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...

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...

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, 22 February 2017

France 1942 - Imperial Fortnight

The purpose of propaganda was to promote a cause, often political, by the use of biased or untrue information. This technique, by its very nature, was the perfect tool for use during times of war.

In 1942 the Vichy government in France used the propaganda tool in an attempt to foster support for the empire, the control of which had been on the decline since the armistice with Germany in 1940. This came in the form of the "Imperial Fortnight", which took place between 15-31 May. 
" the depths of her tragic misfortune, France turns to her Empire, looking for comfort and consolation, and most of all for a reason to be proud and to believe in the nation." (Blanchard, 2013, p308)
The primary aims of the Imperial Fortnight were to highlight the important part the colonies would play in the rebuilding of France. Indeed, Marshal Petain illustrates this in a brochure put out by the Secretary General of Information and Propaganda, which emphasized that it was thanks to the colonies that... 
"...the wounded homeland was able to regrow." (Blanchard)
Further, the Fortnight urged young people to consider living in the colonies to strengthen industry and to build relations with those outside mother France.

In order to spread the word during the Imperial Fortnight stands were set up in cities illustrating the value of retaining the colonies. In fact, France had used this form of propaganda before in colonial fairs. In these fairs people were actually brought to France from the colonies. They were then placed on display behind roped-off areas performing so-called everyday activities to...
"...create the atmosphere of a "real" native village." (Ginio, 2006, p18)
An Imperial Fortnight propaganda train also toured the country, packed with brochures, images, and other information illustrating what life was like in the wonderful colonies. 

While researching this topic I was also surprised and horrified to discover that propaganda stalls were set up in various prisoners of war camps detaining French soldiers!


On 18 May 1942 the Vichy government had a semi-postal stamp issued specifically for the Imperial Fortnight. The 8f 50 surcharge went straight to the Fortnight Commitee. This stamp was designed and engraved by Pierre Gandon.

This stamp design juxtaposes the simple colonial life with the benefits of industry, which is looming on the horizon. The mother and child in the foreground has been beautifully engraved. One almost wonders if the child, gazing at the approaching industry, is afraid for what their future may hold. An interesting stamp despite the blatant propaganda.

Until next time...



Blanchard, P., (2013), Colonial Culture in France since the Revolution, Indiana University Press.

Ginio, R., (2006), French Colonialism Unmasked: The Vichy Years in French West Africa, University of Nebraska Press.