Friday, 26 May 2017

I Muse... On a Cormorant Issue

That deflated feeling that comes from discovering a stamp you need to complete a collection is way beyond your price range. It is an awful feeling, trying to come to terms with the very real possibility that you may never be able to acquire a particular stamp, and therefore, always have a blank space in your album. This situation, in my view, can be even more heartbreaking when you have chosen a collection that you have - albeit wrongly - assumed could be completed over time while working within tight budgetary constraints.

So how do you deal with such a conundrum? This is a question I am now wrestling with, so I thought musing about it may help bring some clarity. My current dilemma arose a few days ago while I was looking through my new Stanley Gibbons France Catalogue. I had turned to the Monaco section of the catalogue to have a look at the newest issues. As I was flicking through my eye caught a particularly nice diamond style set of airmail stamps issued in 1955, SG 508-11a. When I stopped to have a look I discovered that the set of four was designed by Pierre Gandon, and Gandon engraved three of the four. My excitement over finding this gorgeous set was, however, short-lived! The instant I spotted the catalogue value of the highest value in the set, my heart sank. £500. Yes, you read right. £500!

Here is the offending stamp - SG 511. 1000f Cormorants. 

It is a truly beautiful stamp, but alas, at £500 this stamp is totally out of reach. Now I know what you're thinking. Catalogue value doesn't truly reflect current market value. So with that in mind, I went online and had a look. Before I go any further I have to say that I have never spent more than $50 AUS on a stamp. Not because I didn't want to, but simply haven't had the means to do so. This is not a woe-is-me speech. Just a statement of fact. With this known, you will understand then why the online prices of this stamp are still beyond reach...for the time-being anyway! The average online price for this issue is $95-105 AUS.

But it is not all doom and gloom. There is a small ray of light at the end of the very narrow tunnel. There is the possibility of a used example appearing on the market. So far I haven't found one markedly cheaper than a mint example. But who knows what the future will hold?

There is one other option. This stamp when issued in 1955 was perforated 11. In 1957 the stamp was reprinted with perforation 13. The latter example has a lower catalogue value of £150, which means a distinctly lower market price. Indeed, I have found an example that, with a little saving, is right at the top end of my budget. This will allow me to have an example of Gandon's engraving, but it will not fill the 1955 space in my album. But I have been asking myself, does this really matter, given the 1955 issue is so darn expensive?  Probably not. But I'm sure I'm not alone when I say, "I don't like blank spaces!"  Anyway, enough rambling.

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...

Monday, 22 May 2017

Monaco 1975 - Carmen: Act IV

They say variety is the spice of life! So to make the month of May nice and spicy I have dedicated the entire month to the four stamp 1975 Monaco series celebrating the 100th anniversary of the opera Carmen. The set was issued on 13 May and it was designed and engraved by Albert Decaris. Since Carmen is in four acts and each of these acts has been illustrated with its own stamp, each week's blog has been a "one act wonder" so to speak. This week it is time for Act IV. The finale! If you wish to review any or all of the story so far, here are the links to each Act of the opera. Act I. Act II. Act III.

As I have mentioned in the previous three blogs dedicated to this opera, Carmen is a tale of seduction, passion, infidelity, jealousy and murder. It was first performed at the Opéra-Comique in Paris on 3 March 1875. It was considered quite scandalous for its time! 


Act III ended with José heading back down to the town after having been convinced that his mother is ill and needs him. But before he leaves he tries to prevent Carmen from rushing off into the arms of Escamillo. Let's see how that panned out!


The lights come on. We are in the square in front of the bull-fighting arena at Seville, Spain c. 1920. It is the day of the bull-fighting contest.

The square is jam-packed with people. Merchants are crying their wares. Gypsies are performing for the crowds. It's party-time! The attention soon focuses on the two friends of Carmen, Frasquia and Mercédès. They are talking to the soldier, Zuniga (he is the guy José has had a couple of entanglements with). They tell him that Carmen is now with Escamillo.

Then the bull-fighters arrive and the crowd goes wild. Carmen is indeed with Escamillo. They openly express their love in front of the crowd. Carmen cries out that she has never loved anyone as much as Escamillo.

As Escamillo goes into the arena surrounded by screaming fans, Frasquita pulls Carmen aside and warns her that José is somewhere in the crowd. Carmen looks at her and blows her off. She turns, about to enter the arena, when José appears and grabs her. He is desperate. She tries to pull away but he begs her to stay with him. He says that they can move away and have a new life together. If only she will love him back. She pauses, perhaps considering the request. But then she tells him quite bluntly that she does not love him at all. 

Suddenly cheers erupt from the arena in the background. Carmen desperately wants to go in, but José, relentless, won't let her. He begs her yet one more time. This time Carmen replies with a scornful rebuke. José becomes incensed. Then, as the crowds in the arena are chanting the name "Escamillo" José pulls out a knife and plunges it into Carmen's heart (I am assuming heart!). As Carmen drops to the ground dead, a chorus of the "Toreador Song" can be heard in the background.

José kneels over the body of Carmen, declaring his guilt over her murder, as the crowds pour out of the arena. We are then left to ponder the fate of José. Is he punished by the law for his deed? Does Escamillo take revenge on the killer of his lover? Or does José flee to live out the rest of his life in guilt-ridden torment? 


Time to reveal the Act IV - and final - stamp!

What a beautiful stamp! In he foreground we see Carmen and Escamillo in a lovers' embrace. While off to the right, we see José staring them down, perhaps plotting some way of winning back the love of Carmen? Just check out the engraved detail of Carmen's dress. Not to mention the gorgeously-rendered bull-fighting arena in the background. Just...Wow!

So, there you have it. The four Acts of Carmen and the corresponding stamps. What an amazing set! Bravo, Albert Decaris! A superlative polyptych piece of art. Which stamp was your favourite? I really can't decide...

Until next time...

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Monaco 1961 - Vintage Cars

Men in their driving coats, stout gloves, caps with goggles, and crisp, white scarves. Women in their fur-lined coats and jaunty hats. Shiny automobiles, their brass fittings gleaming in the sun, their gas lamps primed, the spoked wheels and leather seats polished. This was the dawn of the age of the automobile. A golden age of beautifully constructed machines. Rolling works of art.


On 13 June 1961 Monaco issued a charming set of 14 stamps celebrating the beauty of the antique automobile. Two of the stamps in this set were engraved by Pierre Gandon. The 10c and 30c values. These two stamps will be the focus of this blog.

The 10c value depicts an 1899 Panard-Levassor. The AL model.

The company known as Panhard et Levassor, was a French car manufacturer, established by René Panhard and Émile Levassor in 1887. They sold their first automobile in 1890, a vehicle based on a Daimler design. For more on the evolution of the Panard Motor Company, click HERE.

By 1891 they began incorporating their own features to the vehicles. In fact, their designs set the groundwork for many modern standards. They were the first to incorporate a clutch pedal to operate a chain-driven gearbox. Their deign was also the first to feature a front-mounted radiator. It is also believed that the 1895 Panhard et Levassor included the first modern transmission. And if this ere not enough technical innovation. The automobile Panhard et Levassor entered into the 1894 Paris–Rouen Rally came equipped with a steering wheel, This is believed to be one of the earliest uses of this apparatus. 

A French Magazine, dated 6 Aug 1894, advertising the Paris-Rouen race...


The 30c value depicts a 1901 FN Herstal.

The Fabrique Nationale d'Herstal (National Factory of Herstal), is a firearms manufacturer, located in Herstal, Belgium. The company is usually identified by the name: FN Herstal, or simply FN. The company was originally established in 1889 to manufacture 150,000 Mauser Model 89 rifles ordered by the Belgian Government. In 1899 FN Herstal also began manufacturing automobiles.

The very first FN automobile was in the style of the horse-drawn dog cart, which was commonly used by sport shooters. It had a twin-cylinder engine with a chain-drive, and a two-speed gearbox. The company continued to sell this style of automobile through to 1906. By 1939 the company stopped making automobiles.

Until next time...

Monday, 15 May 2017

Monaco 1975 - Carmen: Act III

Carmen is an opera that involves seduction, passion, infidelity, jealousy and murder. It was first performed at the Opéra-Comique in Paris on 3 March 1875. It was considered quite scandalous for its time, and the reviews and audience reactions were far from positive. In fact, the opera was more popular overseas. and it wasn't revived in Paris until 1883, eight years after its initial release.


On 13 May 1975 Monaco issued a set of four stamps to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the premiere of the opera, Carmen. This beautiful set of stamps was designed and engraved by Albert Decaris. Each stamp represents one of the four Acts of the opera. In the last couple of blogs we were introduced to Carmen with an in-depth look at Act I and Act II of the opera and their related stamps. Click HERE to read about Act I. And HERE for Act II.


Act II ended with Carmen, José, and a couple of smugglers fleeing the Inn together to get away from the senior officer with whom José had just fought. So what will happen to the runaways...?


The lights come on. We are deep in the wilds of the mountains near Seville, Spain c. 1920. It is night time.

Carmen, a couple of her friends, José, and the smugglers are travelling further into the mountains. At some point during the journey, Carmen has become bored with the company of José. Hoping to be rid of him she starts taunting him and telling him to go back to the village. But he knows he can't. After fighting a superior officer, he would be charged immediately.

They find a spot to hide. Carmen's friends, Frasquita and Mercédès, pull out a set of fortune-telling cards to kill some time. Carmen joins them, they read her fortune. Carmen is stunned when they tell her that the cards foresee hers and José's deaths. Watching the women, the smugglers get an idea. They decide to take the women down into the town to the customs officials and have them use their feminine charms on them in order to move their contraband. They leave José there alone with the stash.

Not long after, José's sweetheart, Micaela (who we met in Act I), comes into the mountains. She spots José before he sees her. She is about to approach him when she hears him fire his gun. She hides behind some rocks, thinking he might be shooting at her. But she soon finds out that he actually is shooting at a man approaching. The man resolves from the shadows. It is Escamillo, the toreador. José, recognising the toreador, relaxes his guard and the two start chatting. 

However, the atmosphere soon becomes tense when Escamillo starts talking about a woman he has fallen for, a woman named, Carmen. And worse still Escamillo says that she seems infatuated with some common soldier. He has no idea the soldier is José! Enraged, José challenges him to a knife fight. But Escamillo merely defends himself and doesn't fight back. Now José is really annoyed! He comes at the bullfighter again. Escamillo manages to get the better of him, but lets him go. He says he fights bulls not men! José attacks him for a third time. This time Escamillo's knife breaks. José has a chance...

...but then Carmen reappears with the smugglers. Escamillo takes the opportunity to leave. But before he does, he invites Carmen and the smugglers to his next bullfight in Seville. As Escamillo departs, Micaela is spotted hiding in the rocks. She comes out and begs José to return home with her as his mother is very sick. Carmen mocks him, telling him to run along home. After some more begging by Micaela, José agrees to go, but he promises Carmen he will return to her.

As José starts to walk off, the voice of Escamillo singing the toreador song can be heard. Carmen's eyes light up and she makes to dash off to find him. But José turns around and stops her from leaving...


Time for the Act III stamp.

In this lovely engraving Decaris has decided to capture the moment when Micaela starts begging José to return home with her. Micaela's dress has been picked out n stunning green. And the sash around José's waist is also green, illustrating their connection. 

In this image we can clearly see José's reluctance to leave with Micaela by his posture. And to the left we see Carmen, standing there, mocking him. If you look closely you see the rose José gave her between her breasts. Perhaps taunting José. Again, a splendid composition!

Until next time... 

Thursday, 11 May 2017

France 1945 - Marianne de Gandon

Dubious past associations can sometimes come back to haunt a person and affect the rest of their life whether they be innocent or guilty. But sometimes unforeseen circumstances can extinguish one's past, giving them a chance to start over.

In late 1944, after Paris had been liberated from the Nazis, the leader of Free France, Charles de Gaulle, returned to France from his exile in England. He quickly set up a provisional Government. One of the things he wanted to do as soon as possible was to have a new France definitive stamp issued, a stamp that would reflect the country's fierce patriotism and pride. He wanted a new Marianne design. Consequently, a contest for the design of the new definitive was launched.

Meanwhile, the stamp engraver, Pierre Gandon, had been considered by Charles de Gaulle's new Government as a Nazi collaborator by continuing to work for the Vichy Regime. They offered as proof his role in the creation of Vichy "propaganda" stamps, namely the Tricolour Legion stamps, issued 12 October 1942. Click HERE to view my blog on this stamp set. Whatever the case, as a result of this alleged collaboration, Gandon was blacklisted and his name was removed from the French Post Office's engraver list.

However, and this is where the story gets interesting, Gandon had actually already submitted a potential design for the new France definitive. And when Charles de Gaulle reviewed all the potential designs, one design in particular stood out. Without knowing who the designer was, Charles de Gaulle chose Pierre Gandon's design! One can only imagine the conundrum de Gaulle faced when he discovered who the winning designer was. It seems that his love for the design outweighed all else, and Gandon was allowed to work on the engraving. This proved to be a superb choice! What resulted was one of the finest definitives ever produced. The Marianne de Gandon.


It was decided early on in the production of the Pierre Gandon's Marianne design that the stamps would be issued in three versions. A version printed in typography, which was a relatively cheap method of stamp production, was for internal use. This design was engraved by Henri Cortot. And two versions, for overseas mail, printed in intaglio: a small format and a large format. Both iintaglio versions were engraved by Gandon.

On 15 February 1945 France issued two Marianne de Gandon stamps. The first of these was the 4f blue, printed in intaglio. It was designed and engraved by Gandon. It is a truly stunning stamp.

The other stamp issued on 15 February was the 1.50f pink, printed in typography. This printing method produced far less attractive results.


Four further values were printed in the small format intaglio type. The 20f green on 4 March.


On 15 March two values were issued. 10f blue and 25f orange.


On 15 May the last of the small format intaglio stamps was issued. 15f  lilac-pink.


On 12 March 1945 the first large format Marianne de Gandon was issued. The 50f brown-red. In my opinion this format is also the best! 


Three further values were issued in this large format. The 100f carmine on 12 March.


The 20f green on 14 March.


The 25f violet on 16 May.


This gorgeous design portrays Marianne wearing a Phrygian cap and staring off to the right (perhaps to the future) with her head slightly raised. This elegant design encapsulates freedom, pride, and strength. To create this beautiful design, Gandon used his own wife, Raymonde, as the model. What a charming way to immortalise your life partner.


So which format is your favourite? And for that matter, do you have a colour preference?

Until next time...

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Monaco 1975 - Carmen: Act II

Carmen is an opera that involves seduction, passion, infidelity, jealousy and murder. It was first performed at the Opéra-Comique in Paris on 3 March 1875. It was considered quite scandalous for its time, and the reviews and audience reactions were far from positive. In fact, the opera was more popular overseas. and it wasn't revived in Paris until 1883, eight years after its initial release.

An Early Carmen Poster

On 13 May 1975 Monaco issued a set of four stamps to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the premiere of the opera, Carmen. This beautiful set of stamps was designed and engraved by Albert Decaris. Each stamp represents one of the four Acts of the opera. In last week's blog we were introduced to Carmen with an in-depth look at Act I and the first stamp in the set. Click HERE to read about Act I.


Act I ended with Carmen tricking a soldier named, José Morales, to let her go after she had attacked a workmate with a knife. So what next? Let the curtain rise for...


The lights come on. We are in an Inn owned by Lillas Pastia, in Seville, Spain c.1820. Two months have elapsed since the events of Act I.

Carmen is partying at the Inn with some friends and entertaining the soldiers present. One of the soldiers is Zuniga, the officer who arrested Carmen in Act I for wielding the knife. He approaches Carmen and tells her that José has just been released from his two month imprisonment for letting her go. She is delighted at this news! Probably because she starts thinking how she can further manipulate the poor guy.

Suddenly there is noise outside as a procession approaches, announcing the arrival of the toreador, Escamillo. Toreador's were like rock-stars back then. Escamillo enters and announces himself with the "Toreador Song". He grabs a drink and makes a toast: Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre! Then he sees Carmen and makes a beeline for her. But Carmen ignores him.

Then the owner of the Inn, Lillas Pastia, gets rid of the crowds and the soldiers. Only Carmen and her two friends remain. They are chatting, when two shady-looking characters enter. These guys are smugglers. They tell Carmen and her friends that they want to get rid of some contraband they just got their hands on. Carmen isn't interested, but her two friends are. Carmen is only interested in seeing José again. The smugglers give up and leave.

A short time later, José turns up. Carmen immediately launches into a private exotic dance just for him. Je vais danser en votre honneur (I will dance in your honour). But Carmen's intimate dance is rudely interrupted by the bugle call from the soldier barracks. José turns to leave, which angers Carmen. She obviously thinks he doesn't really like her after all. But José produces the rose that Carmen had thrown at his feet in Act I. This romantic act is seemingly not enough to impress Carmen. She mocks him, and tells him that the only way she will possibly believe him is if he runs away with her, abandoning his military post. José flatly refuses. He doesn't want to desert.

He is about to leave and return to the barracks when his officer, Zuniga, returns. Zuniga obviously has the wrong idea, thinking that José is planning to run away with Carmen. The two men fight. During the fight, the smugglers return and separate the pair. Unfortunately, José has now dug himself a grave by assaulting a superior officer. He now has no choice but to flee the scene with Carmen and go into hiding. They quickly leave the Inn with the two smugglers...


Now it is time to reveal the stamp for Act II.

This lovely stamp, with its sumptuous use of deep red, draws us into the Inn of Lillas Pastia. The main focus of the design is Escamillo, the toreador, singing to Carmen and her friends. He is in red. Decaris has placed bull heads in the top corners of the design to remind us of Escamillo's bull-fighting prowess. These are also in red. In the background to the left we see another figure in red. This is José. Lurking, waiting to enter the scene. Much like the toreador was lurking off to the side in the first stamp. Decaris' use of red to highlight the central themes of the Act is a stroke of genius.


The attention to detail in this stamp is incredible. Especially striking are the women's costumes.

Until next time...

Thursday, 4 May 2017

France 1945 - Liberation

It began on 19 August 1944. The Liberation of Paris. Also called the Battle for Paris. This was a time of sweeping change in World War II. The D-Day landing had been a success. The allies were pushing further and further into France, gradually removing Nazi German occupation from strategic locations. Charles de Gaulle, the leader of Free France and living in exile in England, had decided that now was the time to liberate Paris from Nazi German rule. The city had been under the rule of the Nazis since 22 June 1940 when the Second Compiègne Armistice was signed. It is interesting to note that Paris was not deemed a location of significant strategic importance by the allies. So its liberation was actually not a high priority. Charles de Gaulle disagreed, He stressed that France needed now more than ever a stable government, a government that controlled Paris.  
The French Forces of the Interior (FFI) had already begun to pave the way for the Liberation of Paris. Months earlier, Radiodiffusion nationale (French National Radio) had been put back into French hands, and broadcasts of the allied push through France had alerted the public in Paris of what was happening. Further, the FFI had begun placing posters throughout the city urging the population to fight. All citizens aged 18-50 were called on to arm themselves, to join "the struggle against the invader (the Germans)". Other posters promised that "victory is near!"

On 19 August the FFI (better known as the French Resistance) took action and staged an uprising in the city with the help of everyday Parisians. Their goal was to harass and inflict as much damage as they could on the German garrison until the arrival of the French and US Armies. On the 20 August the FFI had started erecting barricades using everything to hand, such as trucks, trees, and even street paving. The FFI managed, through a form of guerilla warfare, to capture German fuel trucks. And they commandeered civilian vehicles, painted them in camouflage, and marked them with the FFI emblem. They used these vehicles for transporting things such as ammunition from one barricade to another. They were also used as mobile gun platforms. This was quite an impressible ad hoc army!

By 22 August the fighting had hit a peak. And on the 23 August the Germans started massive retaliatory strikes, firing at street barricades with tanks, and they attacked the Grand palais, an FFI stronghold. Apparently, Hitler had given the garrison orders to inflict as much damage in the city as possible. Some 1,000 FFI fighters were killed during the battle for Paris, and another 1,500 wounded.   

On 24 August the big guns started rolling in to help the FFI. The first to arrive were elements of General Philippe Leclerc's 2nd French Armored Division (the Régiment de marche du Tchad). They arrived in Paris at the Hôtel de Ville shortly before midnight. Then the next morning, 25 August, the rest of the 2nd Armored Division along with the US 4th Infantry Division entered the city. These forces by far surpassed those of the German garrison. The Germans signed a surrender that very day at the Hôtel Meurice. Charles de Gualle then entered the city and immediately assumed control as head of the Provisional Government of the French Republic. Paris had been liberated! And by the end of September most of France had been liberated.


On 16 January 1945 France issued a stamp to celebrate the Liberation of France. This stamp was designed and engraved by Pierre Gandon. This was the first of many stamps issued with this theme.

If Gandon had previously been blamed for being a "so-called" supporter of the Vichy Regime with his Vichy propaganda stamps, this gorgeous stamp symbolising French hope, pride, and fierce patriotism surely earned him a clean slate or as they say a tabula rasa!

In this stamp we see France in the personification of a woman riding a winged horse over French Resistance fighters, spurring them to glorious victory. The horse, with its wings spread wide, is particularly spectacular in this composition. But one other thing I did find interesting was the depiction of the woman. Her face and the position of her head bear a strong resemblance to Gandon's Marianne, which would be issued a month later on 15 February. Perhaps the artist was offering the public a tantalising glimpse of their new definitive. Or perhaps this is just another product of my over-imaginative mind.

Until next time...

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Monaco 1975 - Carmen: Act I

A story of seduction, passion, infidelity, jealousy and murder. The essential ingredients of a good crime thriller. But what about an opera? Surely an opera with such themes would be scandalous! Well, such an opera does exist, and, yes. when first performed it was quite the scandal. This opera was Carmen.


Carmen is an opera presented in four acts. (I intend to replicate this four act structure for my Carmen blog series, but more on that later). The opera was composed by Georges Bizet, a French composer. The libretto of Carmen was written by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, The libretto is basically the text portion of an opera. The libretto for Carmen was based on a novella of the same title by Prosper Mérimée. 

Carmen was first performed at the Opéra-Comique in Paris on 3 March 1875. The reviews and audience reactions were far from positive. In fact, the opera was more popular overseas. and it wasn't revived in Paris until 1883, eight years after its initial release. 

Opening Night Poster

So what was this seemingly controversial opera about? The story is set in southern Spain, and it focuses on a young soldier by the name of José Moralès. At the beginning of the story José seems happy; he has a steady job, and he is sharing his life with his childhood sweetheart. That is until Carmen enters the picture. Carmen is a gypsy with fiery passions. She seduces José, who falls for her charms. Unfortunately like many love-struck young men in stories, he abandons his life to be with Carmen. But Carmen is just using him. She in turn abandons José and turns her attention to an attractive toreador, Escamillio. In a fit of jealous rage, José kills Carmen. If he can't have her love, no one can! Carmen's tragic death actually takes place on-stage. Slaying your main character is a risky strategy. Probably one of the main reasons for the lack-lustre reviews upon its premiere in 1875.  


On 13 May 1975 Monaco issued a set of four stamps to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the premiere of the opera, Carmen. This beautiful set of stamps was designed and engraved by Albert Decaris. Each stamp represents one of the four Acts of the opera. Since this set was issued in May and it now is May, I have decided to do something a little different this time around. Instead of showing all four gorgeous stamps at once, I am going to do them one Act at a time. That will amount to one Act each week for the month. So without further ado, let the curtain rise for...


The lights come on. We are in a square, in Seville, Spain c.1820. To the right, we can see a door to the tobacco factory.  To  the left, we see a guardhouse. And at the rear of the stage there is a bridge.

There is a small group of soldiers standing about, chatting with each other in the square, while waiting for the changing of the guard. A woman approaches, named Micaëla. She asks after José Moralès. They tell her he will arrive with the change of guard. She leaves, promising to return later. Then the new guard arrives, and with them José Moralès.

Shortly after this the cigarette factory bell rings, and a large group of young women emerge. One of the women is Carmen. She approaches the soldiers and starts singing L'amour est un oiseau rebelle (Love is a rebellious bird). A song designed to inflame their passions. Many of the men start begging to be her lover. José Moralès is not one of the men. But she chooses José Moralès by throwing a rose at his feet. He is annoyed with her and doesn't respond. If only he had stuck to his guns!

Then things start to heat up a bit. The women go back to the cigarette factory. Micaëla returns to find José. She gives him a letter and a kiss from his mother. He says, "Parle-moi de ma mère!" (Tell me about my mother). In the letter, his mother tells him to return home and marry Micaëla so they can live happily ever after. He is about to say yes...

When there is a sudden commotion at the cigarette factory. An officer emerges with a very angry Carmen. He tells José that she attacked another woman with a knife. Carmen cries out, "Coupe moi. Brûle-moi!" (Cut me. Burn me). José is ordered to bind her hands and take her to the prison. 

After everyone leaves, Carmen seizes the opportunity to sing to José about what it would be like to spend a passion-filled night with her, He is bewitched by her. Spellbound, he unties her bonds. Then she pushes him to the ground, throws her head back in laughter, and runs away. Poor José is then arrested for dereliction of duty.


Now we come to the stamp. Decaris has captured the theme of Act I beautifully. 

In the background we can make out the sets. The factory. The guardhouse. And the bridge. 

In the foreground we see Carmen flirting with José Moralès. She is smoking a cigarette to suggest of being a worker in the cigarette factory. And if we look closely we can see the rose in Carmen's mouth, ready to be thrown at José's feet. 

And despite the fact that the toreador has yet to enter the story, Decaris has decided to depict him off to the right, looming, yet to be engaged. But he is there. A reminder of the love triangle to come. 

Stay tuned for Act II next week!

Until then....