the vignette (central grey portion). This part of the stamp was designed and engraved by Albert Decaris.

There is instantly a different feel to the image. A smoky, dark presence yet an alluring quality that beckons us down into the design. To roam the narrow streets of Île de la Cité. To traverse the gorgeous, uniquely-styled bridges. To explore the stunning Cathedral of Notre Dame. Vraiment superbe!


It was actually only recently that I realised that the border of this stamp was not designed and engraved by Decaris. This magnificent border was entrusted to Jacques Combet. Let's take a look at it with the vignette removed.

The fine details sculpted into this border are quite amazing!  The feathered wings down each side of the border. The intricate scrollwork. I particularly like the sailing vessels to be found at each corner! This border is a stunning piece of art in and of itself.


Incidentally, this was not the only time these two engravers collaborated. In 1956 their talents were again combined to produce the 500f airmail stamp for St. Pierre et Miquelon, depicting a Douglas DC-3 over St Pierre Port. 

I believe Decaris was responsible for most of the work in this stamp and Combet engraved the lettering. Many thanks to Adrian at Stamp Engravers for his blog on this issue. To take a look at his blog post click HERE. It's well worth the read.

Anywho, enough from me for now. I hope you enjoyed this little exercise! What's the point of computers and all this fangled software if we can't play around with it from time to time?

Until next time...

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

I Interview... Yazid from USA

A loyal follower of my blog, named Yazid, has graciously volunteered some of his time for an Albert Decaris Stamps! interview. I hope you enjoy it!

Q: When did you start collecting Decaris stamps?
A: About a year ago.

Q: What drew you to start collecting him?
A: I've seen many different engraved stamps, but Decaris had a unique style of engraved art. Very simple yet attractive to the eye.

Q: What is your favourite Decaris stamp, and why is it your favourite?
A: Well, there are plenty I like, but if I have to pick one, my favourite would definitely be Leonardo da Vinci issued on 1952. Decaris truly captures the essence of the great man, Leonardo da Vinci. You could say a giant historical figure engraved by a giant of the engraving world. It must have been an Honor for Decaris to be able to do that.

Q: Where do you usually get your Decaris stamps?
A: On ebay, but sometimes I use the French version of ebay, which tends to offer more possibilities to when searching for French stuff.

Q: What references do you like using? Which is your favourite?
A: I like, which is a French web site. It includes technical details about the stamps and their production.

Q: Do you remember what your first Decaris stamp was?
A: I always like to start where the engraver's journey started. Albert Decaris’ first designed and engraved French stamp was the 1935 3f50 value depicting St. Trophime in  Arles.

Q: Do you collect any other engravers?
A: Yes. I also collect the work of Czeslaw Slania. I like his work a lot. I also admire other French engravers such as Gandon, Combet, Cami, Forget, to name a few. I have plenty stamps from each of these engravers, and some from other engravers, too. 

Q: What are your other stamp specialisms? 
A: I like French stamps, especially the French Colonies, but also collect stamps from Britain, Spain, and Belgium. You could say that I collect anything that catches my eye.

Q: How do you store your Decaris stamps? 
A: I use stock books and albums with black pages. The black pages, I feel, that enhance the artistry on the stamp.

Q: Do you have any collecting tips to share? 
A: There is no right or wrong way to collecting stamps! Collect what appeals to you. Also it's not how much we paid for each item that is important, it's how much fun we get out of them. That's my motto.

I'd like to thank Yazid for taking the time to participate in this little question and answer session! As always, if you are interested in being interviewed, post a comment below.

Until next time...

Sunday, 16 July 2017

France 1935 - Bon Voyage

A crowd of fifty thousand had gathered to witness the event. The location: Le Havre, France. The date: 29 May 1935. The stage was set for a record-breaking maiden voyage across the Atlantic. The prize for a record-breaking crossing was the coveted Blue Riband. The French ocean liner SS Normandie had been advertised as the fastest ship afloat. Her state-of-the-art turbo-electric propulsion system was the first of its kind. Now all the ship had to do was prove itself worthy of the high acclaim.

To celebrate this monumental event, France issued a lovely stamp featuring SS Normandie on 23 April 1935, a little over a month before the event. The stamp was designed and engraved by Albert Decaris. (Check out my blog post that studies the SS Normandie and the commemorative stamp in detail HERE). As an extra treat, a special machine cancel was created to be used on the date of the maiden voyage to mark the occasion. Covers bearing a Normandie stamp and cancelled with special machine cancel are a great addition to any Albert Decaris collection. 

To date I only have one cover with a Normandie stamp and maiden voyage cancel. It is not the most glamorous cover in the world, but I have it purely for the cancel.

Here is another example of the postmark on a cover I purchased, but has not arrived yet.

So you may be wondering if SS Normandie succesfully broke the Atlantic crossing record and won the coveted Blue Riband? Well, the answer is yes! She surely did. The previous record of 4 days, 13 hours, 58 minutes was held by the Italian liner SS Rex, set in 1933. SS Normandie smashed that record by ten hours, arriving in New York after 4 days, 3 hours, 2 minutes. This record was broken a year later by Queen Mary. Then in 1937 Normandie won it back again! The two great liners had quite a rivalry.

Until next time...

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

France 1957 - Heroes of the Resistance

Resistance is 'the act of fighting against something that is attacking you, or refusing to accept something (Cambridge Dictionary, 2017)."

Our history books are riddled with heroic tales of resistance to foreign invaders. From the Greek resistance to the Persian invasion in the 5th century BC to the more recent Aboriginal resistance, led by Pemulwuy, to British occupation of their territory around Sydney, NSW, in 1797; and from the American resistance to the British Empire in the Revolutionary War to the French Resistance against German occupation during WWII. These brave acts of defiance bring with them stories of individual gallantry and heroism against overwhelming odds. 

One such hero was French Resistance fighter, Henri Honoré d'Estienne d'Orves. D'Estienne d'Orves, born 3 June 1901, was educated in some of the finest schools in Paris before joining the École Navale, (French Naval Academy) in 1923, where he was stationed on the training ship Jeanne d'Arc. Life in the Navy seemed to have agreed with d'Estienne d'Orves, and he quickly rose through the ranks. By the time World War II erupted in 1939 he was the under-chief of the headquarters of the 2nd flotilla of torpedo boats in Mediterranean Sea, and by December of that year he became an aide to Admiral Godfroy in the Headquarters of "Force X".

On 25 June 1940, an armistice was signed between France, led by Marshal Philippe Petain, and Germany, allowing German forces to occupy France. Unsurprisingly, not all of France was happy with this scenario. Many, such as General Charles de Gaulle, considered this tantamount to surrendering in defeat. Having fled into exile to London, de Gaulle spearheaded the "Free France" movement.

Unwilling to accept the armistice like so many others (including de Gaulle), D'Estienne d'Orves sailed from Africa to London aboard a cargo ship. On 27 September 1940 he met with Charles de Gaulle. Unable to obtain a sea command at this time, d'Estienne d'Orves was given a different mission by de Gaulle. On 15 December 1940, he was tasked with organising an intelligence network in western France, code-named "Nemrod".

Code-named "Jean-Pierre Girard", d'Estienne d'Orves set up his intelligence network headquarters in Chantenay-sur-Loire, near Nantes along with his radio operator, Alfred Gaessler, a 20 year old German-speaking Alsatian, with the code-name, "Georges Marty". Over the next several months, d'Estienne d'Orves created an efficient spying web, allowing him to gather intelligence pertaining to German military movements. Unfortunately, it turns out that d'Estienne d'Orves' radio officer, Gaessler, happened to be a double agent, informing the Nazis of the movements of d'Estienne d'Orves. On a trip to London, d'Estienne d'Orves was cornered by the Gestapo. But d'Estienne d'Orves didn't go easily. He and his companions put up a strong fight. Eventually, however, the Gestapo captured and arrested him. D'Estienne d'Orves was wounded in the fight. Thankfully, the spy web he had created remained undiscovered and continued to operate right up to the Liberation of Paris in August 1944.

D'Estienne d'Orves was held in prison by the Nazis to await trail, which began on 13 May 1941. At the trail d'Estienne d'Orves claimed full responsibility for the spy network. On 28 August he was found guilty of treason and sentenced to be executed. An anecdote that speaks to the character of d'Estienne d'Orves occurred shortly after the conclusion of the trail. When being interviewed by the German military judge who had sentenced him, d'Estienne d'Orves is reported to have said:
"Sir, you are a German officer. I am a French officer. We both served our duty. Please allow me to hug you (Wikipedia)."
At dawn on 29 August 1941, Henri Honoré d'Estienne d'Orves was executed by firing squad at Fort du Mont Valérien, France. But this man's heroism was most assuredly not forgotten. He was posthumously promoted to Capitaine de frégate (Commander) and made a Compagnon de la Libération (Fellow of the Liberation). And inspired by his martyrdom, many people joined the ranks of the French Resistance.


On 20 May 1957, France issued a set of five stamps honouring the Heroes of the Resistance. The 10f value depicting Henri Honoré d'Estienne d'Orves was designed and engraved by Albert Decaris. The portrait is a fitting testimonial to the courage, loyalty, and honour of Henri Honoré d'Estienne d'Orves. A true hero!

Until next time...