Saturday, 23 July 2016

France 1955 - Deportation Camps

March 1933 marked the beginning of a terrible chapter in world history. That chapter was entitled 'Nazi concentration camps'. After Hitler became Chancellor in Germany, his Nazi Party was given control over the police at the behest of Reich Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick and Prussian Acting Interior Minister Hermann Göring. Immediately after Hitler seized control, the first concentration camps were built. Initially the camps were used to hold and torture political opponents and union organizers. At this time the camps held some 45,000 prisoners in horrid conditions. 

In 1934 things went from bad to worse when Heinrich Himmler's SS took full control of the police and concentration camps throughout Germany. The role of concentration camps changed dramatically. They now also held the so-called "racially undesirable elements" of German society, such as Jews, criminals, homosexuals, and Romani. Before this change occurred the number of people being held in the camps had dropped to 7,500, but it now grew again to 21,000 souls. Astonishingly, that number grew and grew to peak at 715,000 in January 1945. Of this rather alarming number of people, some 200,000 had been deported from Vichy France.


On 25 April 1955 France issued a stamp in remembrance of the 200,000 French people deported to Nazi concentration camps during WWII. The stamp was designed and engraved by Albert Decaris.

This stamp is a poignant reminder of the desolation and stark terror of being trapped behind walls of barbed wire with very little chance of leaving alive. One shutters to think what it must have been like for all those poor, wretched souls.

Until next time... 

Thursday, 21 July 2016

I Muse...On Red Cross Booklets

Not long after I started looking for French engraved stamps I spotted a Red Cross issue booklet. It was very nice, but at the time I honestly didn't give the idea of buying any of them all that much thought. Then the other day I received a couple of year sets in the mail. One of the sets was 1969. I have to say the Red Cross stamps really stood out as superb. While studying them, I recalled seeing some booklets on ebay. So I went and had a look to see what was available and the prices. I quickly found a booklet for the 1969 stamps for only $4.00 Australian. I thought this was reasonable -  I hope it was - so I bought it.

I haven't received the item yet, so the below scan is not the best quality, but its good enough to get a glimpse of what I got. Both stamps were designed and engraved by Pierre Gandon from paintings by Nicolas Mignard.

Does anyone else out there collect these booklets? Have I in buying this first one, opened up a whole can of monetary worms I should have left in the can?

Until next time... 

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

France 1955 - Television

Radio-PTT Vision was the first television station in France. It began broadcasting on 26 April 1935. Through a transmitter located atop the Eiffel Tower the station broadcast programmes three days a week from 11 am to 11:30 am and 8 pm to 8:30 pm and on Sundays from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm. This channel was the only one in France for 28 years, and it is one of the oldest television stations in the world. Incidentally, the world's first television station started in 1928. It was called WRGB and it broadcast from the General Electric facility in Schenectady, NY. 


On 18 April 1955 France issued a stamp commemorating television in France. The stamp was designed and engraved by Albert Decaris.

In this design Decaris has illustrated a television signal emanating from the Eiffel Tower, which has been placed right in the centre of the image. Elongated antennae represent all the television antennas in the city of Paris, picking up the signal. The radiating signal to me suggests of a rising sun spreading its light on a new dawn - a new dawn of technology.

Until next time...

Stay Decaris Crazy!

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Monaco 1958 - Basilica of St. Pius X

The Basilica of St. Pius X located at Lourdes in France is a part of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes. For those of you who are not catholic, the sanctuary is a major catholic pilgrimage site where it is believed that the Virgin Mary appeared to Saint Bernadette Soubirous on several occasions. These appearances are known as the Marial Apparitions. I personally remember learning about St. Bernadette when I was in school many moons ago. If you'd like to read more about St. Bernadette click HERE.

Designed by architect Pierre Vago, the Basilica is also known as the Underground Basilica since it is almost entirely underground. And it is truly massive! When I first looked at some images from inside the Basilica I was staggered. It incorporates over 12,000 square metres of open space which can accommodate up to 25,000 worshippers. The Basilica was opened in 1958 - the same year as the release of the Monaco stamp - in anticipation of the massive crowds that would gather for centenary celebrations of the Marial Apparitions.

Here is an image from Wikipedia just to give you an idea of the scale of the building...


On 15 May 1958 Monaco issued a set of two Airmail stamps. The 100f stamp, depicting the Basilica of St. Pius X, was engraved by Albert Decaris.

When I first started collecting Decaris stamps I saw this particular stamp and, to be honest, I didn't think all that much of it. But in preparation for this blog I did some research into the subject of this stamp and I was fascinated, which in turn gave me a new appreciation of the stamp. Decaris has done a rather nice job of rendering the impressive main entrance to the basilica. Certainly not my favourite Decaris stamp but nice nonetheless.

Until next time...

Monday, 18 July 2016

France 1969 - Stamp Day

The horse-bus, or what is more commonly known as the horse-drawn omnibus, was used for passenger transport before the advent of motor vehicles. They were predominately used in Europe and the USA in the late 19th century.  The typical omnibus was like a large stage coach. They were often double-decker with the bottom level enclosed and the top level open the air. Occasionally the top level had a canopy to protect passengers from the elements. On the lower level the seating was typically arranged as two wooden bench seats running along the sides of the cabin facing each other. While on the second level the each seats were arranged in the same fore to aft configuration, but the benches were placed back to back in order, I presume for the passengers to look out at their surrounds more easily. Interestingly, it seems that large businesses took advantage of these vehicles as a form of moving billboard. Covered in advertising, omnibuses actually looked pretty cool.


On 17 March 1969 France issued a fantastic stamp featuring an omnibus for Stamp Day. Click HERE for more on Stamp Day. The stamp was designed and engraved by Pierre Becquet.

This stamp is absolutely beautiful. The details are stunning. As the eye wanders over this stamp, we see a superbly rendered omnibus in vivid green. You can clearly see the bench seat arrangements in the cabin as mentioned above. Although background detail, the building to the right has been drawn with minute attention to detail. In the foreground to the right we see a couple taking a stroll down the street, the woman dressed in all her finery with a wide-brim hat and a parasol. The design is so alive we can almost hear the clack-clack of the horses hooves on the road and the murmur of the chatter from the passengers as the vehicle trundles past.

Until next time...

Saturday, 16 July 2016

France 1935 - SS Normandie

The French engraver, Albert Decaris, began his illustrious career in 1935. When I first started looking into the engravings of Decaris I had assumed that the first stamp issued with his name on it was the first stamp he engraved. This turned out not to be the case. In this blog I shall take a look at the first Decaris engraved stamp ever issued - a stamp commemorating the maiden voyage of S.S. Normandie. In case you are interested the first stamp Decaris engraved was the Cloister of the Church of St. Trophinus, which was issued on 2 May.


The S.S. Normandie commemorative stamp was issued 23 April 1935. I have discussed the design and quality of this stamp with several different people and the feelings have been mixed. Some like it and some downright loathe it. I, for one, rather like it. It was only the second stamp Decaris produced so he hadn't fully developed his style yet, but you can already see in the stamp quite an engraving talent emerging. What do you think...?


Now let's have a close look at the subject of this great (imho) stamp. Normandie was a French passenger liner, built in Saint-Nazaire for the French line: Compagnie Generale Transatlantique. Her hull was laid on 26 January 1931 and her maiden voyage was four years later on 29 May 1935. Incidently, I have used here the feminine 'she' to describe the ship, but in France ships were described in the masculine 'he'.

Normandie was one of a new breed of luxury liners. Before the 'Roaring Twenties' passenger liners such as RMS Olympic and RMS Mauritania dedicated large portions of the ship for third class or steerage accommodations for those wishing to immigrate from Europe to the United States. After the United States cracked down on immigration in the early twenties passenger liners became more and more the domain of wealthy travellers. In fact, many passengers were those escaping US prohibition for a while to live it up in Europe,  getting drunk and indulging in other pleasures...

S.S. Normandie was a radical ship, utilizing many new design innovations. One such innovation was her bulbous forefoot beneath the waterline, which, combined with a slim hydrodynamic hull, enabled her to achieve faster speeds than earlier ships. She also had new style turbo electric engines, which was far more efficient than earlier propulsion systems. Coupled together these innovations enabled Normamdie to hold the Blue Riband for the fastest transatlantic crossing on many occasions during her career.

In doing research on this amazing ship I was blown away by its lavish interiors. I could probably go on and on with details, but I don't want to bore you. Instead I'll mention a few of the most staggering details. Firstly,  a new design feature whereby the funnel intakes were redirected down the sides of the ship instead of straight up the middle gave interior designers far more room to work with. This extra room was utilized to stunning effect! The ship's First Class dining hall was the largest afloat. It was 305 feet (93m) in length, 46 feet (14m) wide, and a staggering 28 feet (8.5m) high. If that in and of itself isn't grand enough for you, well imagine yourself in your finest garb strolling through entry doors that are 20 feet tall! Then you enter a room sumptuously decorated in Art Deco style with glass ceilings ornate columns and huge chandeliers that earned Normandie the nickname 'ship of light'. 

One more little tidbit I'll add - purely because I am an ancient Egyptian history buff - is the decor of the first class smoking room, which was decorated with large murals depicting ancient Egyptian life.

Sadly, this grand lady of the oceans met with a fate unbecoming her regal stature. At the outbreak of World War II Normandie was docked in New York. And there she remained until after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The French crew was removed and the ship was prepared for conversion into a troop ship to contribute to the war effort. Normandie was renamed USS Lafayette in honour of the French general who fought for the colony in the Revolutionary War.

Now to the tragic bit. While being outfitted a fire broke out aboard ship, since the fire-watch systems had been deactivated for the conversion. This proved to be just the beginning of a dark comedy of errors! When fire fighters arrived they found to their horror that the US hose fittings weren't compatible with those on the French ship. While manually pumping water on the blaze using fire ships the vessel developed a dangerous list to port as a result of water flooding the ship. The designer of the ship arrived on the scene to help, but he wasn't allowed to participate. He suggested that the firefighters open the seacocks, which would flood the lower decks causing her to sink the few feet the harbour floor. This would have stabilized the ship. But his suggestion was ignored! As a result the ship listed further and further until at 2.45 am on 10 February USS Lafayette capsized. 

Once she was salvaged she was reclassified as an aircraft and transport ferry, but the damage from the accident was too extensive and she sat in dry dock till the end of of the war. Finally, at the end of the war, on 11 October 1945 USS Lafayette was stricken from the naval register and scrapped. Such a terrible end for a ship once nicknamed 'ship of light'.

Until next time...

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

France 1955 - Sainte Claire Deville

Henri Étienne Sainte Claire Deville was a French chemist, born 11 March 1818. Among his many scientific achievements, in 1849 he discovered anhydrous nitric acid (nitrogen pentoxide), which was the first of the anhydrides, a mono-basic acid. But perhaps his most important discovery occurred in 1855 when he successfully obtained metallic aluminium. He also worked out a method whereby large scale production of the metal could be achieved. 

But this isn't the whole story. It seems that unbeknown to Sainte Claire Deville, a German chemist ten years earlier had already discovered aluminium. If only they had access to the net! That scientist's name was Friedrich Wöhler. Apparently there was no hard feelings, as they collaborated in 1857 and together discovered silicon nitride.


On 7 March 1955 France issued a set of six stamps under the theme Famous Inventors. One of these stamps featured Sainte Claire Deville. The stamp was designed and engraved by Albert Decaris.

I think this design is fabulous. Decaris has incorporated the various uses of aluminium over time in a most unique and effective manner. The combination of the streamlined car and interestingly shaped building in the background makes me think of the art deco period in the early 20's.

And of course, I can't finish without mentioning yet another engraved beard for my collection! 

Until next time...

Stay Decaris Crazy!

Friday, 8 July 2016

France 1974 - Medal of the French Resistance

The French Resistance played a vital role during World War II. Known in France as La Résis the Resistance organised themselves into small groups of armed men and women who worked against Nazi German occupation through various forms of guerrilla warfare and providing intelligence information for the allied forces. Additionally, the Resistance helped allied troops caught behind enemy lines providing them with possible escape routes. Perhaps one of the most important roles of the Resistance was to aid significantly the successful advance of allied troops through France after the Normandy invasion on 6 June 1944.

To honour the service of these brave men and women, the French Resistance medal, Médaille de la Résistance, was a decoration awarded to members of the Resistance. The award was established on 9 February 1943 to...
"...recognize the remarkable acts of faith and of courage that, in France, in the empire and abroad, (the Resistance) have contributed to the resistance of the French people against the enemy and against its accomplices since 18 June 1940".1

On 23 November 1974 France issued a set of three stamps commemorating the 30th anniversary of the liberation of France from the Nazis. One of these stamps features the French Resistance Medal. The stamp was designed and engraved by Claude Haley.

The design of this stamp is very evocative. On the left is a representation of French imprisonment under Nazi Germany. On the right a burning torch suggests of liberation from oppression. And in the centre of the stamp is a depiction of the French Resistance Medal.


1. "History: Médaille de la Résistance", Chancellerie de l'Ordre de la Libération, 28 October 2006.

Until next time...

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

I Found...Another Decaris Stamp

A few days ago I spoke to a fellow Decaris collector on a stamp forum. Through him I was made aware of a Decaris engraved stamp that I had no idea existed. I usually always like to verify for myself if a stamp was indeed engraved by Decaris (not to impugn the word of the collector who told me about the stamp). So far I haven't been able to find any information that conclusively proves the stamp was engraved by Decaris, but I am still assuming he did.

With that said, let's take a look. The country of origin of the stamp, I have to say, surprised me somewhat. The stamp in question is from Peru! It was issued in 1957. Below is lovely block of 4 I managed to track down. When I look closely at it I can definitely see signs of Decaris' style.

Until next time...

Stay Decaris Crazy!

Friday, 1 July 2016

I Found...Some More Year Sets

With a bit of strategic searching on ebay I have now managed to find complete France year sets for the decade of the 1970's for a reasonable total price. Well, I think it's reasonable, and I guess that's all that really matters.

My latest purchase, which completed the decade, was actually two year sets in one. The purchase included 1969 and 1970. A total of 82 stamps. I managed to find this batch for just over $20 AUD, which I consider quite bargain at 23c a stamp!

It goes without saying that I very much look forward to the arrival of this lot of stamps.


On a slightly different topic, you may recall from a blog I did recently, in which discussed display issues. I believe I have - albeit tentatively - come to the conclusion that displaying my stamps by engraver instead of by year may be the better option. Now all I need is a whole box of hagners for all these new stamps!!

Until next time...