A is for Aden and Z is for Zanzabar

A is for Aden and Z is for Zanzibar... Now what is between? For the world wide classical era philatelist and stamp collector, a country specific philatelic survey is offered by the blog author, Jim Jackson, with two albums: Big Blue, aka Scott International Part 1 (checklists available), and Deep Blue, aka William Steiner's Stamp Album Web PDF pages. In addition, "Bud" offers commentary and a look at his completely filled Big Blue. Interested? So into the Blues...

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

French Colonies

1865 20c blue/bluish "Eagle and Crown" : Has gum on back
The 1887 official reprint had no gum on back, and the design was brighter
Quick History
"French Colonies" here strictly refers to the parts of the French Empire, the colonies, that did not have stamps of their own. For the stamp era we are concerned about, the use was between 1859-1906. Some of the possessions include Martinique, Guadeloupe, Cochin China, Mayotte, Nossi-Be, New Caledonia, Diego Suarez, Gabon, Malagasy (Madagascar), Reunion, Senegal, and Tahiti.

The stamps used were the "Eagle and  Crown" 1859-65, the "Napoleon III" and the "Ceres" 1871-72, the new designed/colored "Ceres" 1872-77, and the the "Peace and Commerce" (Type I & Type II) 1877-1880, all imperforate.

A perforated "Commerce" stamp, used exclusively for the colonies, and inscribed "COLONIES", was issued 1881-86. Many of these "Commerce" stamps were overprinted by the colonies during the 1880's and 1890's.

In 1892, France issued the perforated "Navigation & Commerce" series with the colonies name on the stamp. These stamps will be found under the specific colonies philatelic issues.

Common Postage Due stamps (imperforate) were issued for the colonies between 1884-1906. After 1906, all colonies used their own intended stamp issues.

The distinguishing feature of the Colony stamps were, prior to 1880, they were issued imperforate, while the French motherland version was (usually) perforated. The Postage dues (1884-1906) were also issued imperforate, while the french version was perforated.

Nevertheless, identifying Colony stamps is very difficult for certain issues, being virtually identical to a French version. The collector will look at imperforate vs perforate, or color (usually a poor determining factor, but read the next paragraph), or finding a postmark on a used stamp.  We will look into this problem in more depth shortly.

Addendum: One experienced collector reminded me that the French mainland issues date from 1849-1952, while the French Colonies issues were printed in 1871-1876. So, although the same plates were used, the color tints are quite different for the periods. Compare the colors of the possible French Colonies stamps with the mainland circa 1870+ perforated variety, and the color tints should be similar. A very good tip.

1873 1c olive green/pale blue "Ceres": Imperforated
The French version was issued perforated
Into the Deep Blue
Affordable collectability
The 2011 Scott Classic Specialized catalogue has, from 1859-1906,  58 major stamp descriptions for the 1849-1886  regular issues, and 22 for the Postage dues, for a total of 80 major stamp descriptions.
For the regular issues: 1849-1886: 27 stamps are  <$20; of those 6 are <$5.
For the postage dues: 1884-1906: 13 stamps are  <$5.
Total "inexpensive" stamps: 40
Affordability Index = 50%.

These "classic" colony stamps are fairly expensive, but not outrageously so. One gets what one pays for. ;-)

What about costs compared to the motherland French version?
Here is an example of the prices for a similar colony and French stamp.
(Note:  All of these stamps are illustrated elsewhere on this blog.)

1872 25c blue/bluish "Ceres" Colony imperforate stamp: $13
1871 25c blue/bluish "Ceres" French perforated stamp: $1.25
1849 25c light blue/bluish "Ceres" French imperforate stamp: $40 

 The 1871 perforated French "Ceres" is less expensive than the 1872  imperforated colony version.
Certainly, a closely cropped "imperforate" could actually be the French perforated stamp. So, one would want "no doubt" margins for the colony stamps in one's collection.

A larger worry is confusing the 1872 colony imperforate with the earlier 1849 French imperforate. Almost always, the French 1849-50 "Ceres" ( and the imperforate Napoleon III) stamps are more expensive than the colony imitation. So the concern here is finding a less expensive colony stamp placed among the more expensive imperforate French issues.

A closer at the stamps and issues

1887 40c orange/yellowish "Eagle and crown": No Gum
Probable official reprint from the 1859 issue
The 1859-65 imperforate "Eagle and Crown" colonies issue has one nice virtue: It cannot be confused with motherland French stamps, as it is a unique design. It is found in six denominations ranging from $8-$60 ($24-$110 mint) in catalogue value. Nice stamps. One fly in the ointment is there was an official reprint of these stamps ( and others) in 1887 that had no gum, and the colors and paper are brighter in design than the originals. Unfortunately, many of the earlier French colonies were issued originally without gum too, so not a great help. The reprints are valued @ $20 mint. So the above stamp, the 40c orange, could be either one as it has no gum. Since I do not have more material to compare, and I am not a french specialist, I will categorize it as a reprint- the cheapest choice- until I know more. OTOH, the 20c blue illustrated at the top of the blog has gum. So, that stamp could be an original issue, although clearly I would need more study to be certain.

1872 5c green/pale blue "Ceres" Imperforated
The corresponding French stamp, 1872 yellow green/ pale blue is perforated.
As mentioned, fortunately many of the French Colony issues can distinguished by being imperforate, compared to their French perforated dopplegänger. ( I know, I'm mixing a German word with a French topic ;-)  )

The 1872-77 eight stamp issue "Ceres", and the 1877-80 twenty-one stamp issue "Peace and Commerce" are all imperforate. That is the largest difference. Sometimes, color can be a clue,  if you noted Scott's color characterization for the 5c illustrated above. But caution is advised interpreting color as a sure sign of a stamp identification. Many shades exist. For instance, the above French 5c also is found in Scott 53a, green/pale blue: the exact color of the imperforated French Colony 5c illustrated above. :-)

1873 French Colony 1c olive green/pale blue "Ceres" imperforated
1870 1c olive green/pale blue "Ceres" perforated
The above illustration shows the same denomination French Colony and French stamp. Can you tell the difference, other than the obvious imperforated/perforated dichotomy? Good luck with that. ;-) Actually, the Maury catalogue will often parse the stamps further, depending on (small) engraving differences.

There is another clue: the postmark. The "GUA" postmark on the French colony stamp might very well be for Guadeloupe. So, always check  French colony stamps for postmarks.

1872 "French Colony" 25c blue/bluish "Ceres" imperforate
Can one be sure it is a French colony stamp?
O.K. This is where identification gets real hairy. There are some French colony stamps that are found also with a French imperforate stamp in a similar/same color. 

The similar imperforate stamps are:
1850 French Scott 1 10c bister/yellowish "Ceres" (shades exist) ($250+)
1871 French colony Scott 9 10c bister/yellowish "Ceres"  ($120+)

1849 French Scott 4a 20c blue/bluish "Ceres" ($2000+)
1871 French colony Scott 11 20c blue/bluish "Ceres" ($120+)

1850 French Scott 6a 25c blue/bluish "Ceres" ($40)
1872 French colony Scott 12 25c blue/bluish ($10+)

1850 French Scott 7 40c orange/yellowish (Type I) "Ceres" ($450+)
1871 French colony Scott 14 40c orange/yellowish (Type I) "Ceres" ($10+)

1854 French Scott 13 5c green/greenish (Type II) "Napoleon III" ($85)
1972 French colony Scott 8 5c yellow green/greenish "Napoleon III" ($400+)

A couple of comments....
A) Note the French stamps are worth more except for the 5c "Napoleon III" French colony.
B) The difference in price means inadvertent or "on purpose" switching of stamps is a real possibility.
C) Obviously, identification of the postmark-location, date,- would be nice.
D) Scott gives no help; suggests getting an expert opinion.
E) I would think the Maury catalogue would be helpful. But I only have the French catalogue; not one that covers the French colony stamps here detailed. And my French is marginal. ;-)
F) Note: I do not include the Bordeaux issues here, because they can be differentiated. Those issues were lithographic, while the others are typographic. And the lines in the neck on the Bordeaux ( rather than points) is diagnostic. 

1872 "French Colony" 25c blue/bluish imperforate
1871 French 25c blue/bluish perforated
The model for the imperforate 25c French colony stamp would be found in the 1870-73 French perforated issue. The colors might match, and the stamps can be examined for similarities. BTW, Maury breaks down the French 25c perforate into three types, depending on the shape of the X's (fleurons) in the corner boxes. Perhaps the French colony stamps have similar types?

1872  Scott 12 "French Colonies" 25c blue/bluish "Ceres" imperforate
1849 French 25c light blue/bluish "Ceres" imperforate
Here is a direct comparison between a French colony 25c and the 1849 French 25c. The colors don't match, but not in the way that Scott describes them. The French colony 25c comes in "blue" according to Scott, but Maury also lists a "dull blue" which appears more likely. Then Scott has either "light blue" or "blue" as the colors for the 1849 French 25c, but Maury lists a "dark blue" which here looks right. So much for relying on shades in Scott. ;-)

So is there a difference? There has to be, otherwise they would be the same issue*. ;-)  Yes, I see a difference here, a difference there, but I don't really know what to look for. So, as a non specialist, without the appropriate information or catalogue, I am presently stuck. C'est la vie

*Note: I've been told that the same plates were used, so in fact they are the same issue. Perhaps there is a difference in a worn plate or a re-touch that a specialist can determine? Otherwise, one would have to rely on a postmark, or possibly a change in color.

Moving on, I don't have examples of the 1877-80  21 stamp ( Type I & Type II) French colony "Peace and Commerce" issue. They range in price from $5+-$75, with an outlier at $270+. The Type I & Type II variations were discussed in the 1849-1900 French blog. The basic difference is that the French colony stamps are imperforate.

1881 French Colony 4c claret/lavender "Commerce": issued perforated
The 1881-86 fourteen stamp perforated "Commerce" issue was issued only for the French colonies, so no identification problems here. ;-)  Eight of the stamps are $5 or less. As mentioned earlier, many of these "Commerce" stamps were overprinted by the colonies during the 1880's and 1890's.

1881 French Colonies 25c yellow/straw "Commerce"
Postmarks-both names and dates- can be helpful to track down the French colony origin. This stamp might be from St. Pierre & Miquelon, which would increase the valuation from $5+ to $40+. :-)

1892 1c black/blue & 2c brown/buff  "Navigation and Commerce"
Finally, the regular generic "French colonies" issues came to an end with the French possession inscribed  "Navigation and Commerce" stamps in 1892.

1884 French Colony Postage Due 1c black imperforated
1882 French Postage Die 1c black perforated
Although the regular issues for generic "French Colonies" ended in 1892, the postage due stamps began in 1884, and continued until 1906. There are two series: the 1884-85 fourteen stamp "black" issue, and the 1894-1906 eight stamp "colored" issue. The stamps are fairly inexpensive, with thirteen stamps <$5. The key to French colony postage dues? They are identical to the French stamps, but imperforated.

Deep Blue
Deep Blue has four pages with all Scott major numbers having a space. A show and tell will give you an idea....

1881-86 French Colonies "Commerce" issue in Deep Blue
Big Blue provides seven spaces for this issue (1c-15c,25c black/rose ) with the most expensive stamp @$5+. Deep Blue has a space for all fourteen stamps in the issue. Big Blue does not give a space for the 25c yellow/straw @$3+. The rest of the issue is valued @ $18-$60. One must admit, if one is particularly deep in coverage for an issue, it is nice to have a space for them.
Advantage Deep Blue if "deep" in an issue.
Advantage Big Blue if not.

Postage Due French Colonies (Imperforate) in Deep Blue
Big Blue provides seven spaces for the two postage due issues (1884-85, 1894-1906). Deep Blue has spaces for all twenty-two stamps on one page. Filling up the designated spaces in Big Blue, there is no room for four of the 1894-1906 issue with valuations @ $1+.
Advantage Deep Blue

1881 1fr bronze green/straw "Commerce"
Big Blue
Big Blue '69, on one half page, has 20 stamp spaces for regular (14) and postage due (6). The "Eagle and  Crown" 1859-65 issue has Scott 3 &4  10c & 20c ($8-$13+). In addition, the Scott 5 40c ($13+), and a blank space (Scott 2 5c?-$15+) have spaces also. The 1872 imperforate "Ceres" has the Scott 16 1c ($10+), Scott 19 5c ($9+); and Scott 12 25c blue/bluish "Napoleon III"($10+). The 25c blue needs to be differentiated from the French 1849 25c blue imperforate.

Then the 1881-86 "Commerce" stamps have seven spaces.

Finally the postage due section has seven spaces: Four for the 1884-85 issue, and three for either issue.

In summary, BB has a representative selection, with no stamp more than $15+.

Simple Checklist




Postage Due

A) ( ) around a number indicates a suggested choice for a blank space.

B) Expensive stamps ($10 threshold) include:

1859-65 Imperforate “Eagle and crown”
Scott 4 20c blue/bluish $10+
Scott 5 40c orange/yellowish  $10+

(Scott 2) 5c yellow green/greenish $10+

Scott 16 1c olive green/pale blue “Ceres”$10+
Scott 12 25c blue/bluish “Ceres” $10+

1894 Postage Due 50c lilac: Imperforate
Issued in seven different colors for each denomination
The French version is perforated
Out of the Blue 
Interesting and tricky. Recall, that the French Colonials discussed here only come imperforate, and are found for the 1849-1880 regular, and all the postage dues. This feature often determines a French colonial stamp. Watch for postmarks and dates for identification. Good luck with the identical? same color imperforate French colony and imperforate French stamps. ;-)

French Colonies - Bud's Big Blue

I would like to hear from you!


  1. Hello,

    I am a collector of theses issues, and some stamps you are showing could interrest me. Are you willing to sell it ? :)

    You can contact me at guillaume [ at ] pauron [dot] com


  2. Hello Guillaume

    I am a collector just like you- not a dealer. Thanks you for your inquiry though.

  3. I'm confused. So, what's the difference between a France 53b and a French Colonies 19? Both are Ceres 5 c. imperforate. France is yellow green on blue. The colonies is green on blue. Is the difference in shade particularly reliable in the Scott catalogue for identifying one versus the other?

  4. They are not the same in color, - which might be helpful- but I don't consider that "reliable". ;-)

    Another factor though....

    The France 53b imperforate 5c yellow green/pale blue is catalogue $325, while the French Colonies 19 5c green/pale blue unused is CV $17.50. So, much more likely a stamp is French Colonies.

    I recommend collecting the French colony stamps "used" with a discernible colony postmark for those stamps that can be confused with French ones. And "French" ones should also have a reliable postmark for France. ( But beware of postmark forgeries turning an inexpensive French colony stamp into an expensive French stamp.)

    Yes, a can of worms... ;-)


    1. Russ- The French J23 1 fr is black, but perforated. counterfeits exist. If imperforated, a counterfeit?

      French Colonies J12 1 fr imperforate is brown.

  6. I've been studying old French stamps and as we know some could be used in France or used in a coloney. Identification by color IF you have an unused copy not suject ed to years of light. Identification by color is possible, however stamps who have been "around" this don't work. I found if you have a dotted cancel of any type and can read the number that helps. Generally numbers from 1 to 3700 are mainland cancells. Numbers 3800 to 5000 could be either and numbers above 5000 are colonies. Lastly the small size numbers are older than the large ones.this is the only shortcut I found. Kind regards