Monday, 19 March 2018

I Muse...On Another Engraver to Study

I'm fairly certain that I'm not alone in thinking that over the years the French Post has had many, many incredibly talented artists on their payroll engraving stamps. So many in fact that it can be rather overwhelming trying to collect all of their amazing work. My strategy to date has been to choose a particular engraver, and then spent some time getting to know their work and their style. And along the way start putting together the bones of a collection.


Most recently I've become intrigued by the work of Jules Piel. I haven't looked at much of his work yet, but what I have seen really impresses me. His first engraving, which was part of a definitive set for Andorra in 1932 is a true thing of beauty. Unfortunately I don't have a copy of the design, which was printed in six values, just yet. But I did find the below image. 

Between 1932 and 1966 Jules Piel was a prolific engraver for both France and her various colonies. For a full bio, check out this blog post HERE. Indeed, many iconic French stamps were the work of this master engraver. Perhaps the most important of these was a set depicting Marshall Pétain, issued in 1941. 

Commencing in 1950, France began issuing a set of stamps on an annual basis with a surcharge to go to the Red Cross. Jules Piel engraved this first set of Red Cross stamps. In fact, he contributed to every set until his retirement from the French postal authority in 1966. And I was delighted to discover that not only did Jules Piel rack up an extensive array of stamps, but he also engraved quite a few banknotes! I must say, I'm really looking forward to delving more deeply into the work of this prolific artist.

Until next time...

Friday, 19 January 2018

France 1936 - Louis Blériot

What do truck headlights and astounding feats of aviation have in common? Louis Blériot, aviator, inventor, and engineer.


Louis Blériot, born 1 July 1872 in Cambrai, France, was drawn to engineering and design from at young age. Indeed, while attending the Institut Notre Dame in Cambrai, he won many class prizes for his engineering drawings. He then attended the prestigious École Centrale in Paris, after having spent a year gaining special tuition in order to pass the rigorous entrance exam. He graduated École Centrale around the middle of his class, which considering the high level of competition was a pretty decent result.

His first job was at an electrical engineering company in Paris, called Baguès. It was during this time that he came up with an invention, which would eventually bankroll his other passion, aviation. He designed and created the first ever practical headlamp (headlight) for automobiles. His new headlamp used a compact integral acetylene generator. In 1897, he decided to leave the company he had been working for and opened his own showroom in Paris, selling his headlamps. Turns out, this was an excellent business decision, for he quickly gained contracts with two of the foremost automobile manufacturers of the time, Renault and Panhard-Levassor.

Ever since his school days, Blériot had had an interest in aviation, but it wasn't until his visit to the 1900 Exposition Uniiverselle that he thought seriously about aircraft experimentation. It was seeing Clément Ader's Avion III, an experimental steam-powered aircraft, that seemed to really get his creative juices flowing. I can understand why. This 'plane' must have, at the time, seemed quite extraordinary. Check the Avion III out HERE

As I mentioned earlier, Blériot's headlamp business was going great guns so he could afford to splash about a bit of cash with some aviation experiments of his own. His initial experiments were with ornithopters, which are craft propelled by flapping wings, in the fashion of a bird. Many of these were powered by men with the wings strapped to their arms. Then they set about flapping like crazy in an attempt to achieve flight. Ornithopters have always been a bit hit and miss, and Blériot's attempts fell into the 'miss' column.

Then in 1905, he met a fellow aviation enthusiast, a man who would also later become his business partner, Gabriel Voisin. At the time Voisin was working for a fellow named, Ernest Archdeacon, on experimental gliders. Blériot, also an avid photographer, filmed Voisin the during the trials of a floatplane glider Voisin had built. Witnessing this event sparked Blériot into commissioning Voisin to build a similar plane for him. This plane, another glider, was called the Blériot II. Although this plane crashed and Voisin, who was flying it, nearly drowned, the two men were not deterred. Indeed, they soon established their own company, Ateliers d' Aviation Edouard Surcouf, Blériot et Voisin.

The partnership lasted until the end of 1906. During which time the pair built the Blériot III and IV, two powered aircraft that both proved unsuccessful. Their lack of success coupled with the success of rival aviator of Alberto Santos Dumont, who flew his 14-bis a distance of 220 m (720 ft), winning the Aéro Club de France prize for the first flight of over 100 metres, saw the dissolution of the pafrtnership.

After the partnership with Voisin, Louis Blériot established his own business, Recherches Aéronautiques Louis Blériot, This business was primarily funded by Blériot, who employed his own engineers and designers. Over the next couple of years Blériot developed a whole series of aircraft, bearing his name, each one slightly better than the rest. This aircraft research culminated in the construction of the Blériot XI.

At 4:41 am on the 25 July 1909 Blériot made history in his Type XI by setting off from Calais, France in an attempt to cross the English Channel. "Flying at approximately 45 mph (72 km/h) and an altitude of about 250 ft (76 m), he set off across the Channel. Not having a compass, Blériot took his course from the Escopette, which was heading for Dover, but he soon overtook the ship." (Wikipedia)

During the crossing, visibility rapidly deteriorated. In fact, Blériot later said, “for more than 10 minutes I was alone, isolated, lost in the midst of the immense sea, and I did not see anything on the horizon or a single ship”.

Thankfully, a short time later, Blériot spotted the English coast. Unfortunately for Blériot, he had not previously visited Dover to find a good spot to land, so he had to wing it. After spotting Charles Fontaine, the correspondent from Le Matin waving a large Tricolour as a signal, Blériot "circled twice to lose height, and cut his engine at an altitude of about 20 m (66 ft), making a heavy 'pancake' landing due to the gusty wind conditions; the undercarriage was damaged and one blade of the propeller was shattered, but Blériot was unhurt. The flight had taken 36 minutes and 30 seconds." (Wikipedia) Thus history was made!


On 21 November 1934, France issued a stamp celebrating the 25th anniversary of Louis Blériot's English Channel crossing. The stamp was designed and engraved by Achille Ouvré. It is a stunning design featuring a map of the English Channel overlaid by Blériot's Type XI aircraft.

Until next time...

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)