Sunday, 29 January 2017

Monaco 1953 - Gancourt Journal

Ever wondered if it were possible to work side by side with your sibling every day of your life? Not really your speed? Well, this arrangement seemed to work for the French brothers, Edmond de Goncourt (1822–96) and Jules de Goncourt (1830–70). The Goncourt brothers not only worked together as writers, they were inseparable in their regular lives.
"Not only did they write all their books together, they did not spend more than a day apart in their adult lives, until they were finally parted by Jules's death in 1870." (Kirsch, 2006)
The brothers began their writing career after a "sketching holiday", about which they later wrote. Books detailing French and Japanese society and art followed soon after. Among several novels and a series of history books, they kept a journal which provides the reader with an intimate glimpse into the world of French literary society of the late 1800's.


On 29 June 1953 Monaco issued a stamp to commemorate the publication of the Journal des Goncourt, 1851-1896 written by the brothers Edmond de Goncourt and Jules de Goncourt. This truly gorgeous stamp was engraved by Pierre Gandon, And he did a sterling job on this one.

The image on the stamp is based on a book-plate for the journal, which was designed by Paul Gavarni. The etching for the book-plate was done by Jules Gancourt (I'd like to thank Natalie for providing me with information on the book-plate).

The image on the stamp - and book-plate - depicts a hand, presumably belonging to one of the brothers, caressing the manuscript of the journal. There are two fingers on the manuscript, one for each brother. And each finger is pointing to the initial of one of the brothers. Two quills standing poised to be picked up and used to scribble a few insightful words and a row of books in the background add a creative feel to the image. All in all, a fantastic composition.

Interestingly, during the design stage of this stamp Gandon only drew one quill in his proof. He sent this proof to Prince Rainier who liked what he saw but jokingly commented that with only one quill there would be fights over which brother got to use it. Gandon promptly added a second quill.

Until next time...



Kirsch, A (2006), Masters of indiscretion, The New York Sun (Aug 29).

Saturday, 28 January 2017

France 1944 - Centenary of the Battle of Isly

Thomas Robert Bugeaud, marquis de la Piconnerie, duc d'Isly, was born 15 October 1784 in Limoges, France. After running away from homed at a young age, Bugeand spent several years as an agricultural worker before enlisting as a private solider in the Imperial Guard at the age of 20. Interestingly these seemingly disparate vocations gradually became more and more entwined during the course of his life.

Over the next eleven years Bugeaud quickly rose through the military ranks, distinguishing himself in Poland, Spain, and the Alps. Indeed, by 1815 he had achieved the rank of colonel and he was involved in Napoleon's restoration during the Hundred Days (20 March 1815 - 8 July 1815, a period of actually 111 days). The restoration culminated in Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, and his return to exile.

Now out of work, Bugeand returned to his home district of Périgord where he returned once again to agriculture. But the call of the military could not be silenced. The call came in the form of the July Revolution in 1830. Again, he excelled, and by 1831 he was given the rank maréchal de camp, which was basically third in command of the French army.

It is during this period of his life that his aggressive - perhaps dark - side began to assert itself more prominently. In 1831 he was elected into the Chamber of Deputies. In this position he made his opposition to democracy very clear. He was brutal in his policing of the city, especially so in the suppression of revolts by the people. In fact, his brutality while working as a goaler led to a duel between himself and his deputy.  His deputy was killed in this duel.

Then he was sent to Africa to conquer Algeria. Although initially against this idea, he accepted the challenge and set about subjugating Algeria with ruthless efficiency. His level of violence seems to have been extreme. He was so successful that by 1840 he was governor-general of Algeria. Further success in Algeria strengthened France's position there. And in 1843, Bugeand was elevated to the role of Marshal of France. But it was perhaps his victory at the Battle of Isly on 14 August 1844 that was his most memorable. He even won another title - duc d'Isly.


On 20 November 1944 France issued a stamp commemorating the Centenary of the Battle of Isly. This stamp was designed and engraved by Albert Decaris. The stamp features the portrait of Thomas Robert Bugeaud.

What I see in his design is a young man gazing proudly towards the future. Perhaps here we see an attempt to restore pride in France's military history during a period of immense turmoil in the country. I find the choice of subject a bit ironic, but engaging in personal political opinion is beyond the scope of this humble blog. Speaking of the engraving itself, it is another fine example of Decaris' personal take on portraits.

Until next time...

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

France 1955 - Brouage Ramparts

The Citadel at Brouage has a rather intriguing history. Constructed in 1555  for Jacques de Pons, Earl of Hiers, the citadel was then known as "Jacopolis" At the time the citadel was an ocean port in, what was said to be, one of the most beautiful harbours in all of France. The port prospered. Then during the reign of Henry III (1573-1575), the city, now boasting a population of some 4000, was renamed Brouage. 

After Louis XIII (1610-1643) became King of France, the role of the citadel began to twist. One Cardinal Richelieu became the governor of the city. Under his control it became a Catholic base used mainly to control the Huguenot region. Then, Marshal Vauban, during the reign of King Louis XIV (1643-1715), saw the strategic potential of Brouage and transformed it into a military stronghold. . 

It was during the French Revolution (1789-1799) that the colourful history of Brouage took its darkest twist. It became a prison for unsubmissive clergy members. One shutters to think what went one behind its walls during those dark days.

Interestingly, while all this history was rolling by, the marshlands surrounding the city grew and grew until the port city became landlocked. Unable to retain its strategic importance it fell into disuse. These days the Ramparts of Brouage are quite a tourist attraction. Many like to "walk the ramparts".


On 17 October 1955, France issued a lovely set of nine stamps highlighting some of the sites and monuments of France. One of the stamps in the set focuses on the Ramparts of Brouage. This stamp was designed and engraved by Albert Decaris.

This stamp truly amazes me. Basically what we are looking at here is... a wall! Yet i love it. That to me is a sign of tremendous skill. Making a wall exciting. But Decaris does just that. To me, the combination of the sepia tones, the gorgeous textures of the walls, and the lovely trees standing proudly atop the ramparts, makes this stamp a visual feast.

Until next time...

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

The collection is growing!

I am officially super excited! An ebay auction for the France 1946 Airmail set by Gandon just finished and I won it for US $4.25, which I think is pretty good value.


But that's not all. Today I also won an auction for a France 1945 set, which includes all of the Marianne de Gandon definitives and the two other regular stamps he engraved that year.


And to top it all off, while browsing yesterday, I found a set of Buy It Now 1945 large format Marianne de Gandon's with a couple of the stamps bearing ink flaws for just a few dollars. At least I think they are ink flaws.

So right at this time I am one very happy camper! Suffice to say I won't be doing much in the way of spending now for a couple of weeks!!

Until next time...

Sunday, 22 January 2017

France 1955 - Electric Train

In 1949 the French engineer, Louis Armand, was named General Manager of the SNCF ( (Société nationale des chemins de fer français or "French National Railway Company"). During his tenure he worked very hard to establish electrification of train lines in AC voltage. In 1953 (I think that is the date) the Valenciennes-Thionville line - the main industrial artery in north-eastern France - was electrified using single-phase alternating current. This improvement helped to increase critical shipments of coal, iron ore and iron and steel products.


On 11 May 1955, France issued a stamp to promote the electrification of the Valenciennes-Thionville line. The stamp was designed and engraved by Albert Decaris.

Now I have to say, I know next to nothing about trains, so it took me quite some time to work out what type of train is depicted here. But I believe I have cracked it! Initially I thought that the locomotive was a BB 12000 class. But it just didn't quite look right. There was no apron between the front and rear drive wheels, which the locomotive depicted clearly has. Then I found a short video in French that shows the exact train in the stamp. I now think the train is a CC 14000 class locomotive. 

If there are any train buffs out there who can confirm this one way or another, I'd love to hear from you.

Until next time...

Friday, 20 January 2017

I Muse ... On a Birthday

On 20 January 1899 the incredibly talented artist, designer and stamp engraver, Pierre Gandon, was born in L'Haÿ-les-Roses in the southern suburbs of Paris, France. His father, Gaston Gandon, was also an extremely talented engraver.

Since today is Pierre Gandon's birthday I thought I'd honour the day by featuring his first issued stamps. For this we need to go all the way back to 1939 to French Morocco. Between 1939 and 1942 French Morocco issued a set of 37 definitives and a set of 7 airmail stamps. Gandon was involved in both sets. He engraved three designs for the definitive set and one design for the airmail set.


The first of the three definitive designs happens also to be my favourite. It depicts a horseman beneath a cedar tree.  This scene evokes for me a fantasy world - a lone rider on a journey, during which he will face many obstacles. I love it. This design comes in three values: 15c green, 20c sepia (pictured below), and 1f brown.


The next design features a shepherd and arganier trees. This design comes in three values: 30c blue (pictured below), 40c brown, 45c blue-green.


The final design he engraved for the definitive set depicts the Ramparts at Salé. This design was more prolific. It comes in seven values: 50c carmine, 50c blue-green (pictured below & issued 1940), 60c greenish-blue, 60c brown (issued 1940), 90c ultramarine, 1f 50c brown-red (1940), and 1f. 50c rose (1942).

One thing I find interesting about this stamp, and I'm not sure if it is a design flaw or just a stylistic quirk. The trunion - the bar that runs perpendicular to the barrel - is conspicuously out of its seat in the carriage. I for one wouldn't want to be behind such a cannon if it fired!


Gandon was also responsible for engraving one of the two designs in the Airmail set. The design comes in four values: 1f. 90 ultramarine, 2f bright purple (1940), 3f brown, and 10f greenish brown. I haven't managed to find myself a copy of any of the values yet, but I did find an image of a lovely cover, which has three of the four values affixed. It is a registered letter to Paris.

Until next time...

Thursday, 19 January 2017

I Found...A Signed Cover

I have only just started building my deducted Pierre Gandon collection. Less than a couple of weeks, actually. It all started one day while I was perusing the Philouest website, which if you haven't already taken a look I would strongly suggest doing so. It is packed with great info. One interesting feature is that it has the number of stamps each engraver has worked on for France. Now being someone who likes a good challenge I looked to see which engravers ranked the highest. Decaris is right up there with a shade over 200 stamps. As my followers will know, I have a blog dedicated to my Decaris collecting journey already.

So who else was there? One name really stood out from the pack with 369 French stamps to his name. Pierre Gandon. I am assuming that this number is a list of all his stamps, such as the many Marianne defiinitives, not just engravings. But I'm not 100% sure on this. This will be something I'll have to look into. This number does not include the stamps he engraved for French Territories, which I am led to believe is an even larger number than what he did for France. This prolific engraver intrigued me. I am currently working my way through collecting Czeslaw Slania's enormous body of work and also that of Albert Decaris. So I thought why not three times the charm. I am labeling this epic journey My Big Three.

I was pleasantly surprised when I looked through my engraved stamps that I already had a good start to my Gandon collection. But what I really wanted to give it a good kick-start was something signed! Enter the mighty Internet. After a bit of a browse I found one that was within my scanty price-range. I checked a few more expensive examples first to ensure the signature looked right. There's probably only a remote chance that someone would bother forging a signature of an engraver, but in this day and age you can never be too careful. The signature did seem quite legit so I forked out a little cash. 

The signature adorns a 1975 Arphila FDC, issued 9 November 1974. The over-sized stamp was designed and engraved by Gandon from a painting by Alfred Sisley, titled Canal du Liong. The cover hasn't arrived yet, so all I have is the seller's scan. Not ideal, but it gives you an idea of my purchase.

I really look forward to its arrival. I now have a signed item. My collection hath begun!

Until next time...

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

France 1955 - La Capricieuse

On 5 July 1849 the French ship La Capricieuse (en. The Capricious) was launched in Toulon, France. She was a 22 gun corvette commissioned by the French Navy. She served in the Far East twice during her career and she was involved in the Crimean War as a troop ship. In 1855 she sailed on a friendship mission to Canada.


On 7 July 1955 France issued a stamp to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the French ship Capricieuse's friendship mission to Canada in 1855. The stamp was designed and engraved by Albert Decaris. By this point in his career, Decaris had already engraved many ship designs, each, in my opinion, better than the last. Let's take a look at the stamp...

The detail in this design is superb. From the rigging to the billowing sails, Decaris has captured the true essence of this beautiful vessel. I love it!

Until next time...

Monday, 16 January 2017

France 1947 - 12th Congress of the UPU

The Universal Postal Congress meets once every four years to tackle postage strategies for the coming four years and set future rules for international postage exchanges. The congress gathers at a different location for each meeting. The location for the 12th Congress in 1947 was Paris, France.


On 7 May 1947 France issued an Air Mail stamp to celebrate the UPU Congress in Paris. Pierre Gandon was chosen to engrave the stamp. From the moment I laid eyes on this stamp the adjectives began bouncing around my brain. Exquisite. Gorgeous. Stunning. These are but a few examples of what I think whenever I study this masterpiece. So without further ado...

The level of detail in this stamp is superb (yet another adjective for you). There are two subjects in this stamp, and both have been handled with delicate expertise. The first subject is the seagull across the top of the stamp, which represents the Air Mail aspect of the stamp. Studying the seagull, we see it is riding a thermal over the great city with its head cocked to one side, enjoying the vistas. 

The second and obviously the main subject of the stamp is the Île de la Cité, which is one of two remaining natural islands in the river Seine. It is literally the heart of the city, since all road distances in France are calculated from a point on the island. But more importantly the island was the birthplace of Paris, dating as far back as 250 BC. Back then it was called Lutetia

The point of view in this stamp is from the east looking west. Gandon has drawn several details on the island for us to sink our teeth into. The first thing I noticed was the Notre Dame Cathedral, which can be seen at the middle right of the stamp. 


Turning our attention to the foreground, we can see a bridge spanning the Seine and crossing the western point of the Île de la Cité. This bridge is called Pont Neuf or New Bridge. But don't be fooled by the name. The bridge is hardly new from our perspective. On the contrary it is actually the oldest standing bridge across the Seine. Construction began in 1578 and it was completed in 1607.


Another feature that draws the eye is the copse of trees in front of the Pont Neuf. This is the Square du Vert-Galant, a small park named in honour of Henry IV, who had the nickname 'The Green Gallant'. 


This stamp reminds me of a similar Air Mail stamp engraved by Albert Decaris, which looks at the Île de la Cité from the opposite direction. Notre-Dame Cathedral is also a central feature of this stamp. And in the middle right we can just make out Pont Neuf.

The Albert Decaris stamp used to be my favourite 'View of Paris' (for more on this stamp click HERE), but now I have to go with the Gandon stamp. What's your favourite?

Until next time...

Monaco 1944 - Saint Devota

Sometime around 283 AD, a girl was born at Mariana in Corsica.The girl's name was Devota. Devota grew up as an ordinary girl, working as a servant in the household of senator Eutychius. Her only desire in life was to devote herself totally to the service of God. As part of her service to God, Devota decided to remain a virgin. Then in 303 AD her life was thrown into chaos when Emperor Diocletian launched the most severe Christian Persecution the Roman Empire had ever seen.  

Devota's death warrant arrived by ship in the form of a man named Barbarus. Barbarus led a fleet of ships to Corsica, and upon landing set about purging the land of Christians. Of course, it didn't take long for Barbarus to discover that a prominent senator had one of those hated Christians in his service. Barbarus demanded that Devota be handed over to him. But to his credit, Eutychius refused. Outraged by Eutychius' defiance, Barabarus arranged to have him poisoned. 

Devota was promptly taken into custody. She was imprisoned and tortured. Horrendous things were done to her. Her mouth was crushed and then she was dragged over rocky, brambles before eventually being stoned to death. The cruelty of these acts and Devota's bravery made her a martyr to her people. The local governor was horrified by this so he sought to have her body burned before it could be further venerated. 

In what must have been a daring and clandestine mission, the Christians managed to secret Devota's body away, saving it from the flames. Hidden in a boat bound for Africa, her body was escorted by three men: the boat's pilot Gratianus (Graziano); a priest, Benedict (Benenato); and his deacon, Apollinaris. These brave men hoped that Devota would receive a proper Christian burial in Africa. Unfortunately, Devota's woes did not end with her death. A terrible storm overtook the boat, threatening to consign it to the cold depths of the ocean. Then a dove suddenly appeared and guided the boat to safety to present-day Les Gaumates, a principality of Monaco. After this Devota became known as Saint Devota. So says the legend, anyway!


On 7 December 1944, Monaco issued a set of nine semi-postal stamps commemorating Saint Devota. This blog will focus on the high value stamp, featuring the legend of the ocean journey of Devota's body. The stamp was designed and engraved by Pierre Gandon.

The stamp is a true masterpiece, packed with details of the legend. First, we see the boat battling against the high seas of a terrible storm. Inside the boat, the three men who escorted her body are working to keep the boat under control. Interestingly, there are also two women on the boat. Perhaps they were the ones who stole the body? And above the boat, we flies the miracle dove, guiding the body of Saint Devota and her brave rescuers to safety.

Until next time...