Thursday, 30 March 2017

France 1942 - Tricolour Legion

Very strange things happen during times of war, such as the creation of a military force that ever only existed on paper. This was the story of the French Tricolour Legion.


On 8 July 1941, the Legion of French Volunteers Against Bolshevism was founded. This force was primarily made up of French right-wing volunteers and French prisoners of war who preferred fighting the Russians over doing hard labour and rotting away in prison camps. This force was ostensibly French, wearing French uniforms at home. But they fought with the Germans against the Russians, and while in battle (or simply outside of France) they wore German uniforms. In fact, 35 of its officers were German. It is important to note that this volunteer force, known by the acronym LVF, was not officially endorsed by Petain and his Vichy Government.

In response to the sudden growth of the new LVF, and perhaps fearing its commitment to Germany, Marshal Petain's Vichy Government created The Tricolour Legion. In fact, the whole idea of the Tricolour Legion was an attempt by the Vichy Government to swallow the LVF into its ranks and take full control. Despite the idea of the Tricolour Legion being more French than the LVF, Petain promised the Germans that this new force would be even more committed to the German cause. If that doesn't get ones head spinning in ironic dismay, I don't know what would. Perhaps Petain attempted to utilise a bit of reverse psychology. Perhaps he had the idea of using the Legion to give France some semblance of independence from Germany military-wise, and the whole concept of committing the Legion more wholeheartedly with the German army was a ruse to ensure its creation. This, of course, is pure speculation, and whether or not this was the case, Hitler certainly saw something in it against his interests and he officially prohibited its existence on 17 September 1942. The French Government did not agree to this until 28 December 1942. Subsequently, the Tricolour Legion was absorbed into the LVF not long after.


In a move purely for propaganda, France's Vichy Government had a special Tricolour Legion stamp set issued on 12 October 1942 - after Hitler had prohibited the Legion. The issue comprised one design in two colours: red and blue. Each stamp had a whopping surcharge of 8f 80! This surcharge went straight into the pockets of the Legion's administrators. 

The designer of the issue was a person with the surname Éric. That is all the information I have been able to find on this person  The design was engraved by Pierre Gandon. Gandon's involvement in the production of this issue landed him in some hot water when the Vichy Government were overthrown in 1944. But I'll deal with that situation in a future blog. Suffice to say, Gandon had to make a living in those torrid times, and it is sometimes easy to cast aspersions on a person and their choices many years after the fact with the benefit of that lovely thing called "hindsight". Enough said. Now on to the stamps.

Despite the fact that these designs ooze propaganda from every fibre of the paper upon which they are printed, they are important historical images of human history. To the left we see a French soldier, the epitome of his country's proud military history. Indeed, to the right we see soldiers from the past marching forth proudly, bolstered by powerful tradition. I, for one, like Gandon's engraving work on this issue. Propaganda it may be, but it still a quality engraving. 

Until next time...

Sunday, 26 March 2017

TAAF 1961 - Jean-Baptiste Charcot

It's official. I now have every single stamp Pierre Gandon engraved for French Southern and Antarctic Territories or Terres australes et antarctiques françaises, shortened to TAAF. Sounds pretty great! Well, perhaps it would if Gandon had engraved more than one stamp for TAAF. That's right. He engraved one stamp, and I now have it. Ergo, I have the full set! Anyway, that's enough being silly. Let's get down to business.


Jean-Baptiste Charcot was born 15 July 1867 in Neuilly-sur-Seine. Charcot, like his father Jean-Martin Charcot, was a French medical doctor. He was also a scientist with a passion for polar science. He was also n excellent sailor, having won two sailing Gold Medals for France in the 1900 Olympics.

In 1904 these two passions combined when he was given the amazing opportunity to lead a French Antarctic Expedition to explore the west coast of Graham Land. This expedition, on the ship Français, lasted for three years, ending in 1907. During this expedition, Charcot visited the Palmer Archipelago and the Loubet Coast. He took photos at both places, giving the world a glimpse into the wondrous world of Antarctica. I, for one, have always dreamed of seeing Antarctica in person, so I can only imagine the thrill it must have been for these explorers visiting somewhere so remote and so difficult to reach - even now it isn't that easy to do (except if you have lots of money)!

One expedition was definitely not enough for Jean-Baptiste Charcot. In 1908 he led another two year expedition to Antarctica. This time he travelled in a ship, which, what I think, had a really cool name. It was called Pourquoi-Pas? In English this means Why not? Love it! Anyway, back to the expedition. This time round Charcot explored the Bellingshausen Sea and the Amundsen Sea. In the process he discovered Loubet Land, and Marguerite Bay. He also discovered a third island, which he named Charcot Island, after his father, Jean-Martin Charcot.

Charcot went on to explore areas around Greenland in Pourquoi-Pas?. Tragically the ship was wrecked off the coast of Iceland in 1936 in a severe storm. Charcot was never seen again. After the disaster a monument was erected in honour of Charcot in Reykjavík, Iceland by sculptor Einar Jónsson.


On 19 December 1961 a stamp was issued for TAAF commemorating the 25th anniversary of the death of Jean-Baptiste Charcot. This stamp was designed and engraved by Pierre Gandon.

This fabulous design features Charcot in the foreground, gazing toward the horizon, to new adventures. And yet there is a sadness in his eyes, too. Perhaps a reflection of adventures unfulfilled. To Charcot's left we see a compass suggesting his explorations to the south and the north. The icy shores of Antarctica lay in the background. And lying at anchor is the ship PourquoiPas? perhaps. In all, this is an elegant design.

Until next time...

Friday, 17 March 2017

Togo 1940 - Postage Due Stamps

In last week's blog we visited Togo in West Africa to take a look at the 1940 definitive series, designed and engraved by Pierre Gandon. Click HERE to have a look.


In 1940 Togo also issued a set of 10 Postage Due stamps. This set comprised one design, featuring Togolese masks. The set was designed and engraved by Pierre Gandon. As I said in last week's blog, it is my preference to collect all the values of the same design in a set. I very much like seeing the design in different colours. Each colour can create a very different atmosphere within the design. To that end I shall display below all ten values of this design.


After scanning these truly stunning stamps, I went online to see if I could find any real life masks resembling Gandon's design. While I didn't find something exactly the same, I came across a mask that was similar. Below is a reproduction of an African mask.

I presume the holes around the top of this mask are designed to hold tufts of hair - or something resembling hair. If one looks closely at the area around the top of the mask in the stamp design, one can see a stylised hair-do. 

As an interesting final note, an altered design of the stamp with the RF removed from the top right was prepared and scheduled to be issued in 1944. But the stamps were never printed. A shame. It would have been nice to have a variation of this great stamp design to collect. Having said that, I'm sure I have more than enough to keep me busy for quite some time yet!

Until next time...

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

France 1951 - Vincent d'Indy

A dramatic symphony can arrest the senses and send one's spirit on a journey through many subtle levels of emotion. Our mind's eye travels across scenic vistas and plummets into dark, cavernous places. Our hearts race. We laugh. We cry. We transcend...


Vincent d'Indy, born 27 March 1851, grew up with music filling his ears. As a young boy he began learning the piano. He showed great promise, and at 14 he began to study the art of harmony with Albert Lavignac, a French composer. Then in 1870 after the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war, he enlisted in the National Guard. He was 19.

At the end of the war, he returned to his passion - music. But it wasn't until his first work Symphonie italienne was performed by an orchestra as a part of their rehearsal routine that his career took off. This performance triggered a chain reaction of associations that led d'Indy to study at the Conservatoire de Paris under César Franck, a renowned music teacher. While studying with Franck, d'Indy came to admire the beauty of German symphonism.

His love of the German Symphony enticed d'Indy to visit Germany in the summer of 1873. There he was fortunate to meet Franz Liszt and Johannes Brahms. This trip must have been truly inspiring. One can only imagine the thrill of talking with the top minds in one's field. Then on 25 January 1874 he was given the great honour of having his overture Les Piccolomini performed at a Pasdeloup concert, between works by Bach and Beethoven.

Vincent d'Indy went on to compose many symphonies, but perhaps his most enduring work is Symphonie sur un chant montagnard français, Symphony on a French Mountain Air. Written in 1886, this symphony was conceived as a piano and orchestral piece, which was, I believe, unusual. 


On 17 May 1951 France issued a stamp to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Vincent d'Indy.  The stamp was designed and engraved by Albert Decaris.

To me this stamp is an excellent blend of portrait and landscape, a harmonious symphony of two styles. In the foreground we see d'Indy staring intently into the distance, perhaps envisaging how to render what he sees into the language of musical notes. The eye is then drawn into the background, along tree-lined streams, through rolling countryside, and ascending sheer cliff-faces. These are the unfolding scapes of the Cévennes mountain region, the region that inspired Symphony on a Fresh Mountain Air. Vraiment magnifique!

Until next time...

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Togo 1940 - Togolese Woman

Many, many years ago, while attending a Trivia Night, the question was asked: Which African country has the smallest coastline? I remember this very clearly because I was on a crack team where at least one of us knew pretty much any question geography related. But this one stumped us. By consensus we thought it was Togo. We were wrong! The answer is actually quite tricky. It is the Democratic Republic of Congo. Thankfully we went on to win that tournament regardless of the mistake. But the size of Togo or Togolese Republic as it is now officially called, and indeed its coastline, has always stayed lodged in my memory. Anyway, I digress...

Togo is a narrow little country located in West Africa, sandwiched between Ghana to the west and Benin to the east. Its tiny coastline of just 56 km (only 19 km longer than DRC!) drew tribes from the east and the west to settle close to the water. Unfortunately this life-giving coast also attracted Europeans. Togo became a trading port. But not only of goods. In the 16th Century this area became a hub for slave trading. So much so that Togo and the surrounding regions were given the name "The Slave Coast". The slave trade continued for another 200 odd years.

In the late 19th Century the area became a German Protectorate and became known as Togoland. Slave trading had been abolished. However, local people were now forced into back-breaking labor and used to cultivate coffee, cotton, and cocoa. And to rub salt into the wound, the taxes they paid were horrendously high.

Togoland was invaded and captured by British and French forces during World War I. At the end of the war Togoland was divided into British and French zones. In 1957 British Togoland merged with Ghana. And in 1959, French Togoland became an autonomous republic, joining the French Union. Today, French is one of the two primary languages spoken in Togo.


In 1940 Togo issued a set of 26 definitives. This set comprised four different designs. These designs were shared between three different French engravers. Pierre Gandon was responsible for the design used for the six highest values of the set. The Gandon design features the head of a Togolese woman. It is a rather striking design.

It is my preference to collect all the values of the same design in a set engraved by Gandon (and indeed by Decaris and Slania). I very much like seeing the design in different colours. Each colour can create a very different atmosphere within the design. To that end I shall display below all six values of Gandon's design.

I think for me the most striking aspect of this design is the woman's hairstyle. I wondered if this was actually a hairstyle that Togolese women used or whether it was a bit of artistic license on the part of Gandon. So I had a bit of a search online. I found several images of West-African women with their hair done in remarkably similar ways. Below are a couple of examples.

And one slightly more elaborate...

Until next time...

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

France 1951 - Palace of Fontainebleau

How can a Medieval Hunting Lodge for French Kings be transformed into a stunning Palace that spawned Renaissance Art in France? To answer this question we need to delve into the fascinating history of the Palace of Fountainbleau (in French: Château de Fontainebleau).

The long history of Fontainebleau stretches back almost a millennia. In 1167 a fortified castle was built at Fontainebleau, about 50 km from Paris. Termed a castle, it seemed to be more of a glorified hunting lodge for the Kings of France to show off their prowess against the abundant game in the area. Then, when done hunting, they could luxuriate in one of the many springs scattered throughout the surrounding forest. Indeed, the name of the later Palace was derived from one of these springs, the fountain de Bliaud.

Over the course of the next three centuries more than one King Louis cavorted behind the castle's stout walls. King Louis VII invited Thomas Beckett to the castle and had him consecrate the chapel in 1169. And Louis IX had a hospital and a convent built next to the castle.

To witness the beginning of the large scale changes to the castle we need to skip forward to the 15th century to the reign of King Charles VI (1380-1422). It was actually Charles' wife Isabeau of Bavaria who began to shake the place up a bit with some modifications to the castle. 

Isabeau had definitively set the stage but it wasn't until 1515 when Francis I took the throne that the renovations truly got off to a start. Francis commissioned French architect, Gilles le Breton, to build him a grand palace in the new Renaissance style, a palace henceforth known as the Palace of Fountainbleau, Instead of demolishing everything, Giles le Breton built around portions of the original castle, incorporating them into the new palace. His architectural prowess can be seen in such areas of the Palace as the monumental Renaissance stairway, known as the portique de Serlio.

But perhaps the most significant period of the Palace's history, and indeed the history of art in France, was yet to come. Francis I had a grand gallery (long hallway) built, linking his apartments with the Palace's chapel. He wanted it elaborately decorated. To achieve this goal he hired Italian architect, Sebastiano Serlio, and Florentine painter, Giovanni Battista di Jacopo, better known as Rosso Fiorentino. For the next six years they worked tirelessly, adorning the gallery with sumptuous murals and stucco reliefs, all glorifying the King. A third painter, the Italian, Francesco Primaticcio, came over to add his own artistic flair. Together this team created a style now known as the first 'School of Fountainbleau'. This can be considered the beginning of Renaissance Art in France.

Over time more French kings added their own touches to the amazing Palace of Fountainbleau, either to the current structure or acquiring more surrounding lands to build more wings. To detail all of the building works would take me all day! Click HERE for a more detailed discussion on the Palace of Fountainbleau. Having said that, there were two later additions that I found interesting. The Theatre, built during the reign of Louis XV. And the Chinese Museum, added in 1867.


On 22 January 1951, France issued another set in their Sites and Monuments series. This series comprised six stamps. The 12f Palace of Fountainbleau stamp was designed and engraved by Albert Decaris.

This gorgeous stamp features the East Wing of the Palace. Decaris has managed to capture the true essence of this incredible example of Renaissance architecture. The steep-pitched roofs. The elegant dormers. The tall, slender chimneys. It's all here. Decaris has even chosen a font for the titles that reflects the Renaissance era. But perhaps the most important aspect of this stamp design is the famous Horseshoe Staircase, dominating the foreground.

This striking architectural feature was originally constructed during the reign of King Henry II. Henry and his wife, Catherine de' Medici, extended the East Wing of the Palace and added this staircase to serve as a grand entrance. In 1640 the staircase was rebuilt for Louis XIII into what we can see today. The image below gives one the sense of the scale of this massive staircase.

Until next time...

Thursday, 2 March 2017

France 1942 - Saint-Étienne Coat of Arms

A refuge for the homeless. A market town. A specialist in ribbon manufacture. The hub of a thriving coal mining industry. Even the centre of a thriving bicycle industry! This is Saint-Étienne.

The city of Saint-Étienne is located in eastern central France, about 50 km southwest of Lyon. The area was first settled by Hungarian refugees in the early 9th century. But the city itself, named after Saint Stephen the martyr doesn't appear in historical records until the middle ages. It was then known as Saint-Étienne de Furan (after the River Furan, a tributary of the Loire). It was at that point just a small borough surrounding a church dedicated to Saint-Étienne (Saint Stephen).

By the 16th Century the city had a thriving arms manufacturing industry. It also made a name for itself as a market town. In fact its arms industry was so strong that during the French Revolution the city's name was changed for a time to Armeville, which in English means Arms Town. But the city wasn't all weapons of war. During the 17th Century it was also famous for ribbon and passementerie manufacture. If you're wondering what passementerie is (I certainly did when I first read the name!), it is the art of making elaborate trimmings and edgings for clothing and furniture.

Throughout its colourful history Saint-Étienne has also been the centre of a large coal mining industry, being that it is located right in the middle of the Loire coal mining basin. And to top off this city's diverse industry, it now is a known bicycle manufacturer.


On 5 October 1942 France issued its second set of Coat of Arms semi-postal stamps (the first set was issued on 15 December 1941). The second set consisted 12 stamps, each featuring a French Provincial Coat of Arms. Each stamp had a 7f surcharge that went to the National Relief Service. The Saint-Étienne Coat of Arms stamp was designed and engraved by Pierre Gandon. This was Gandon's second Coat of Arms stamp. Click HERE for my blog on his Rheims stamp.

The Coat of Arms of Saint-Étienne has been in existence since as early as 1667. There are three key aspects to this Coat of Arms. The palm fronds, the three crosses, and the crown. The palm fronds and the crosses pay homage to Saint Stephen, the city's namesake. Saint Stephen was stoned to death in Jerusalem in 36 AD. He is widely considered to be the very first Christian martyr. The palm fronds in the Coat of Arms represent the traditional martyr's palm frond. The crosses represent Christianity, and at the tips of each cross one often finds little circles depicted. In this stamp small squares are depicted. These are representations of the stones used to slay Saint Stephen.  Surmounting the palm fronds we find a crown. This is a representation of the willingness of the local population to be placed under the influence of the king.


As an interesting side-note many artistic representations of Saint Stephen depict him with three stones and the martyr's palm frond.

Until next time...

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

I Muse...on a Scandal in Saarland

Autumn has arrived Down Under. So what better way to welcome a new season than a bit of a scandal...

The year was 1948. French stamp engraver Albert Decaris had submitted several designs for a new Saarland definitive series. The designs were accepted, three of which featured the faces of Saarland workers. But little did the French Postal Authorities know, these designs were based on photographs Decaris had seen and used without gaining permission from the original photographer, Ilse Steinhoff. Apparently, a long legal battle ensued.

After the stamps had been issued, the people who had had their photos taken saw themselves on stamps, and naturally they were quite shocked! Subsequently, an article was published in ILLUS magazine  revealing the faces the stamp images belonged to. As a collector I found seeing the original photos quite cool.


The 2f and 3f stamps depict a miner named Josef Holz from Hasborn at the harvest.


The 4f and 5f values depict Josef Holz's daughter, Alina. She is also busily harvesting.


The 6f and 9f values depict Josef Holz standing proudly at the entrance of a mine. Incidentally, this image was used on the cover of ILLUS magazine.


While searching for information on these stamps I also came across one of Decaris' sketch's for Holz standing before the mine.

In case you are interested this article can be found in ILLUS 1948 No.3 - "The Living Stamp". If anyone knows where a copy of this issue can be purchased, please let me know. I'd love to have a copy of it for my collection.

Until next time...