Monday, 20 November 2017

Monaco 1977 - The Career of a Navigator 1st Issue (Part 2)

Oceanography is: "a science that deals with the oceans and includes the delimitation of their extent and depth, the physics and chemistry of their waters, marine biology, and the exploitation of their resource" (


In last week's blog we were introduced to Prince Albert I of Monaco, a trail-blazer in the field of oceanography. His contributions to this discipline and his career as a navigator were celebrated in a sumptuous series of 18 stamps, issued in two sets of nine in 1977.

One of Prince Albert's crowning achievements was the founding of the Oceanographic Institute in 1906. One part of the institute is the Monaco Oceanographic Museum, located in Monaco-ville. The museum is a  stunning piece of architecture in the baroque revival style. It was built into the side of a cliff face overlooking the ocean, and it took workers some eleven years to complete.


The museum was inaugurated in 1910 by 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.


In 1902 Albert I published a book La Carriere d'un Navigateur (The Career of a Navigator), which documents his adventurous life at sea. On 3 May 1977, the 75th anniversary of the publication of his magnum opus, Monaco issued a glorious set of 18 stamps, issued in two sets of nine, honouring the Prince's achievements. To engrave this mammoth issue, a stellar cast of French engravers was enlisted: Pierre Gandon, Claude Haley, Michel Monvoisin, George Betemps, and Pierre Forget. This set was created based on illustrations by the French illustrator Louis Tinayre (14 March 1861-26 September 1942).

Last week we kicked off by studying the first four stamps in this first series. This week we will study the last five stamps in this series. And they are truly gorgeous. Maintenant examinons les timbres!


The 1f stamp was designed and engraved by Georges Betemps. It features a night-watch helmsman at the wheel of one of Prince Albert's yachts, perhaps l'hirondelle. I love this stamp. The depths of the darkness give it a sense of brooding mystery. And the illumination from the binnacle lamps splashing over the sailor is fabulous.


The 1f 25 stamp was designed and engraved by Pierre Forget. It features a dynamic scene in which L'hirondelle battles a raging storm. The artist has managed to create a very real sense of fear and impending danger in this stamp.


The 1f 40 stamp was designed and engraved by Claude Haley. It features a group of researchers, perhaps including Prince Albert himself, out in a longboat, fishing for shrimp.


The 1f 90 stamp was designed and engraved by Pierre Forget. It features a scene in which the trawl is being hauled aboard for further investigation. 


The 2f 50 stamp was designed and engraved by Georges Betemps. It features the capture of an oceanic sunfish for analysis.

Stay tuned for the second series of this wonderful set.

Until next time...

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Pierre Albuisson Stamp List

Below is a list of stamps engraved and/or designed by Pierre Albuisson. Click on the individual stamp sets for detailed descriptions.


Mali, Pierre Curie (25 May)





































Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Monaco 1977 - The Career of a Navigator 1st Issue (Part 1)

He was born into royalty, but he possessed the heart of a scientific explorer with a passion for the relatively new field of oceanography. Honoré Charles Grimaldi, later Prince Albert I of Monaco, was born 13 November 1848. His love for the ocean was perhaps cultivated while he was still a young man serving in the Spanish Navy. Then during the Franco-Prussian War (19 July 1870 – 10 May 1871) he joined the French Navy. In this capacity he excelled, earning himself the Legion of Honour. 

Throughout his life, Prince Albert's love for oceanography was evident in nearly every aspect of his life, but he also had a keen interest in unravelling the mysteries of the origins of man. In fact, he founded the Institute for Human Paleontology. The institute went on host a number of archaeological digs. During one such dig "Grimaldi Man" was found in the Baousse-Rousse cave, and it was named in his honour. 

As a skilled navigator and a trail-blazer in the burgeoning field of oceanography, Prince Albert devoted his life to the study of oceans and aquatic life. In all, he led 28 scientific expeditions around the Mediterranean, to the Azores, and even an adventure to the Arctic. In order to make the most of these research expeditions, he had several ships retro-fitted with high-tech (for the time) scientific equipment. He had four ships in total: Hirondelle, Princess Alice, Princesse Alice II and Hirondelle II. But what is field research without a home base? To this end, he founded the Oceanographic Institute in 1906, which is comprised of two establishments: the Oceanographic Museum in Monaco (for which there was a lovely stamp series issued) and the Home of the Oceans in Paris.

Housed within the Oceanographic Museum is the Salle Albert I, an exhibit dedicated to his exceptional career as a navigator and oceanographer. It houses numerous marine specimens, photos, and a library of scientific analysis. It also includes several display models, including miniatures of his research ships and even a full size sperm whale!  


In 1902 Albert I published a book La Carriere d'un Navigateur (The Career of a Navigator), which documents his adventurous life at sea. In 1977, the 75th anniversary of the publication of his magnum opus, Monaco issued a glorious set of 18 stamps, issued in two sets of nine, honouring the Prince's achievements.. The first set, which I will focus on in this blog, was issued 3 May 1977.  To engrave this mammoth issue, a stellar cast of French engravers was enlisted: Pierre Gandon, Claude Haley, Michel Monvoisin, George Betemps, and Pierre Forget. They even brought in a top gun outsider a fellow whose name you may have heard of one or twice - Czeslaw Slania! This set was created based on illustrations by the French illustrator Louis Tinayre (14 March 1861-26 September 1942).


Considering this set is so big, I have broken it into two separate blog posts. This week we will study the first four stamps of the nine, and next week we will see the remaining five, and I might even be able to find a few more tidbits about Prince Albert I. So without further ado...


The 0,10f stamp was designed and engraved by Pierre Gandon. It features L'Hirondelle, Prince Albert I's schooner.


The 0.20f stamp was designed and engraved by Czeslaw Slania (although not a French engraver, I include the stamp so the entire set can be perused). It features the portrait of Prince Albert I.


The 0,30f stamp was designed and engraved by Claude Haley. It features a lovely moment being shared by the crew members aboard one of Prince Albert I's research vessels.


The 0,80f stamp was designed and engraved by Michel Monvoisin. It features a splendid action shot of L'Hirondelle battling some rough weather. That wave in the background sure does look menacing!

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this gorgeous set next week!

Until then...

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Achille Ouvré Stamp List

Below is a list of stamps engraved and/or designed by Achille Ouvré. Click on the individual stamp sets for detailed descriptions.


France, Jacquard (19 March)
France, Jacques Cartier (20 July)


















Friday, 3 November 2017

France 1934 - Jacques Cartier

French explorer Jacques Cartier has become famous for his explorations along the St. Lawrence River, and also for giving Canada its name. Born 31 December, 1491, in Saint-Malo, Brittany, France, with the heart of an adventurer, Jacques Cartier came to the attention of King Francis I of France in 1534. It was after this first meeting that Cartier's name was destined for the record books.

The King, impressed by his already strong skills as a mariner, commissioned Cartier to embark on a voyage to the eastern coast of North America, to an area then called the "northern lands". This was the first of three voyages Cartier would take across the Atlantic for his king. Cartier was given command of two ships and 61 men for the journey. His mandate: to search for gold, spices, and a passage to Asia. The small fleet set sail on 20 April 1534, arriving on the west coast of Newfoundland 20 days later. On this first voyage, Cartier discovered Prince Edward Island and sailed through the Gulf of St. Lawrence, past Anticosti Island. But alas, no gold or passage to Asia was found. Nonetheless, when he returned to France, King Francis was so impressed by his report that he decided to send Cartier on a second trip, scheduled for the following year.

In May 1535, Cartier set sail again for North America. This time round his fleet consisted three ships with 110 men, including two Indians Cartier had captured previously (perhaps his last voyage). The two Indians were taken to serve as guides. On this journey Cartier navigated his way down the St. Lawrence river, as far as Quebec, where he established a base. There he remained until September when he decided to push further downriver to what would become Montreal, the promise of all that wealth setting his blood aflame. In the Montreal area he stumbled across the Iroquoi, who lived in that region. They welcomed him and his men, and went on to tell him that there were other rivers that led farther west, where gold, silver, copper and spices could be found. This was exactly what Cartier had been yearning to hear! But before they could continue any further downriver, winter came. The river morphed into angry rapids, rendering it impassable. Additionally, it is said that Cartier and his men somehow angered the Iroquois during this visit. Cartier was forced to wait until spring, however, for the ice to melt. But as soon as the ice was gone, he beat a hasty retreat back to France, taking with him some of the Iroquois chiefs he had met and captured. This was not the wisest diplomatic move! Upon his return, Cartier could only report to the king that he had been told that untold riches lay farther west. And also that a large river, said to be about 2,000 miles long, possibly led to Asia. This information seemed to be enough to convince King Francis to fund a third voyage west. A voyage that proved to be Cartier's last.

Six years later Cartier left for the west for the last time with a fleet of five ships. This time, however, his mandate had changed. The idea of finding a passage to Asia had now been abandoned. His mission this time was to establish a permanent settlement "along the St. Lawrence River on behalf of France" (Wiki). A few months after he left, a group of colonists were sent in his wake. On arrival, Cartier again set up his base at Quebec. While waiting for the colonists, they explored the area and happened upon what they thought to be an abundance of gold and diamonds. Cartier must've thought all his Christmas' had come at once! Here before him was the mother-lode he'd been dreaming about. having discovered what he conceived to be his ticket to untold wealth, Cartier abandoned the base and made a bee-line back to France. Unfortunately on his way back, at a stopover in Newfoundland, he happened across the colonist fleet. The leader of the fleet was disgusted with Cartier and ordered him back to Quebec. But Cartier had other ideas. There was no way he was going to jeopardise his dreams of being filthy rich and the envy of all society. He thus ignored the leader of the colonists, and that night, under the cover of darkness, sailed for France, his riches safely in his grasp.

As is often the case with grandiose thoughts, Cartier's dream was nothing more than an illusion. In a twist of tragedy, fit for the pages of a Greek play, Cartier returned to France to discover his precious gold and diamonds were completely worthless! This was the sad conclusion to Cartier's state-funded explorations. He eventually retired from the spotlight with a career tarnished by his shady dealings with the Iroquoi and abandoning the colony in Quebec (the colonists actually abandoned the settlement a year later after only just surviving a bitter winter). As an interesting footnote to this story, France didn't return to Canada for a half a century.


On 20 July 1934 France issued a set of two stamps commemorating the 400th anniversary of Jacques Cartier's first voyage to Canada. The set consisted one design issued in two values, drawn and engraved by Achille Ouvré from a portrait by Canadian painter, Théophile Hamel (1817-1870), of François Riss (since a portrait of Cartier himself doesn't exist). There are some who believe Pierre Gandon's statement that Ouvré used him as the model for his portrait of Cartier. But this I will leave for a future blog. For now let's simply take a look at Ouvré's beautiful design!


Incidentally, this design is one of many featuring the explorer, Jacques Cartier. One of my favourites is a stamp issued in Canada on 1 July 1934.

Until next time...

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Monaco 1978 - 150th Anniversary of the Birth of Jules Verne

As the saying goes: "all good things must come to an end." But over the last few weeks we have certainly been treated with a lovely set of stamp engravings by Pierre Forget for Monaco, depicting the literary talents of French writer, Jules Verne. Indeed, we have shared time with a mad clockmaker, roamed through the haunted halls of towering chateaus, followed the adventures of dangerous rescue missions across the high seas, and we have even met the odd famous face along the way, including Captain Nemo himself!


We have now come to the final stamp in Pierre Forget's tribute to Jules Verne, issued by Monaco in 1978. If you wish to have a recap of parts 1-5, simply click on the following links.  Part 1Part 2Part 3 Part 4, Part 5. The final stamp, which has a face value of 5,50f, is listed in the catalogues simply as "Jules Verne and allegories". A description that becomes understandable after viewing the design.

The primary feature of this design is - quite rightly - Jules Verne, himself. Surrounding the great man in a flurry of purple swirls are the seeds of story ideas, concepts made manifest in the form of still images. At the top left flies a capsule bound for the moon. In the top centre we find a less benevolent creation. One of the giant guns from Verne's dystopian story, Les Cinq cents millions de la Bégum (published in English as, The Begum's Fortune). At the bottom of the design, slicing through the swirls of creative thought, we see the sleek lines of Captain Nemo's submarine, Nautilus. The soldier on the horse to the right, I am unsure about. Anyone have any ideas?

Until next time...

Thursday, 5 October 2017

France 1934 - Jacquard

Computers, tablets, smartphones, and all that other technology we rely on and take for granted these days, may not have even existed without the pioneering efforts of people such as Joseph Marie Charles, nicknamed Jacquard. And yet before a couple of days ago I will freely admit I'd never heard of the man. So who is he?

Jacquard, born 7 July 1752, was a French weaver and merchant, and perhaps most importantly, somewhat of a mechanical genius. Jacquard's father was a master weaver and property owner, so the family had a decent amount of money, yet Jacquard had no formal schooling. In fact, he was illiterate until the age of 13 when his brother-in-law, Jean-Marie Barrett, who ran a printing and book selling business, started teaching him. Barrett also introduced him to the world of scholars and high society. It is thought that initially Jacquard worked for his father, assisting him in the operation of his loom. Jacquard didn't particularly like the physical nature of the work, so he tried his hand at bookbinding and then with a maker of printers' type, an occupation known as a type-founder.

In 1772 his father died, leaving him a substantial inheritance including his house, looms, and workshop, as well as a vineyard and quarry in Couzon-au-Mont d’Or. It seems, however, that Jacquard was not much of a businessman, since there is evidence to suggest he ran up a substantial debt and lost all of his father's estate. Fortunately, his wife's dowry was substantial and included her own house, in which they were able to live.

By 1800 Jacquard was working as an inventor. It was in this capacity that he did his best work. In that very year, he invented a treadle loom. Then in 1803, a loom to weave fishing nets. But it was in 1804 that he came up with his best creation yet, a machine that became known as the “Jacquard” loom. This loom was designed to weave patterned silk automatically. The loom worked by using "pasteboard cards with punched holes, each card corresponding to one row of the design. Multiple rows of holes are punched in the cards and the many cards that compose the design of the textile are strung together in order" (Wikipedia). This early form of programmable machine played an important role in the development of other programmable machines, such as an early version of digital compiler used by IBM to develop the modern day computer. After some teething problems, the Jacquard loom took off. By 1812 there were 11,000 Jacquard looms in use in France. Jacquard died on 7 August 1834 in Oullins, a suburb in the city of Lyon, France.


On 19 March 1934, France issued a stamp for the 100th anniversary of the death of Joseph Marie Charles, honouring his contribution to industry. The stamp was designed and engraved by Achille Ouvre based on an artwork by Claude Bonnefond. Incidentally, this was the first small format stamp printed in intaglio issued by France. The source from which I got this information doesn't specify if it was the "world's first" or "France's first" small format intaglio issue. Anyway, to the stamp. It is a beauty. It also happens to be Achille Ouvre's first engraved stamp.

I have only just started studying the work of Ouvre, and I have to say I love what I have seen so far. I look forward to showcasing more of his stamps in the future...

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...

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Monaco 1978 - 150th Anniversary of the Birth of Jules Verne (Part 5)

"The sea is the vast reservoir of Nature. The globe began with sea, so to speak; and who knows if it will not end with it?" 
 —Jules Verne

A shipwreck. A message in a bottle containing three cryptic clues. An epic search and rescue mission. All of this and more can be found in the pages of Jules Verne's 1867 novel, Les Enfants du capitaine Grant (The Children of Captain Grant).

The mystery begins when Lord and Lady Glenarvan of Scotland stumble across a message in a bottle. The message has been written by one Captain Grant, whose ship Britannia has gone missing, presumably wrecked. He has left behind two children, Mary and Robert. After finding the bottle, the Glenarvans petition to mount a rescue, but the government refuses. So they decide to do it themselves.  The only real clue they have from what remains of the message from the captain is latitude 37 degrees. So the expedition has no choice but to circumnavigate the 37th parallel south. The only other clues they have are a few words in three languages. These words are, of course, re-interpreted several times throughout the novel to make various destinations seem likely.

The expedition, which includes Lord and Lady Glenarvan and Grant's kids, then sets sail for South America in Lord Glenarvan's yacht, Duncan. Along the way they pick up a passenger, French geographer Jacques Paganel, who has apparently missed his steamer to India by accidentally boarding the Duncan. The expedition explores Patagonia, Tristan da Cunha Island, Amsterdam Island, and Australia.

In Australia they get what they presume to be their first solid clue. They happen upon the quarter-master of Grant's ship, Britannia, Ayrton. Then a series of coincidences that only Jules Verne could contrive occur. Firstly, it is discovered that Ayrton was actually a traitor and he'd been abandoned in Australia. As soon as the expedition members hear this, they discover that Ayrton has hijacked their ship. Believing the ship gone, the team decide to cut their losses and head back to Europe. But then the ship they are on gets wrecked off the coast of Auckland, New Zealand!

After escaping a  Māori tribe, they board a ship ... which just so happens to be the Duncan, their original vessel! Turns out the crew managed to overpower Ayrton and sail away. Then Ayrton bargains for his life by exchanging information on Captain Grant for being left on a nearby deserted island. When they get there, they can't believe their luck. Captain Grant just so happens to be living on that exact island! The successful expedition then sails off into the sunset, leaving Ayrton on the island to fend for himself. Incidentally, the rather devious character, Ayrton, reappears in Verne's later novel, L'Île mystérieuse (The Mysterious Island) published in 1874.


This is the fifth part in a blog series focusing on the 150th Anniversary of the Birth of Jules Verne stamp set, issued by Monaco on 2 May 1978. To check out the earlier parts, click on the individual parts. Part 1Part 2Part 3 Part 4. This beautiful set of eight stamps was designed and engraved by Pierre Forget. One of the stamps in this set features an artistic interpretation of the novel, Les Enfants du capitaine Grant.

This stunning design features Captain Grant's ship in its death throes amidst a wild storm. Watching over the storm we see two women, who i assume are Lady Glenarvan and Grant's daughter, Mary. The wild blues and melancholy greys make this a rather poignant composition.

Until next time...

Wednesday, 27 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...

Thursday, 21 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...

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Monaco 1978 - 150th Anniversary of the Birth of Jules Verne (Part 4)

"It is said that the night brings counsel, but it is not said that the counsel is necessarily good." —Jules Verne

High in the Carpathian mountains in Transylvania there stands a castle. A castle believed by those in the surrounding villages to be inhabited by Chort, the personification of the devil. Could this be true? Could the rumours have any validity? Does the devil in fact reside in the mountains of Transylvania? Or is it merely the product of over-imaginative superstitious minds? To seek the answer we must immerse ourselves in the pages of Jules Verne's 1893 novel,  Le Château des Carpathes (The Carpathian Castle).

Our story begins with a peddler who comes across shepherd named, Frik. The pair have an interesting conversation about the mysterious castle in the mountains, and the fantastical rumours of strange phenomena occurring in Frik's village and the nearby castle. The locals attribute these mysterious happenings to the otherworldly inhabitant of said castle. Even the local schoolteacher educates his students on the supernatural happenings in the castle. It is even said that vampires visit the village and werewolves inhabit the surrounding fields. And:
"In the depths of the forests wander the "balauri", gigantic dragons whose jaws gape up at the clouds, and the "zmei" with vast wings, who carry away the daughters of the royal blood."
The peddler seems unconvinced. Frisk continued:
"No one dared visit it. It spread around its terrible epidemic as an unhealthy marsh gives forth its pestilential emanations. Nothing could approach it within a quarter of a mile without risking its life in this world and its salvation in the next."
 Still unconvinced the peddler sells Frik a telescope, and disappears. 

Frik returns to the village, and he shows his friends the telescope. Through it they see something weird going on in the castle. They see smoke and strange lights. Is it supernatural? That night a group of villagers gather in the local pub to discuss the mystery. They decide someone needs to investigate the castle.  They settle on a two man team: the young forester, Nic Deck and Doctor Patak.

The next morning Nic Deck and Dr Patak set out on their journey. After a gruelling trek through the forest, they at last reach the castle just before dark. But they can find no way into the castle. There is no choice but to stay overnight in the woods. It is a horrible night, filled with terrifying lights and sounds and apparitions of strange creatures, while in the background the castle bells toll monotonously, as if summoning the undead from their restless slumber. The next morning the two attempt to get into the castle. Trying the climb the drawbridge chain, Nic slips and falls.

After no sight is seen of the two adventurers, the other villagers who were in the pub with them mount a rescue, all except for the teacher, who is suddenly struck with an attack of gout! Then sometime later the rescuers return with Nic on a stretcher and the doctor alongside. The Doctor relates to the villagers their frightful tale. For the next few days everyone trembles in fear at the thought of the castle. And no one dares work out in the fields.

Then one day a traveller by the name Count Franz de Telek arrives in the village. He is surprised how quiet it is. The villagers tell him about the castle and the adventure of the forester and the doctor. The Count does not believe in the supernatural. He believes there is someone at the castle playing tricks on them. But then when he finds out who owns the castle, he turns white! Baron Rodolphe de Gortz. He knows the baron. It turns out that years earlier, they were rivals for the affections of the celebrated Italian singer, La Stilla. The Count believed that La Stilla was dead, frightened to death while on stage by the strange machinations of Baron Rodolphe de Gortz! But the Baron for some reason had blamed Count Telek for the woman's death. 

Believing that Baron Ropolphe de Gortz is the man behind all this strange phenomena, the Count decides to go to the castle to put a stop to it. So the Count and his faithful servant, Rotzko, retrace the steps the two villagers took just a few days prior. When they reach the castle, the Count is dumbstruck to see a vision of his beloved La Stilla. Could she still be alive? He tells his servant to return to the village, and he sets off. After a desperate climb up into the castle, the Count goes in search of his beloved. He frantically searches the labyrinthine passages of the castle's innards.

After being trapped for a time in a crypt, the Count comes across the manservant of Baron de Gortz, a man named, Orfanik. Orfanik describes at length his master's experiments with the new technology called "electricity". Using electric machines the Baron is able to create all kinds of weird light and sound phenomena. The very phenomena that has had the village living in a state of fear for so long. Baron de Gortz is an evil man. And even more horrifying, the visions of the lady La Stilla are no more than an illusion. A projected still image of a painting of La Stilla, accompanied by a high-quality phonograph recording, creates a ghostly rendition of her. It is all a huge hoax. The moral of the story: there is no such thing as ghouls and science can explain everything! If only that were so!


This is the fourth part in a series focusing on the 150th Anniversary of the Birth of Jules Verne stamp set, issued by Monaco on 2 May 1978. To check out the earlier parts, click on the individual parts. Part 1Part 2Part 3. This beautiful set of eight stamps was designed and engraved by Pierre Forget. One of the stamps in this set features an artistic interpretation of the novel, Le Chateau des Carpathes.

This illustration is quite interesting. I can't be absolutely certain which two men are the main feature of the design. Is it the villagers Nick Deck and Dr Patak? Or is it Count Telek and his servant, Rotzko. I tend to think it is the former pair. For in the story,  Deck and Patak are accosted in the forest by all nature of spiritual beings. We can see these phantasms beautifully rendered in green. A prominent creature is the "balauri" found to the left. To the right we see the spiritual manifestation of the beautiful singer, La Stilla. And in the background of the design stands the mysterious castle. Graceful lines and vivid colours create a stunning stamp design, one that would look great attached to any cover!

Until next time...

Saturday, 16 September 2017

France 1956 - Marshal Franchet of Esperey

Considered by some as the personification of a howitzer shell with the steely disposition of a tyrant, Louis Félix Marie François Franchet d'Espèrey, was a French General during World War I. Yet outside his tough military demeanor, d'Espèrey was a kind man with, as we shall see, the heart of an adventurer.

D'Espèrey, born 25 May 1856 in Mostaganem in French Algeria, was the son of a cavalry officer in the Chasseurs d'Afrique. Following in his father's footsteps, d'Espèrey began his life-long military career in 1876 after being educated at Saint-Cyr. Before the outbreak of World War I, d'Espèrey had already forged a distinguished career. After serving in a regiment of Algerian Tirailleurs (native infantry), he served in French Indochina, and then in China during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. He was then packed off to France where he was given command of various infantry regiments in France. He obviously did something right, as in 1913 - just a year before the war - he was given command of I Corps.

During WWI, d'Espèrey served on several fronts. Most notably, he was given command of the large Allied army based at Salonika. It was in this role that he led "the successful Macedonian campaign, which caused the collapse of the Southern Front and contributed to the armistice" (Wikipedia). After the war his military successes continued with the command of operations against the Hungarian Soviet Republic in 1919. Then on 19 February 1921 he was given the honour of the title of Marshal of France.

Skipping ahead to 1924, we find d'Espèrey now in the role of inspector-general of France's North African troops. It was in this capacity that he "became interested in the strategic potential of the "grand axis" north-south route across the Sahara" (Wikipedia). And it was later in this same year that the adventurous spirit within d'Espèrey was unleashed.

On 15 November 1924, d'Espèrey joined a trans-Saharan expedition led by Gaston Gradis in three six-wheel Renaults with double tyres (see image below). Interestingly, this was Gradis' second trans-Sahara expedition, the first being earlier in that same year. Other members of the expedition included the journalist Henri de Kérillis, commandant Ihler, the brothers Georges Estienne and René Estienne, three Renault mechanics and three legionnaires. Overall the expedition travelled 3,600 km of rugged terrain to reach Savé in Dahomey on 3 December 1924. One can only imagine the stories of the adventures these intrepid explorers had to tell. Any one of them would have certainly made an entertaining dinner guest!


On 28 May 1956 France issued a stamp commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Marshal Franchet d'Espèrey. The stamp was designed and engraved by Albert Decaris. In this design Decaris manages to capture the fierce pride and determination of a great French leader with the heart of an adventurer. It is also worth noting that Decaris has discreetly incorporated one of France's defining landmarks, the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Can you find it?

Until next time...

Thursday, 14 September 2017

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. And can I say, downright ugly? You be the judge...

Speaking of colossal, these pavilions were tiny compared to the dreams of designer Eugène Freyssinet. He envisioned a centerpiece for the fair that went beyond epic and launched itself more into the realms of the ludicrous. A building that would dwarf the Eiffel Tower, which was custom-built for the 1889 World Expo. He designed a tower 701 metres (2,300 feet) tall! He called this monstrosity Phare du Monde (Lighthouse of the World). A lighthouse! Just what Paris, some 160 odd km from the sea, desperately needs! But that's not all. At the very top of this monumental skyscraper would be found a hotel, a restaurant, a massive sunroom, and a giant multi-story garage for approximately 400 cars. By the way, that last bit isn't a typo! So how the heck does one get 400 cars up some 700 metres? Why on a road of course! A road that winds itself around the outside of the tower. Because driving up a narrow winding street into the clouds would never lead to disaster, right? Thankfully, sanity prevailed and this scheme was deemed far too expensive to even contemplate. Below is an image that illustrates the scale of the Phare du Monde.


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-four 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
  • Inini
  • Ivory Coast
  • Kwangchowan
  • Madagascar
  • Martinque
  • Mauritania
  • New Caledonia
  • Niger
  • Reunion
  • St. Pierre & Miquelon
  • Senegal
  • Somali Coast
  • Togo
  • Wallis & Futuna Islands

To show examples of all stamps from all colonies would take up far too much room. Over time I will add images of the stamps from all the colonies, which will be found under the 'Omnibus Issues' tab found at the top of my blog page. For the purposes of this blog let's take a look the French Guiana issue. Enjoy!

The 20c stamp was engraved by Rene Cottet.


The 30c stamp was engraved by Emile Feltesse.


The 40c stamp was engraved by Pierre Munier.


The 50c stamp was designed and engraved by Albert Decaris (for more Albert Decaris work click HERE).


The 90c stamp was engraved by Antonin Delzers.


The 1f 50 stamp was designed and engraved by Albert Decaris.

Until next time...

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Monaco 1978 - 150th Anniversary of the Birth of Jules Verne (Part 3)

"In consequence of inventing machines, men will be devoured by them." 
 —Jules Verne
It all begins with a rather bizarre mystery. An aging clockmaker, named Master Zacharius, is shocked to discover that many of the beautiful clocks he has laboured to create over the years have inexplicably stopped working. He examines each and every clock and can find nothing wrong with them. They should all be working perfectly. But he simply cannot make them run! Why? To discover the answer we need to step into the world of Jules Verne's short story, Master Zacharius or the Clockmaker Who Lost His Soul (Maître Zacharius ou l'horloger qui avait perdu son âme). This story was first published in 1854.

Returning to Master Zacharius and his conundrum, we find him in a deteriorating state of mental health as he struggles to come to terms with the steady stream of broken clocks being returned to him. His daughter Gerande, his apprentice Aubert Thun, and his elderly servant Scholastique, who all live with him, grow increasingly concerned for the old clockmaker's health. Whilst nursing Zacharius, Gerande and Aubert Thun fall in love, an attraction that becomes important as the story progresses.

Then one day the mystery takes a weird twist when a bizarre creature suddenly walks into the village, a creature that is a grotesque amalgam of man and clock. The creature tells Zacharius quite bluntly that he is not long for this world. Zacharius scoffs at this, and replies:
"I, Master Zacharius, cannot die, for, as I have regulated time, time would end with me! … No, I can no more die than the Creator of this universe, that submitted to His laws! I have become His equal, and I have partaken of His power! If God has created eternity, Master Zacharius has created time!"
In a kind of Faustian twist, the creature offers Zacharius a way out of his dilemma. If Zacharius were to give the creature his daughter's hand in marriage, the creature promises to tell him why his clocks have all gone kaput. Zacharius flatly refuses, and the creature disappears.

But things don't get better. Quite the contrary. More clocks are returned and Zacharius' health plummets to dangerous levels. As abruptly as the creature had disappeared, Zacharius disappears from home. After a bit of detective work, his daughter, Gerande, discovers that he has travelled to a castle in Andernatt. The castle houses a grand iron clock made by Zacharius. It is the only clock of his still working. He has journeyed there to see if the clock can provide him any insight into the conundrum. Gerande indeed finds her father at the castle, running about frantically in search of the clock.

Then the old clockmaker finds it. It is a true masterpiece. It has been designed to resemble an old church, and as each new hour strikes, the clock presents a new Christian maxim for its viewers to ponder. But to his horror, the clock is not all that Zacharius finds. The creature is back! Fearing he'll never be rid of this hellish abomination, Zacharius agrees to let the creature have his daughter. Not surprisingly, the daughter is somewhat less than enthusiastic about the arrangement.

Having entered into this dubious arrangement Zacharius believes he has thwarted the creature and in doing so has granted himself immortality. But something strange happens to the clock, seeming to confirm Zacharius' choice. The Christian maxims have been replaced by statements of scientific hubris, such as: "Man ought to become the equal of God," ""Man should be the slave of Science, and sacrifice to it relatives and family."

Then, at the stroke of midnight, just when the wedding ceremony is about to take place, all hell breaks loose. First, a new, death knell, maxim appears on the clock: "Who ever shall attempt to make himself the equal of God, shall be for ever damned!" Suddenly the massive clock bursts, spraying bits and pieces of machinery across the room. Zacharius frantically tries to gather the pieces, believing that the clock, as a whole, represents his soul. But the creature seizes what is left of the clock and disappears again. Seeing this, Zacharius drops dead on the spot. The one good thing that comes of this story is Gerande and Aubert get married and spend their life together. And the diabolical creature is never seen again.


This is the third part in a series focusing on the 150th Anniversary of the Birth of Jules Verne stamp set, issued by Monaco on 2 May 1978. To check out the earlier parts, click on the individual parts. Part 1, Part 2. This beautiful set of eight stamps was designed and engraved by Pierre Forget. One of the stamps in this set features an artistic interpretation of the short story, Master Zacarius. It illustrates Zacharius holding a rather demonic-looking clock. In the background we see the castle where the final scenes take place. And off to the right stand the frightened couple, Gernade and Aubert. This is quite a magical representation of the story with bright colours and vibrant, energetic lines.

Until next time...

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Belgium 1928 - Orval Abbey

Once upon a time there was a sad, grieving widow. Her name was Mathilda of Tuscany. One day while sitting by the cool waters of a nearby spring, Mathilda bent forward to regard the aquatic life swimming without care in the clear water. When she leaned back she noticed to her extreme horror that her wedding ring was no longer on her finger. Her mind reeled. Her heart began to thump wildly. Her ring! her precious wedding ring. Her only remaining link to her deceased beloved. Gone! No. It could not be possible. She looked back at her hand. Yes, the ring was definitely missing. Oh no! She began to weep...

Suddenly the water before her stirred, and there appeared a trout. She gasped. For in the mouth of the trout was her wedding ring! She gratefully accepted the ring from the trout. Then exclaimed, "Truly this place is a Val d'Or (Golden Valley)." In fact, so happy was she that she funded the construction of a monastery on the site, a monastery that became known as Orval Abbey. The word Orval perhaps deriving from Val d'Or. What a wonderful tale of how Orval Abbey came to be! 


However true the above tale may be, what we do know is that in 1070 a group of Benedictine monks were invited to the site by Arnould, Count of Chiny. The monks began work on a monastery, but upon the death of the Count some forty years later, the monks left, abandoning their work. But a community of Canons Regular moved in and completed the work. The abbey church was consecrated on 30 September 1124.

Then in 1132 a group of Cistercian monks turned up. The two groups merged into one community within the Cistercian Order. The first abbot of this unified group was Constantin. Then sometime in the mid 13th century the monastery was destroyed by fire. The repairs took over 100 years to complete.

For the next few hundred years the monks lived peacefully in the monastery. Then in the 15th century turmoil began. The monastery was used as a foundry during France's wars with Spain, making it a target. Then came the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). In 1637, French mercenaries raided the monastery, and for the second time in its colourful past, it was destroyed by fire. It seemed the monastery had seen more than its share of the ravages of fire. But fate strongly disagreed. In 1793, amidst the chaos of the French Revolution, the monastery was used to house Austrian troops. The French forces got wind of this, and attacked the monastery, burning it down completely! Now homeless, the monks left.

The monastery sat in ruins for nearly one hundred years before the land was purchased by the Harenne family in 1887. The land was donated back to the Cistercian Order, a new monastery was constructed, and in 1948 its church was consecrated. The ruins of the old abbey can still be visited today. And if you visit you may like to partake of some beer homemade by the monks, using the water from the famous springs.


On 15 September 1928, Belgium issued a set of nine stamps commemorating Orval Abbey. Two of the stamp were printed in Photogravure and are therefore outside the scope of this blog. The other seven stamps, in which there are three designs, were designed and engraved by Gaston Gandon. These stamps are truly magnificent. In fact, one of the designs happens to be an all-time favourite of mine.


The first design features a Cistercian monk carving the capital of a column. This design was printed in two values.


The second design features Mathilda of Tuscany taking her wedding ring from the mouth of the trout. Gandon has managed, rather masterfully, to incorporate the abbey arms, which show the trout and ring. This design was printed in three values. To date I only have one of these values: 1,75f + 35c dark blue.


The third and final design features a view of the ruins of Orval Abbey. This design was printed in two values.

Until next time...

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Mauritania 1938 - Camels

The Sahara Desert constitutes almost 90% of its landmass. Camels are a typical mode of transport. And camel milk is offered to household guests. So where does one go for a camel ride in the desert or partake of some tasty of camel milk? The answer is Mauritania, more formerly known as Islamic Republic of Mauritania. Mauritania is located in West Africa. It is bordered by five other African countries as well as the Atlantic Ocean.

As I mentioned above, camels play an important role in Mauritanian daily life. The species of camel found in Mauritania, and indeed other areas of Africa, is the one-humped dromedary (C. dromedarius). Of the three known species of camel in the world, the dromedary is the most common. In Mauritania, camels are used for transport and they provide all important calcium in the diets of the locals in the form of milk and cheese. And even camel milk chocolate is now being produced!


Between 1938-1940, the Institut de Gravure issued a set of 34 definitive stamps for use in Mauritania. The set consisted four design types, one of which was engraved by Albert Decaris. This particular design features Mauritanian locals and their camels, and it was issued in seven different values. If you're a regular to my blogs, you will know that I like to collect and feature all values issued. I very much enjoy studying the effects different colours have on a design. Anywho, enough talk! Let's get to the images of this great design.


It is worth noting that the 40c & 45c values were issued in 1940. Which value colour is your favourite? For me it is the 50c purple stamp.

Until next time...