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...

Friday, December 23, 2011

France 1900-1940

1935 1.50fr deep rose "Cardinal Richelieu"
Tercentenary of founding of the French Academy
Quick History
The end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century was marked by the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris and the construction of the Eiffel tower, which, although not intended to remain, has become France's iconic landmark.

Construction of the Eiffel tower in Paris 1888
This Belle Époque was a  period  known for the cabaret, the cinema, Impressionism and Art Nouveau. 

Beginning in 1900,  French stamps expressed universal human egalitarian ideals, represented by the Blanc issue (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity), the Mouchon issue (The Rights of Man), and the Merson issue (Liberty and Peace). These designs on 24 stamps persisted until 1929.

The Sower (La Semeuse), throwing the seeds at sunrise over the land, representing liberty, became the iconic philatelic symbol of the third French Republic for much of the early 20th century. The issue, some 50 stamps, began in 1903 and lasted until 1938. 

During this stamp period, of course, WWI was fought with the Western Front largely in France. The fatalities for the French were 1.4 million.

After WWI, the Treaty of Versailles had the French occupy the German industrial Saar region. The German African colonies were divided between France and Britain. Alsace-Lorraine ( lost following defeat in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870) was returned. All of these historical changes of territory should be familiar to world wide stamp collectors.

During the 1930's with Hitler's rise to power in Germany, France had little appetite for confrontation. France tried to guarantee the peace, following the policy (along with Britain), of appeasement. Liaisons were strengthened. If one pays particular attention, one will note stamp issues in the late 1930's that hail the bond between France and the United States, and France and Britain.

But finally, war was declared by France and Britain after Germany's invasion of Poland. But the Blitzkreig conquered Poland after a few weeks, and the attention fell on France. With ten million civilians fleeing south and west, France was surrendered to Nazi Germany on June 24, 1940. Then, Nazi Germany occupied three fifths of France with the Vichy government in charge of the rest.

We will end the story there.

1937 1.50fr dark blue "Skiing"
International Ski Meet at Chamonix-Mont Blanc
Into the Deep Blue
This blog will review the regular French stamp issues between 1900-1940. The next blog will discuss the Semi-Postals, Air Post, Postage Due, and French Offices Overseas issues.

Affordable collectability
The 2011 Scott Classic Specialized catalogue has, from 1900-1940 for regular issues, 284 major stamp descriptions.
1900-1940: 243 stamps: <$5 ; of those 149 are <$1.
Therefore, total "inexpensive" stamps: 243; "Cheap" stamps are 149
Affordability Index = 85%.  "Cheap" Index= 52%.

Naturally, since we are only looking at the 20th century, and France has a lot of inexpensive definitive stamps, the affordability values look quite good.

I was struck, though, by how relatively expensive ($1+-$5) the 1930+ commemorative stamps were, even in used condition. Compare that to the minimum value ( 20 cents) many 1930 U.S. commemorative have in the catalogue. 

As I alluded, France has many definitive stamps, which generally are not very expensive. France was also late in the game issuing commemorative stamps: the 1924 issue for the Olympic Games in Paris being the first. 

A closer look at the stamps and issues

1900-29 1c gray "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity"
Blanc issue
Allegory....an image that contains a symbolic meaning. The French definitives are rich with ideas and meaning in an allegorical sense. No portraits of Kings or Queens for them.

The Blanc issue, as it is known, is a seven stamp production during the years 1900-29.

1900-29 15c orange "The Rights of Man"
1902 15c pale red (redesigned)
Mouchon issue
This 10 stamp issue ( 5 redesigned in 1902) continues the theme of, well, the Rights of Man. ;-)

1927 3fr bright violet & rose "Liberty and peace"
Merson issue
The Merson issue, a 12 stamp production from 1900-29, and representing the higher denominations, was printed in two colors as illustrated above.

The three proceeding issues ( Blanc, Mouchon, Merson) are presented in straightforward fashion by Scott. But Maury, over nine pages, breaks them down into many subtypes and variations. A specialists delight.

1926 75c rose lilac "Sower"
The "lined sowers" were produced  between 1903-1938
In 1903, a new seventeen stamp definitive series was initiated. These became known as the 'lined sowers", and were produced over a period of 35 years. Notice the early sunrise as the seeds of liberty are sown. What an absolutely captivating image.

1906 10c red "Sower"
The only stamp that has this specific illustration
In 1906, this 10c red stamp was issued with a unique image. None of the other 49 Sower stamps have it.
Good- you got it. ;-)

1907 5c green "Sower"
This design is known as the "cameo sowers", issued 1906-37
The "cameo sowers" became the other major design. Thirty two stamps were issued in this series.

1933  Scott 156 1c olive bistre & 1936 Scott 156a 1c bistre brown
Scott recognizes some color shades, and this is one of them. As one would expect, Maury has many more. This might be a good time to face a truth: Scott only scratches the surface with the Sower definitives. Maury has eleven pages for the sowers, and there are many engraving subtleties to be found.

1907 10c red type II & 1906 10c red type I
Note the "POSTES" inscription and numerals are thinner in type I
Scott does recognize two types of the 10c red, 10c green, and 35c violet cameo sowers. As noted above, the type I has a thinner "postes" inscription and numerals.

1926 35c violet type II & 1906 35c violet type I
Again the "postes" inscription and numerals are thinner in type I. Note the significant different shades of these stamps!

Page from Deep Blue of the Cameo Sowers
Finally, here is a view of the Cameo Sower issue. Impressive, No?

1923-26 "Louis Pasteur"
The Sower series continued to 1937, but there was also a 12 stamp definitive series featuring the great French biologist  Louis Pasteur. So some reason, I'm not as taken with this series.  Perhaps because I like the allegorical designs of the other definitives better.

1931 Scott 248 3fr bluish slate "Reims Cathedral"
Die IV
The 1929-32 issue consisting of the 3fr "Reims Cathedral" (4 dies), 5fr "Mont Saint Michel" (2 dies), 10fr "Port of La Rochelle" (3 dies), and 20fr "Pont du Gard, Nimes" (3 dies) all were issued with multiple Die variations. Scott details the differences. The"second story" leftmost turret (facing the front) has a "window" with three vertical lines-two heavy longer lines on other side of a thinner shorter line. Enlarge the stamp and find the area. That defines Die IV. The other three dies all only have two lines for the window, missing the thinner shorter line.

1932-39 90c dark red "Peace with Olive branch"
A new definitive series was begun in 1932, although "the sower" series continued. Note the "Peace with Olive branch" motif. I can't help but think this was part of the peace at (almost) any price -or appeasement strategy- attempted by France-and Britain- with their belligerent German neighbor.

1932-39 "Peace with Olive branch" issue
This really is a lovely and poignant series. Clearly, though, the sentiment and offer was not not heeded, as France soon was plunged into war.

1939 2c slate green "Mercury"
1938-42 definitives
Then, on the eve of WWII, France produced the "Mercury" definitives, an image from roman mythology. Outstanding. 

1938-42 "Mercury"
This seventeen stamp issue, produced on the cusp of WWII, demonstrates that the French engravers were still at a superb level. Wow! :-)

1939 90c black brown "Porte Chaussee, Verdun"
I mentioned earlier that the French commemoratives did not really begin until the 1924 Paris Olympic games. But the French made up for the late start with well designed and themed commemorative issues through the rest of this time period. Take a close look at the above issue, as well as the other commemorative illustrations in this blog, and see if you don't agree. :-)

Deep Blue
Naturally, Deep Blue provides a space for all the major Scott stamp numbers. Essentially, Deep Blue follows the Scott format almost exactly, so quite easy to put the stamps into the album.

Deep Blue does break out the minor number thin numerals variety ( 10c and 35c ) Cameo Sower stamps. 
Also, Deep Blue has the option of adding pages (stamp spaces) for the gray poor quality paper varieties issued from 1916-20 during WWI.  These are known as G.C. (Grande Consommation) varieties, and given minor numbers in Scott.

Since Scott now has the Parcel Post issues listed, Deep Blue has the option of adding those pages.

Clearly, if one was following carefully the French Maury catalogue  for the Sower issues, Deep Blue (as it follows Scott) would have a truncated layout. The difference in engraving details of this long lived issue as presented by Maury is stunning.  ;-)

1939 2.25fr Prussian blue "Self-portrait"
Paul Cézanne, painter
Big Blue
Big Blue '69, on 6 1/2 pages, has 234 stamp spaces for the 1900-1940 regular issues. Coverage is 82%.

More specifically, reviewing the lined and cameo sower definitive stamps of 1903-38, there are 47 spaces.
The issue consists of 50 stamp descriptions. Coverage is 94%. Essentially Scott 162b,163a, and 175b, the thin numeral varieties of the 10 red, 10c green and the 35c violet are not included.

The good news is Big Blue has nice coverage. But not including a space for the thin numerals also demonstrates Big Blue's limits.

Simple Checklist


Next Page





161,162 or 162b, 163 or 163a, 164,165,166,167,168,
169,170,171,172,173,174,175 or 175b, 176,

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251 or 251A or 252

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247 or 247A or 247B or 248, 255

249 or 250, 253 or 254 or 254A,




Next Page



296,297,299,300 or 300a or 300b


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324,325,326 or 326a, 330 or 331,

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A) Expensive stamps ($10 Threshold) include:

Scott 126 2fr gray violet & yellow "Liberty and Peace" $75
Scott 131 10fr green & red "Liberty and Peace" $10+

Scott 135 20c brown violet "Rights of Man" $10+
Scott 137 30c lilac "Rights of Man" $10+

Scott 183 1.40fr cerise "The Sower" $20+

294 1.50fr ultramarine "Dove and olive Branch" $10+

Scott 349 1.75fr dark ultramarine "Soccer players" $10+

1936 1.50 ultramarine "Allegory of Exposition"
1937 Paris Exposition
Out of the Blue
The French- their stamp production is done...

...with élan

Image appear to be in the public domain.

France - Bud's Big Blue

If you enjoyed this blog, I would like to hear from you!


  1. Indeed the Sowers have many shades. I find stamps of France and it's former colonies have a artistic precision about them. Some of the engraving types have so much going on. Some are getting really hard to find.

  2. Agree with your comments. France and colonies are quite rewarding with the remarkable French designs.

  3. Absolutely. Even though I am totally anti colonial so to speak most of their stamps have the character of that country. I call it their Bastille sensibilities. Also being a republic they don't have to suffer the interference of a royalty head. Just my personal opinion. In that context I also thnk some of the Portuguese are interesting also.

  4. Good thoughts as they agree with my sentiments. :-)

  5. "I can't help but think this was part of the peace at (almost) any price -or appeasement strategy- attempted by France-and Britain- with their belligerent German neighbor." There was no such strategy - the British and French spent much of the '30s trying to fool the Germans into thinking they wanted peace. Then, finally, once the Poles engineered the Danzig crisis, they got what they wanted all along - war.

  6. A little late.
    The Sower "Semeuse" was forged for postal purposes shortly after their issue, a fact not well known by collectors. As some were produced in very large quantities many found their way into "old" collections. The rogue's gallery can be found here.

    1. Thanks Ron for that information. I didn't know!