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...