Friday 21 July 2017

France 1947 - Abbey of Sainte-Foy

Torture, theft, and pilgrims. What do these seemingly disparate deeds have in common? For the answer we need to travel to the Occitanie region in southern France. Here you will find the lovely little village of Conques. A village nestled among rolling hills and crisscrossed with narrow medieval roads. And perhaps most importantly the Abbey of Sainte-Foy.  

It all started in the 8th century. Fleeing from the Saracens in Spain, their lives in the balance, a small group of monks found a safe haven in Conques, and there built themselves an oratory.  Thus the Abbey was born. But what is an abbey without holy relics to worship? After two failed attempts to secure some desperately needed relics, the abbey authorities sent a lone monk on a holy quest to the ancient St. Faith's Church, in Sélestat. His mission: to acquire the relics St. Foy. 

According to the story, St. Foy (or St. Faith) was a young woman from Aquitaine, who was arrested during persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire. Apparently she refused to make pagan sacrifices. The Romans even employed torture in order to force her to perform said sacrifices, but no dice. Consequently, St Foy was tortured to death with a red-hot brazier. Not a pleasant concept to envisage.

But back to the story of our intrepid undercover monk. Unfortunately for him his mission was somewhat trickier than what he had probably hoped. Believe or not, it took him nearly ten years to manage to get himself close enough to the relics in order to steal, then deliver them to the abbey in Conques. As a result of this brave, albeit somewhat dubious deed, the abbey became known as the Abbey of Sainte-Foy.

Over time the abbey became more popular as it was now a regular stopping point on a well-used pilgrim trail. Increased traffic to the church demanded a larger structure to accommodate more pilgrims. In the 11th century the original church was destroyed and a much larger building erected in its place. Significant additions were made to the abbey in the 12th century, further adding to its mystique. Today, visitors to the village can walk along narrow streets lined with gorgeous medieval buildings. I'd suggest doing a google image search of 'Conques'. I did, and fell in love!  


On 18 September 1947 France issued a stamp featuring the Abbey of Sainte-Foy. The stamp was designed and engraved by Pierre Gandon.

This is a stunning design which really captures quaint, almost fairy tale, quality of this beautiful French town. Je l'adore!

Until next time...

Wednesday 12 July 2017

I Muse... On a Mystery Solved!

Last week I tracked the journey of a lovely cover I recently purchased bearing a stamp engraved by Pierre Gandon. Click HERE to check it out. The cover bears a lot of intriguing cancels. Luckily I was able to identify all but one of the cancels.

At the time that I wrote the blog, this cancel had me stumped. I managed to work out that "Centre de Tri" is a French mail sorting centre. But the name of the sorting centre I couldn't work out. Yesterday, with the help of a stamp buddy, I had another crack at it. As often happens after having a bit of a break from the dilemma, we solved this one in a matter of moments!

The mysterious cancel, as it turns out, isn't so mysterious after all. It is a cancel for the Orly Mail Sorting Centre at the Orly Airport in Paris, France. Before the opening of the Charles de Gaul Airport in 1974, Orly was the main airport in Paris.

Of course, however, a particular cancel cannot be definitely identified without another full example for comparison. thankfully my stamp buddy's search came up trumps, and I have my proof!

It's always a good feeling when a little mystery gets solved!

Until next time...

Thursday 6 July 2017

I Muse... On An Intriguing Journey

I am continually fascinated by the amazing stories a postal cover can tell us, its route, the places it passes through, and even the times of arrival and departure from said places. And of course the stamps affixed to the cover can also tell a story. Recently I purchased a cover that, in my opinion, has a fantastic tale to tell. Let's listen closely to see what it has to say...

Before the full cover is revealed, first, let's consider the stamps affixed to the cover. 

On the left we have a stamp featuring an Morane-Saulnier MS 760 light aircraft. This stamp was issued 11 January 1960 as part of a four stamp Airmail series. The stamp was designed and engraved by Pierre Gandon. Incidentally, this is the second printing of this stamp. It was first issued 16 February 1969, bearing a value of 300f (old francs). The stamp on the right features the Isle of Gosier, Guadeloupe. It has a face value of 1f and was issued on 22 June 1970. This lovely stamp was designed and engraved by Pierre Béquet.  These two stamps give the cover a total face value of 4f.


Now we can reveal the entire cover!

A beauty, isn't it! Immediately apparent from the front of the cover is that it was sent express, which probably accounts for the high franking of 4f, and that it was sent to two different locations. But more on that in a moment. From the two cancels tying the stamps to the cover, we see that it was posted on 17 August 1971 from La Faloise, Somme at 4pm. Interestingly, one of the stamps on this cover is over ten years old! Perhaps pulled from an old horde?


Now we can turn our attention to the reverse of the cover in order to decipher the journey it took.

According to the cancels, the cover's first trip took place between 17-18 August. It left Somme at 4pm and arrived at Paris Gare du Nord at 8pm. Later that night it then left Paris Gare du Nord at 11:30pm. Its next destination was Rueil-Malmaison (Ile de la Cite, Paris) on the 18 August at 6am. The map below gives an idea of its journey.

Then something happened. Either the person was no longer at that address or they wanted the letter sent on. Whatever the case, the cover was again checked in at Rueil-Malmaison post office and was on its way again at 4:45pm that same afternoon.

Now the cover takes a much longer journey, all the way to 74 Boulevard Chanard, Quiberon, where it arrives on the 20 August at 7pm. See the map below.


Interestingly, the cover seems to have had a short stopover at a sorting centre. Unfortunately I am unable to work out where the sorting centre is. If anyone out there has any idea where the below sorting centre is located, I'd love to hear from you.

Wow! What a journey. This is precisely why I love covers so much.

Until next time...

Friday 16 June 2017

France 1949 - Franco-American Alliance

It all started in 1776 when a young colony rebelled against its motherland in an attempt to smash the shackles of bondage. This colony called upon the aid of France to assist in their struggles for independence. In 1778, France and the new United States signed a treaty of alliance. With foreign aid this colony eventually won their war for independence in 1783. You may have heard the name of this colony once or twice. It now goes by the name: United States of America. This alliance solidified relations between the two nations, and except for two occasions in 1798 and 1942 they managed to maintain fairly peaceful relations. Indeed, in 1884 France gifted America with the stunningly beautiful Statue of Liberty as a symbol of friendship.

For the sake of brevity, we can skip forward to a little over one hundred years later. It is 1949. World War II is thankfully over. And after some rocky relations since the end of the war, the two nations of France and the USA have became formal allies as part of the North Atlantic Treaty. From this treaty was formed the NATO military alliance. But it was not all smooth sailing between the two nations. The Suez Crisis in 1956, for instance, caused a substantial amount of friction between the two countries. In the end, however, the two countries have maintained a reasonable relationship. Indeed, over the years the young people of France have embraced many cultural aspects of the US. Whether the bombardment of US culture on other nations is a good thing or a bad thing is not really for me to say - at least not here! 

This is, of course, an astoundingly brief summary of historical events from 1766 to the present. To go further would require a ridiculously long blog. To read more on the history of the relationship between France and the USA click HERE


On 14 May 1949 France issued a stamp to celebrate the formal alliance between France and USA. The stamp was engraved by Pierre Gandon.

This elegant design represents the allied nations as shields bearing their respective flags. Between the shield is worked a cross-hatch pattern to represent the weaving together of two countries via trade and travel. This concept is furthered by the illustration of a plane, top centre, and a transatlantic ship, lower centre. Altogether this is a solid design with a dramatic visual punch.

Until next time...

Saturday 10 June 2017

France 1949 - CITT in Paris

On 15 June 1949 the ITU (International Telecommunication Union) met in Paris for a major telecommunications conference called the CITT (Conference International Télégraphique et Téléphonique). This conference focused on things like the normalisation of international telegrams, radio-telegrams, and transport tariffs. The conference lasted nineteen days, concluding on 3 July 1949.


On 13 June 1949 France issued a set of five stamps for the occasion of the CITT in Paris. The highest value in this set, the 100f value, was designed and engraved by Pierre Gandon. This amazing stamp features the Pont Alexandre III with the Petit Palais in the background.


The main focus of this truly stunning stamp, as mentioned above, is Pont Alexandre III. Work began on this bridge in 1897 under the guidance of the engineers Jean Resal and Amédée Alby. Designed by Cassien-Bernard and Gaston Cousin, was a symbol of Franco - Russian friendship, which was established by the alliance between Emperor Alexander III of Russia and the President of the French Republic, Sadi Carnot, in 1891. This alliance was solidified when Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, Empress Alexandra Fedorovna, and President Felix Faure laid the first stone of the bridge on 7 October 1896. When completed, the bridge was inaugurated for the Universal Exhibition of Paris in 1900.

The detail Gandon has incorporated into the engraving of the bridge is incredible. Here's a close-up.


In the background we can the Petit Palais, which was purpose built for the Universal Exhibition of Paris in 1900. The building was designed by Charles Girault, who won the competition for the privilege of undertaking the design. Construction began on 10 October 1897 and the building was completed in April 1900. The total cost of the Petit Palais at the time of the construction was £400,000.

Only one side of the Petit Palais is fully visible in the stamp, the rest being mostly covered by trees, but what can be seen, its domed roofs, its stunning facade, are spectacular. Here's a look...


I think what captures my imagination most, however, is the details of the tiny door found to the left of the bridge. I love it. The exquisite detail. The mystery of what may be behind that door...

Until next time...