Sunday, 20 August 2017

Monaco 1978 - 150th Anniversary of the Birth of Jules Verne (Part 2)

"A man of merit owes himself to the homage of the rest of mankind who recognize his worth."
—Jules Verne

Strange lights spotted in the night sky the world over. Haunting trumpet sounds that accompany these sightings. Add to this the mysterious appearance of black flags worked with golden suns atop many of the world's most famous monuments, including The Great Pyramid, The Effiel Tower, and The Statue of Liberty. What could all this weirdness be? Aliens with a twisted sense of humour? Not this time. This quirky behaviour is the work of none other than Robur, a brilliant inventor and the main character in Jules Verne's 1886 novel, Robur the Conqueror

This blog is the second 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 Part 1, click HERE. This beautiful set of eight stamps was designed and engraved by Pierre Forget. One of the stamps in this set features a key scene from the novel Robur the Conqueror.


The story-line of this novel is rather intriguing considering its year of publication. The central theme of the novel is the argument over the feasibility of heavier-than-air versus lighter-than-air flying craft. But before we go any further with the description of the novel, let's have a look at a bit of history. Since the invention of the hot air balloon in 1783 by Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier in France, inventors had been wracking their brains trying to find a way to successfully propel and steer these craft contrary to wind conditions. In other words, wrest the steering wheel from Mother Nature. For nearly 100 years this seemed an impossible task (Mother Nature had a tight grip on the wheel!). Then in 1886 Gottlieb Daimler created a light-weight gasoline engine suitable for lighter than-air-craft. This engine led Count Zeppelin of Germany to develop a solid-frame craft covered in fabric, powered by two 16 hp Daimler engines. This craft was 416 feet long. This craft, known as the LZ 1, flew successfully for a full 18 minutes in July 1900. It was the first ever airship or "blimp" as we now call such a craft. 

So it was in this early environment of inventors pulling their hair out, searching for controllable lighter-than-air flying craft that Jules Verne's novel is set. In the story, the main character, Robur, is trying to convince the movers and shakers of the Weldon Institute, a flight enthusiasts group in Philadelphia, that lighter-than-air flight is a thing of the past. Robur argues with them that heavier-than-air flying craft is the way of the future - and he has proof! Robur boasts that the strange lights are his new aircraft and that it was he who placed the black flags the the famous monuments. The Weldon guys basically consider him a crackpot and laugh at him.

The arrogant Robur then decides, perhaps rashly, to kidnap the Weldon Institute's secretary, president, and the president's valet, and takes them aboard his new flying machine. Robur calls this machine the Albatross. He explains that it is a multi-rotor gyrodyne with many horizontally-set airscrews to provide lift and two vertically-set airscrews to drive the vessel forward and to provide control. Oh, and the whole apparatus is battery powered! Like a lot of early sci-fi writers, Jules Verne had a rather scarily accurate insight into future technology.

To cut a long story short, the Weldon guys didn't particularly like being kidnapped. Surprise, surprise! And they are ridiculously jealous of this new technology. It far surpasses anything they have designed. In order to exact some Victorian gentlemanly revenge and remove the competition, they decide to blow the ship up and make their escape. Believing this flying craft destroyed, the Weldon Institute wait a few months, then unveil their own new lighter-than-air craft, which is basically a hot air balloon with a small motor (a forerunner to the Zeppelin). They call it Go-Ahead. They launch it and start wowing the crowds with its capabilities.

Unbeknownst to the Weldon guys, Robur has secretly built a second Albatross using parts recovered from the wreck. He appears out of nowhere with his new ship and starts showing the crowds just how much better his craft is by literally running rings around the Go-Ahead. During the competition the two flying craft go higher and higher. Then disaster struck for the Go-Ahead. Its gas bags, unable to handle the altitude, rumble, quiver, and... EXPLODE!  Robur rescues the crew of Go-Ahead.

In one final display of arrogance, Robur then tells the crowds that the world is not ready for his technology yet. And he promptly flies his vessel off into the sunset.


Now let's look at Pierre Forget's artist impression of the battle in the sky between the two vastly different flying craft. It is stunning work, in my humble opinion. I love Forget's depiction of the moving airscrews. And the great use of red to represent the sense of height and the imminent mortal danger faced by those in the hot air balloon.

Until next time...

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Monaco 1978 - 150th Anniversary of the Birth of Jules Verne (Part 1)

 "It is certain that the inanimate objects by which you are surrounded have a direct action on the brain."
—Jules Verne
The inanimate objects currently surrounding me just happen to be stamps, stamps celebrating the sesquicentennial of the French sci-fi novelist, Jules Verne (for more on M. Verne click HERE). And I have to say these wonderful engraved stamps are definitely having a direct action on my brain - a very positive one. This set was issued on 2 May 1978 in Monaco, 150 years after the birth of Jules Verne on 8 February 1828 in Nantes, France. This set is quite a large one, consisting 8 stamps, all of which were designed and engraved by Pierre Forget. For the sake of brevity, I will study the first three stamps in the set in this blog. These three stamps focus on the novel, L'Île mystérieuse (The Mysterious Island). 


The Mysterious Island is a novel set during the Siege of Richmond at the end of the American Civil War in 1865. Five Union soldiers, who are being held as prisoners of war, decide to escape their confinement by hijacking a balloon. Stealthy! Unfortunately for the escapees, the weather is in rather a bad mood. After travelling for some distance over the Pacific Ocean, a storm grabs the balloon and tosses it to ground on a strange uncharted island in the South Pacific. This balloon crash is the subject of the first stamp.

Lucky to be alive, the survivors call their savior 'Lincoln Island' in honour of President Lincoln. Thankfully for the castaways, one of their number happens to be a brilliant engineer (shades of the Professor in Gilligan's Island here!). The engineer, called Smith, managed to produce fire, pottery, bricks, nitroglycerin, iron, a simple electric telegraph. And if that wasn't enough, he designed for them a home on one of the island's cliffs. They called it 'Granite House'. Taking this ridiculous fantasy world even further, they built a seaworthy ship!

As the castaways settle into life on the island - which is starting to sound pretty luxurious to me - a series of strange mysteries begin to unfold. It seems the men have an anonymous benefactor who helps them along with gifts such as weapons and ammunition. And their dog 'Top' is rscued in the water from a dugong by an unseen hand. Just who or what is this deus ex machina (god from the machine)?

Then one day they find a message in a bottle directing them to rescue a castaway on nearby Tabor Island. The group rescue the man, who turns out to be Tom Ayrton, a character from another Verne story In Search of the Castaways. This man was once a crew member on a pirate ship! On their way home they are struggling to find their island in a sudden storm when the mysterious benefactor strikes again. A signal fire has been lit to guide them home.

Things then go rather crazy when the pirate ship also finds the island. After the pirates unsuccessfully attempt to take Granite House their ship suddenly blows up! This brings us to the next stamp. Note the strange silhouette in the water beneath the ship. This is a clue as to the identity of the benefactor.

Rather annoyed with the destruction of their ship, the surviving pirates kidnap Tom Ayrton. Our castaways try to get Aryton back, but one of them,. Harber, is shot, seriously wounding him. He survives, but he's so weak that he contracts malaria. Enter the benefactor again. He leaves a box of quinine sulphate, which saves Haber.

After Harbert recovers, they set out again to rescue Ayrton and destroy the pirates once and for all. When they discover Ayrton he is alive and well, and the pirates are all dead, without any visible wounds. Suddenly, a figure emerges in a strange helmet...

The figure is the mysteriois benefactor in the flesh. He removes his helmet, revealing himself to be none other than... Captain Nemo! After his adventures in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Nemo has sailed his Nautilus (the strange silhouette under the water in the last two stamps) to the island to live in isolation (an idea that didn't work out all that well).

Until next time...

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Mali 1981 - Pierre Curie

French physicist Pierre Curie, born 15 May 1859, is perhaps best known for his work in radioactive studies with his wife, Marie Curie. But he was also a pioneer in the study of magnetism. Studies which have greatly impacted on our modern way of life. With his brother Jacques, he studied crystallography. Through this research, the brothers discovered what is known as the piezoelectric effect. Basically this effect shows that the magnetic properties of a given substance change at a specific temperature, a level now known as the Curie point. The piezoelectric effect has many practical applications in the modern world. Many gas burners, ranges, and electric cigarette lighters have a built-in piezo based injection systems. Even modern music benefits from Curie's discovery! Microphones and electrically amplified guitars utilise piezoelectric technology. 

In 1895, Pierre married a fellow scientist by the name of Maria Skłodowska. History knows this woman as Marie Curie. Juggling a busy teaching schedule and working with inferior equipment, Pierre and Marie joined forces, working to isolate the elements of radium and polonium. Incidentally, Marie named polonium after her home country, Poland. Their hard travails were rewarded when in 1903 they won the Nobel Prize in Physics. Not only that, the radioactive unit 'the curie' was named after them (some say this was named after just Pierre, but I'd like to think it was to honour both scientists).

Tragically, Pierre was run over by a horse-drawn carriage on 19 April 1906 in Paris. It is believed, however, that had he not suffered this fate, he likely would have died of the effects of his prolonged exposure to radiation during his and his wife's studies. Indeed, Marie Curie later died of the effects of deadly radiation. Ironically, the Curies' daughter, Irène, and her husband, Frédéric Joliot, also studied radiation, and they both died due to radiation exposure. And they too won a Nobel Prize in 1935, this time in the field of chemistry. Their other daughter, Ève, wrote an award-winning biography of her mother. And she married a diplomat, Henry Labouisse, who just so happened to have... Wait for it... Won a Nobel Peace Prize! Quite a family!


On 25 May 1981, Mali issued a stamp honouring the scientific research of Pierre Curie. This lovely tribute stamp was designed and engraved by French engraver, Pierre Albuisson. This was Albuisson's first ever engraved stamp. And I think it is brilliant. The fine details of the pieces of scientific apparatus is superb. I also consider Pierre's beard an engraved masterpiece, full of life and energy. 


Pierre Albuisson now has over 150 engraved stamps to his name for France and her territories, namely Monaco and French Southern and Antarctic Territories (TAAF). He has even engraved a Marianne for France, the Marianne de Cheffer in 2007. For a full Pierre Albuisson biography pop across to Adrian Keppel's great Stamp Engravers blog post HERE. I really look forward to studying more of his stamps as I acquire them.

Until next time...

Friday, 28 July 2017

French Settlements in Oceania 1948 - Tahitian Women

In 1834 a group of French Catholic missionaries landed on the island of Tahiti to convert the local population to Christianity. Not surprisingly the locals didn't take too kindly to this idea, and in 1836 the missionaries were expelled. Unfortunately this led to further problems. Deciding retaliation was the order of the day, the French dispatched a gunboat to Tahiti in 1838. By 1842 Tahiti and Tahuata were declared a French protectorate. And Catholic missionaries were from that point on allowed to do whatever work they found necessary. A year later in 1843 a new capital, called Papeetē, was founded. Then, in 1880, France annexed Tahiti, altering its status from that of a protectorate to a colony.

Between 1843-1903 more surrounding islands were annexed by France. In 1892 French postage stamps were first issued in the colony, which at that time was called: Établissements de l'Océanie (Settlements in Oceania). In 1903 the official name of the colony became Établissements Français de l'Océanie (French Settlements in Oceania) or EFO. The year 1957 saw another name change for EFO, a name we are now familiar with: French Polynesia. French Polynesia is composed of 118 islands and atolls spread across more than 2,000 kilometres in the South Pacific Ocean.


In 1948 French Settlements in Oceania issued a set of 19 definitives incorporating six different designs. To date, I have acquired two designs from this set. The first depicts a Tahitian woman. This lovely stamp was designed by Charles Mazelin and engraved by Jacques Boullaire. This design was issued in 4 values: 2f, 2,40f, 3f & 4f.

The second design depicts two Tahitian women enjoying the warm weather and having a bit of a chat. The stamp was designed by Jacques Boullaire (the guy who engraved the above stamp) and engraved by Jules Piel. This particular design was issued in 3 values: 15f, 20f & 25f.

As I acquire more of this lovely set I will share them with you all.

Until next time...