Tuesday, 20 June 2017

France 1941 - Reims Coat of Arms

The city of Reims, located about 130 km to the northeast of Paris, has seen quite a checkered history. From an ally of the Roman Empire to the location of a Christian miracle, and from bloody battles to wine-making. But I get ahead of myself! To proper discover the story of Reims we must jump in the Stamp Crazy Time Machine and travel back over 2000 years. So strap yourself in...

The area that became Reims (also spelled Rheims) was founded by the Gaul tribe known as the Remi and used as their capital. In 80 BC after the Roman conquest of northern Gaul, the area was made a Roman town, called Durocortōrum "round fortress". The Remi people, still living in the town, allied themselves with Rome during Julius Caesar's invasion (58-50 BC). They remained loyal to Rome during the subsequent Gallic insurrections that resulted from the invasion. Their fealty was rewarded, and subsequently the city grew. At the height of Rome's power the population possibly reached somewhere in the region of 100,000. More conservative estimates place it as between 30,000-50,000.

Over the course of the next five centuries the city was the site of several invasions. In 406 it was captured by the Vandals. In 451 Attila the Hun stormed in and put the city to the sword. Then in 496 perhaps one of the most momentous events in the city's history occurred shaping its destiny for centuries to come. Ten year after his victory at Soissons in 486, Clovis, King of the Salian Franks, was baptised in the city in the Abbey of Saint-Remi. He was baptised using the oil of the sacred phial, which was supposedly delivered by a dove from heaven specifically for the occasion. These supernatural events became a symbol for the monarchy's divine right to rule. Over time Reims became the traditional site of the crowning of the kings of France. The crowning ceremonies were held in Notre-Dame de Reims "Our Lady of Reims". This Cathedral is now a World Heritage Site and a popular tourist destination.

These days Reims is one of the main centres of Champagne production. In fact, many of the largest production houses in France, known as les Grandes Marques. Interestingly, the city of Reims sits atop a maze of tunnels and caves cut into the chalk. These caves, some dating back to Roman times, are used to store champagne while it ages.


On 15 December 1941, France issued the first of two series of semi-postal stamps. The surcharge on these stamps went to National Aid. The theme for the series was Coats of Arms of France. The 3f + 5f Coat of Arms of Reims stamp is the focus of this blog.This stamp was designed and engraved by Pierre Gandon. 

I spent a bit of time researching the Coat of Arms of Reims without much success. So I'm going to hazard a guess as to the meaning of the three main parts of the shield. I have created a key, see the image below, for ease of discussion.

  1. These branches are bay laurel (Laurus nobilis), which is used for laurel wreaths. Bay laurel can often be found on a Coat of Arms. They signify victory and glory.
  2. Here we have the "fleur-de-lis (sometimes spelled "fleur-de-lys") or "flower of the lily." This symbol, depicting a stylized lily or lotus flower, has many meanings. Traditionally, it has been used to represent French royalty, and in that sense it is said to signify perfection, light, and life.
  3. Surmounting the shield is a crown, which usually signifies sovereignty and empire. In this instance it could also refer to the fact that the city was the place where French kings were crowned. The crown here is shaped like ramparts which can symbolise strength and stability.
  4. The Coat of Arms motto is Dieu en Soit Garde. This I have been told basically means God, protect us.
  5. And the last thing, you will notice on the bottom of the shield on the stamp two crosses. The one on the  right hand side is the Croix de Guerre, and the left one is the Croix de la Legion.
As an interesting little finishing note, I have noticed the Gandon signed his early work for France "P.Gandon".

Until next time... 

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Mali 1978 - The Head of Christ

I have just been browsing the net, looking for some stamp bargains, when I came across a stamp that caught my eye. The stamp was issued in Mali in 1978. In fact, this stamp was awarded the Grand Prix of Philatelic Art of the African Nations and Madagascar.

This stamp was engraved by Eugune Lacaque. Lacaque actually began his career as an engraver for the textile industry, eventually opening his own business. Lacaqaue came to the attention of the French Postal Authorities in 1967 when they asked him if he'd be inerested in doing some stamp engraving. He agreed. And the engraved stamp world has greatly benefited from that decision. Between 1967 and 1997 he engraved some 600 stamps for France, her Colonies, and a few other countries. I look forward to studying more of Lacaque's stamps.

In the above stamp, which features the head of Christ (Tête du Christ), the detail is simply sublime. The passion, anguish, pain and sorrow of Christ have been masterfully woven into the expression. Just look at the furrowed brow and the tortuously gnarled crown of thorns. I find it difficult to look away from the eyes! Ç'est une magnifique timbre !

I'd like to thank Adrian over at Stamp Engravers for the use of the image.

Until next time...

France 1941 - Seamen's Relief Fund

Since as early as the 15th Century, France has sent fishing boats to the banks of Newfoundland and Iceland in search of cod. Indeed, by the beginning of the 20th Century some 500 boats carrying more than 10,000 men, braved treacherous seas, frigid temperatures, and the promise of many long months away from home - if they managed to make it home. Injuries, both physical and emotional, were a hazard every fisherman had to contend with. So if the worst were to happen and a fisherman or his equipment - his very livelihood - were damaged in some way, what then would he do? The horrible truth was that before 1894 there was next to no help for these poor souls.

In December 1894 twenty men, led by Fr. Picard, Superior General, met to discuss how to help those seamen whom fate had dealt a cruel blow and were now struggling in one way or another.. From this gathering came the creation of The Society of the Works of the Sea. The organisation, founded in that very year by Dr. Jean-Baptiste Charcot, aimed to help the "material and moral" needs of seamen.


On 23 October 1941, France issued a semi-postal stamp to promote The Society of the Works of the Sea. This stamp had a 1f face value plus a 9f surcharge to be donated to the society. This stamp was designed by Paul-Pierre Lemagny and it was engraved by Pierre Gandon. 

By 1941 Gandon had already contributed to several stamps for the colonies, but this beautiful stamp was his first France issue. There are many aspects of this design that I love. The fearless and determined look on the seaman's face. His stocky build which promotes safety and assurance. And his strong, sure hands. I also like the net casually draped over the seaman's shoulder, which indicates he is ready for action! Also the fishing vessel, perhaps bound for Newfoundland, in the background adds an extra touch of interest. 

Until next time...

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

My New Pierre Gandon Blog

A big hello to all my fellow collectors. I hope everyone had a great Christmas! I have loads planned for my blogs for 2017 - health permitting. The first thing for the year to report is that I have created a new blog dedicated to my Pierre Gandon stamp collecting journey. HERE is the link. So if you have any interest in Gandon stamps, come on over for a look-see! And maybe offer me some tips :)

Happy stamping for 2017!!

Until next time...