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Stamp News  May 2005

                              Woodchip-free Zone 

Le style Francais

Something of a stroll down memory lane for me this issue, and the first occasion on which I have featured covers from a foreign country. The article is prompted as a consequence of having recently sorted and classified our 15-year accumulation of French covers/stationery, amounting to about 8 to 9,000 items. A lot of French letters, indeed.


Our cover stock has largely been sourced from within Australasia, and unsurprisingly is mostly addressed to Australasian destinations. As I initially formed my overview of our accumulation, it occurred to me that the French stamps from locally produced world packets, so beloved during my youth, would have arrived on our shores looking not dissimilar to what I had before me. Fortunately, the packet-making entrepreneurs of yesteryear were unsuccessful in facilitating the ‘woodchipping’ of every cover which arrived, and I am able to present this month some of the survivors to Australié. This is particularly pleasing, for not only do I get to reminisce about the stamps typically available during my youth, I get to demonstrate my mastery of year 7 French.


The stamps of France are, as one would expect from the inimitable French, generally individualistic, and I could easily convince myself to start sideline collections of French stamps (I do have one; see under Figure 9), on commercial cover only, of course! I have selected some stamp issues which appeal to me, and it will be seen that such rather pleasant items, to my eye at least, need not burst the philatelic budget.


                          Figure 1.  The world’s first Art Deco stamps?


The 1924-25 series of  six stamps for the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative Arts, the event which ushered in Art Deco style, were arguably the first stamp designs in that style. Here we have the 75c in a pair registered at Amiens 2 Jul 1925 for the 75c surface rate to Australia plus 75c registration fee. Value : $100 (stamps off cover $10).


                        Figure 2.  1934 Radio ‘Hams’ bridge the tyranny of distance


The 1930s hi tech equivalent of today’s internet, the amateur radio, played its part in making the world a smaller and more accessible place. While I’m in reminiscing mode, I recall seeing some of these radios in the 1950s stored in cupboards and garages in the neighbourhood (we kids called them ‘crystal sets’?). No doubt there are still units around and perhaps some of our more senior readers may even have been participants in the practise all those years ago. The fellowship of radio ‘hams’, as participants were affectionately referred to as, sent postcards to one another providing details of their respective radio signal details to enable mutual communication via the medium. These are referred to as Q.S.L. cards and more usually took the form of postcards specially printed with the sender’s particulars. Figure 2 is unusual in being an adapted ‘Q.S.L. card’, made by uprating by 5fr 50 a 90c Stationery card for 6fr 40 rate to Australia by airmail via Netherlands Indies, and internally for Perth to Adelaide sector, then by rail to Sydney. Postcards sent by airmail pre-1945 in general are rather scarce, and this item is particularly desirable as very few came by that means from as far as Europe to Australia. Specialists would willingly pay around $400 for this (the stamps off card maybe $2), thereby perhaps creating an exception to my ‘burst the budget’ comment above.


                                        Figure 3.  A charming design magnified x4


The 1937 Paris International Exhibition produced a memorable 1fr 50 stamp (even the colour I find agreeable), appropriately as this was a propaganda issue for the surface rate to certain countries beyond France. The direct airmail rate to Australia by 1937 was 6fr thereby conveniently allowing a block of this lovely stamp to meet that rate on this 15 Jun 1937 cover to Melbourne. Value : $60 (block off cover $4).


                                      Figure 4.  A favourite stamp of Mr Max Stern?


‘Sports’ thematic stamps don’t come much better than this in my opinion. Capturing all of the action is this 1938 World Football Cup 1f 75, which made its way to Melbourne on 8 Jul 1938, paying the increased Foreign letter rate. Soccer was not a particularly popular sport in Australia prior to the postwar influx of Europeans, and that scarcity of enthusiasts may have contributed to this stamp remaining intact on original cover, rather than having been torn off and given to a devotee of the sport. Value : $80 (off cover $8). The above reference to Max Stern, a regular advertiser from its outset, and whose life story was recently serialised in Stamp News, is of course because Max is Australia’s oldest registered Soccer player, a remarkable achievement for one who is also a doyen of the gentle, noble pursuit of Philately.


                                      Figure 5.  This ‘Marianne’ knew no Robin Hood


The ‘Marianne’ series which commenced in 1945 produced 33 different stamps (more when the recess-prints and surcharges are included), and a colourful lot they are. One could form an attractive exhibit of the usage on commercial cover of this series alone. I have selected one of my favourites, the top denomination 100fr which was exclusively recess-printed. This is a stamp which doesn’t appear to have seen much use to Australia; another 100fr (airmail – see Figure 6) issued ten months later seems to have done most of the hard yards to our part of the world. Despite her hood this ‘Marianne’ probably knew no Robin, and here we have her with little sisters, a pair of 4fr bright violets, for this 19 Aug 1948 100fr second weight step (5-10gms) airmail rate to Australia plus postwar 8fr surcharge then in place. Value : $100 (stamps off cover $9).


                             Figure 6.  Mythology meets the ‘modern’ age


Airmail stamps of the world are a personal favourite, and the 1946-47 set of four produced by France is no exception. Plenty of the 40, 50 and 100fr (although not many of the 200fr) made their way to Australia servicing the postwar expansion of  the airmails. Not a lot survive on original cover and this 13 May 1949 use of the three lower denominations was for the 190fr third weight step (10-15gms) airmail rate to Australia. The initial rate was 80fr for the first 5gms and 55fr for each 5gms thereafter. Value : $90 (stamps off cover $3).


                             Figure 7. 1953, Haute couture arrives in Australia


The 1953-55 National Industries and Literary figures series produced some fine designs, including the delightful 30fr robed mannequin shown here in a pair (with ‘Marianne’ 10fr) uprating this 15 Oct 1953 metered cover by airmail to Sydney. The original franking was 90fr, the basic airmail rate, but upon arrival at the Post Office was found to be over 5gms necessitating the additional 70fr in stamps for the second weight step (5-10gms). Value : $20 (stamps off cover 80c).


          Figure 8.  From the design stable which produced “Concorde”?


Not a question which I can answer, but I can say that by 1960 the French franc was not what it was!  At the commencement of that year 100 (old) francs became 1 (new) franc. The airmail rate to Australia had risen steadily until by 1960 it reached 2fr 30. The ‘old’ franc stamps continued to be used-up alongside the new currency as seen in this 17 Feb 1961 item to Brisbane where a pair of the 300fr Air together with the ‘new’ 2fr met the 8fr (previously 800fr) fourth weight step (15-20gms) airmail rate to Australia. The basic airmail rate being 2fr 30 and each additional 5gms 1fr 90 (ie x3 for this item) give us the resultant 8fr rate. Value : $50 (stamps off cover $3).


                  Figure 9.  French impressionists visit Australia earlier than thought


One of the art highlights in Australia during 2004 was the ‘French Impressionists’ Exhibition staged at the National Gallery of Victoria. Visitors were struck by walls lined with treasures from the Musée d’Orsay, visiting Australia for the first time, although we Philatelists recognised that many of the works on show had in fact arrived in Australia as far back as 1961. It was in that year that France issued the first in the long-running ‘Art on stamps’ series, and one of the paintings featured in the inaugural set of four was Cezanne’s ‘The Cardplayers’, which was also present at the 2004 Exhibition. It was a particular thrill for me to see the original as I vividly recall the excitement the stamp series generated when it first appeared over forty years ago. I had not much earlier joined Brighton Philatelic Society, and saw the set for the first time on ‘Exchange sheets’ circulated one evening, although I was a bit short of the shillings required to take a set home. Things have improved since and I’m pleased to report that I now have the set in various configurations commercially used on cover! I love the series and enjoy a little sideline ‘nostalgia’ collection which I have put together. One of my 1fr ‘The Cardplayers’ is shown in Figure 9, replete with the token French chateau (and ‘Harvester’ 10c) for a 12 Jan 1962 airmail visit to Australia at the 1fr 40 airmail Printed matter (imprimé) rate. Value : $25 (stamps off cover $2.50). A good example of Philatelic ‘cheap and cheerful’ to finish off our French excursion.

Rod Perry has been a philatelic trader since 1962 and a regular Stamp News advertiser since the 1960s. He founded Rodney A Perry Auction Galleries (now Millennium Philatelic Auctions) in 1971. As a collector he has exhibited   nationally and internationally. Rod prefers his used stamps on cover and likens taking a stamp off its original cover to converting a tree to woodchips.