Monday, January 31, 2011

This is becoming worse and worse

A preliminary warning before you read further: I’m in a bad mood! I’m in a bad mood against the French postal administration because of the experience I made last Saturday. Let me tell you the whole story.

On Saturday I decided to go to a post office to buy some stamps for my philatelic contacts in China and India. I needed the “Year of the rabbit” souvenir sheet and the “Marie Curie” stamps that I showed you in some previous posts. I decided to go to a big post office to be sure I would find what I needed. This post office has a desk with a “Philately” sign in front of it. First when I entered the post office I was surprised by the huge number of machines available to frank your mails with the standard labels. There were also a lot of people around the machines. I went to the “philately” desk and asked the clerk for the souvenir sheet “Year of the rabbit”. The clerk looked at me asking “what is it?”. I was a bit surprised and I told him that I wanted the stamps issued for the Chine New Year. Then, to my big surprise, he answered “Ha! Stamps. We don’t have any!”. You can imagine that my surprise was even bigger. Then I told him “but why is it written “Philately” in this case” and he answered to me very seriously “I don’t know”. I went out of the post office quite upset and it reminded me instantly of another experience I had end of December in Marseille where I tried to buy some stamps in one of the biggest post offices of Marseille (which is not a small city…) and I was answered that “they do not have any special stamps, only definitive ones”.

So this is becoming a reality: it is more and more difficult to buy stamps in a post office in France, even in Paris!

Last year (or was it two years ago?) the French postal administration has published a charter where it was explained that four categories of stamps would be defined:

  • the definitive stamps

  • the stamps used to “write letters”

  • the commemorative stamps issued for collectors

  • the personalized stamps

The third category is easy to identify since stamps are marked with a Greek letter “Phi”. So you see, according to the French postal administration, there are stamps that are issued only for collectors and not to pay for a postal service! Now I understand what happened to me. The “Year of the rabbit” stamp belongs to this category, so I should not be surprised not to find it in a post office!

In a previous article I explained that the French Post does nothing to encourage people using stamps on their mail. This is even worse than what I thought…

I finally found what I was looking for. For this I went to the new shop opened by the French Post in Paris called “Le carré d’encre”. This is a very nice shop, I must admit, people there were very nice and I had quite a nice time there. But this is not a post office!

The good thing is that I could find there some FDC and maximum cards for my friends. Let me share them with you before I send them to my contacts.

The nice lady who took care of me also gave me a sort of “happy new year ” card from Phil@post (the company in charge of producing stamps). This is a gummed sheet with perforations reading “Happy new Year 2011”, the 0 of 2011 being presented as a sort of circular stamp. Here it is.

She also gave me a calendar presenting the stamps to be issued over the year. Inside the calendar you can get information about the stamps to be issued and a picture of almost all of them (not all). Here is the recto and the verso of the calendar.

So at the end I was happy to have found all what I needed and even more. And I learned a lesson: I will not try to buy stamps from a post office anymore!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A cover from Germany

Yesterday I got my fist letter fully franked with stamps issued in 2011. This is a letter from Germany that I got from a cover circuit club. It bears two stamps issued by the German postal administration on the 3rd of January. Here it is.

The stamp on the right side is entitled “gliding over the water peak” (Segelflug auf der Wasserkuppe).
The Wasserkuppe (water peak in German) is a high plateau, the highest peak in the Rhön mountains located in the state of Hesse in Germany. In 1911, students from a nearby university began flying gliders from the Wasserkuppe, marking the beginning of an increasing interest in flying gliders in Germany and specifically in this area. Started in 1920 an annual competition became in 1930 an international event drawing pilots from all over Europe and even USA. The world's first glider pilot school was founded in the area. In 1970 a museum was opened with Neil Armstrong as a guest of honour at the ceremony.
The stamp pays tribute to these pioneers that marked the beginning of the Golden Age of Aviation.

The other stamp is part of a series related to German painters. The stamp is dedicated to Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840), a 19th century German Romantic landscape painter who is among the most important artists of his generation. The stamp pictures a painting from 1818 entitled "Wanderer above the sea of fog" that is very typical of his work.

I would like also to mention the very neat postmark. It is clear that the postal clerk took care to nicely cancel the stamps. The cancel is at the right place, and the orientation is good so that you can easily read it.
I recently wrote a post where I complained about the number and quality of new stamp issues, but I could also have written something about postmarks. In France this is more and more difficult to get a clean cancellation even on a (obviously) philatelic mail. If you drop the letter into a mail box, it will get an automatic cancellation that often gives an awful result. If you give your letter to a postal clerk, he/she will often refuse to cancel it manually and will ask you to put it in the mail box of the post office and it will get the same ugly automatic cancellation. Sometimes it may happen that the clerk will accept and put a manual cancel, but the letter will get a second ugly one when going through the system! This is even worse.
The only solution I found so far is to give my cover to a specific philatelic desk (there is one in the Louvre Post Office, located near the Louvre museum). This is the only way I found to make sure the cancellation will respect the stamps on the cover.
I’m interested to get some feedback from you, my readers, on this subject. How does it happen in your country? Can you get satisfying cancellation on your mail?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Last stamp issues from France for January

To continue keeping you informed about stamps issued by my country, here is the last issues for January.

First a booklet of twelve stamps picturing tissues from all over the world.

The stamps are auto-adhesive and picture various tissues from Peru, Egypt, Ivory coast, Polynesia, Morocco, China, India, Japan, Italy and France (at last!). Here is a zoom on the stamps (scan comes from the very good website Phila echange).

As you see this is really not a very typical subject for France and I'm not sure we really needed twelve stamps on such a subject!

The last stamp is for me more interesting. It will be issued on the 28th of January and is recess-printed. It commemorates the international year of chemistry and pictures somebody I admire, Marie Curie.

I think I don't need to tell you who Marie Curie was. When I was younger, when I was a student, I was studying physics and chemistry and I wanted to become the new Pierre Curie (Marie's husband). This was only a dream that never came to reality as you understand!
You also understood that I like this stamp and I will be happy to use it on my mail. 0.87 euro corresponds to the rate of a letter from France to countries outside Europe.

Marie Curie has already been honored on stamps from France: in 1938 on a stamp where she is pictured with her husband and in 1967 on a stamp commemorating the 100th anniversray of her birth.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A registered letter from Portugal

I’m back from London, back in Paris and back to work and I think 2011 will be as busy for me as 2010 was! Anyway…

For today I have selected a registered cover I have received from Portugal at the end of last year. This is a rather large cover that one of my contacts used to send me some philatelic material for my frog stamp collection. But he used some interesting stamps on the cover so I decided to share it with you.

As you see he first used a full souvenir sheet bearing a stamp with a high face value, 2 euro. This souvenir sheet is part of a set issued on the 30th of April 2010 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the botanic garden of Madeira. The sheet picture a note view of a part of the garden. The two stamps on the right belong to the same set that contains four stamps in total. Each stamp picture a view of the garden and an endemic flower from Madeira. Here is the full set.

For the specialists the flowers that are pictured on the stamps are:

- the Madeira Giant Bellflower (Musschia aurea)

- the Madeira cranesbill (Geranium maderense)

- the canary buttercup (Ranunculus cortusifolius)

- the Madeira morning glory (Convolvuls massonii)

As you can see all the stamps are inscribed “Madeira” because they are actually issues from Madeira Island, not from Portugal mainland. Since 1980 stamps issued by Madeira are valid for postage in Portugal mainland and vice versa.

Just to be complete, the full set contains another souvenir sheet.

To be noticed also the cross in the perforation of the stamps, a security measure that becomes common now on stamps from Portugal.

The last stamp of the cover is part of another interesting set. It was issued on the 16th of October 2007 to celebrate the Royal Hunting Reserve of Mafra. This reserve was created by king João V as a leisure park for the royal family, between 1744 and 1748.

It was the ideal space for the Court to hunt, with woods occupying almost all the area. It is now a protected natural reserve with a rich fauna as seem to show the set of stamp. The set contains six stamps and one souvenir sheet.

On those stamps you can see the following species: Fallow deer (Cervus dama), Wild boar (Sus sorofa), Red fox (Vulpus vulpus), Red deer (CErvus elaphus), Eurasian Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo) and Bonellis’eagle (Hieraaetus fasciatus).

I think that all those stamps are particularly nice, don’t you thing so? The set on the Mafra reserve is really impressive, isn’t it?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Year of the rabbit… and more

Next Monday the French postal administration will issue its usual souvenir sheet celebrating the Chinese New year. As you know 2011 is the year of the rabbit.

The souvenir sheet will contain five stamps and will use a similar design than the issues of the previous years.

I rather appreciate this issue; I like the design of the stamps and of the souvenir sheet.

On the same day will be issued a single stamp to celebrate a first in the domain of public transports: the first tram-train, i.e. the first train that transforms into a tram when it reaches the city. This first realization is located in Mulhouse, a city located in the east of France.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


I’m currently spending a week of holidays in London. The weather is rather wet and windy but I’m really having a nice time. I love London.

Yesterday, on the 11th of January 2011, Royal Mail has issued a set of stamps that particularly triggered by interest. The set contains six stamps and a mini sheet of four additional stamps and commemorates the 50th anniversary of the series from Gerry Anderson. These series were in fact elaborated puppet shows that were first shown on TV during the 60’s. These types of production were baptized by their author as “supermarionation”. I was a big fan of one of these when I was a young kid (and by the way I still am ;-) ).

The stamps pictures scene from the following series (in chronological order):

- Supercar (broadcasted in 1961-1962 on British TV)

- Fireball x25 (1962-1963)

- Stingray (1964-1965)

- Thunderbirds (1965-1966)

- Captain scarlet (1967-1968)

- Joe 90 (1968-1969)

“Thunderbirds” is probably the most famous one and this is the one I know very well because it has been broadcasted several times on French TV. The principle of each series was the same, using puppets looking like real human and special effects. The puppets have evolved the time of the series and have become more and more sophisticated. Some of the puppets were inspired from actual actors like Sean Connery!

“Thunderbirds” is the subject of the mini sheet that represents also a first for Royal mail.

It is not visible on the picture but the stamps of the mini sheets are using the now famous lenticular process, meaning that they are “moving” stamps. When you move the sheet, you can see the each vehicule moving, you can even see the earth rotating in the background of the sheet. The idea was to re-create the 5-4-3-2-1 opening sequence of the show that you for sure know if you have seen the series on TV. You can not forget it!

I read on some British newspaper that this set was already highly debated among stamp collectors. Did we really need ten stamps for such a topic? Also 2011 is the 50th anniversary of Supercar which is the less famous shows. May be that this set could have waited… The “moving” effect of the mini sheet seems to be appreciated anyway and I must admit that this is the most accomplished one that I have seen using this effect.

The presentation pack sold by Royal Mail contains some explanation on how the lenticular effect is done (they call it “motionstamps”).

Monday, January 10, 2011

History of France (I)

As an echo to my previous post I would like to show you today some old French stamps that I like. Not so old in fact as they belong to my 1966 stamps collection (1966 being the year of my birth ;-) ).

In 1966, the French postal administration initiated a new series of stamps. This series spanned from 1966 to 1973, three stamps being issued every year on the theme of the History of France. At the beginning the stamps pictured famous people in French History, but then some stamps were more dedicated to events rather than people.
The stamps were designed and engraved by the famous French engraver Albert Decaris. They are large stamps that I really like both because of their design and because of their subject. I have already shown one of the stamp of the 1966 set, I show it again below. I will try to write a post for each of the issues within this series, so that you can have a glimpse at the French History.

The first stamps of the series pay tribute to three important men, one leader and two kings, in early French History, when France was not the France we know today.

The first stamp is dedicated to Vercingetorix. Vercingetorix was born around 80 BC and died in 46 BC. He was the chieftain of the Arverni tribe and came to power in 52 BC when he raised an army, uniting all the various tribes of Gaul (Gaul was the name of the country that will become France), in a revolt against the Roman forces of Julius Caesar during the last phases of the Gallic wars.
After having defeated Caser during the battle of Gergovia, he was defeated at the battle of Alesia. According to the legend the Vercingetorix surrounded in a dramatic fashion to Caesar, riding his beautiful horse out of Alesia and around Caesar’s camp before dismounting in from of Caesar, stripping himself of his armor and sitting down at his opponent’s feet. He was paraded in 46 through Rome as part of Caesar’s triumph before being executed.
The origin of his name is rather disputed but the common agreement is that it means “the king of great warriors”. His actual appearance is not really known. But he represents a very famous character of this period of History for French people. Alesia, even though it represents a defeat in front of the Roman army, is very famous in French culture and has given its name to a street and a place in Paris, which are located very near where I leave. The exact location of the city of Alesia where the battle took place is not really well known and several places in France claim being the location of the battle.
The stamp represents Vercingetorix ridding his horse in front of the city of Gergovia where he won against the Roman troops.

The second stamp is the one I already showed on my blog in a previous post. It pictures the baptism of Clovis I in 496. Clovis (466-511) was the first king of the Franks to unite all the Frankish tribes under one ruler. His baptism is a very important milestone in French History, Clovis being the first catholic king to rule over Gaul. His baptism took place in a small church near the site of the actual Cathedral of Reims where most future Kings of France would be crowned.
The stamp pictures Clovis being baptized by Saint Remy, the bishop of Reims. The same scene has been pictured on another French stamp in 1996 for the 1500th anniversary of the event.

The last stamp is dedicated to another important ruler of France in the early history: Charlemagne.
Charlemagne (742-814) was the king of Franks from 768 and the Emperor of the Romans from 800 until his death. He expanded the Frankish kingdom into an empire that incorporated much of the Western and Central Europe. Due to this he is sometimes presented at the father of Europe.
Charlemagne is known (among a lot of other things) to have develop scholarship during his reign. In the popular culture he is sometimes referred as the one who invented school (legend reused in a song that was very popular in the 60’s) but this is of course not true. School existed much before but Charlemagne did a lot for its development. This is why the stamp pictures him in a school.
Another legend is that he had a long white beard; he is even called the emperor with the “flowered beard”. Even though it is difficult to know what he really looked like, it seems he had no facial hair. The long white beard used to represent him (as on the stamp by the way) is symbol for his wisdom (wise mean are always wearing long white beards, aren’t they?).

What do you think of these stamps? I really like them. They picture famous people in French History; they have a very nice design. It must have been a pleasure to receive mails with such stamps on the cover. Don’t you think so?

In some future posts I will show you the other stamps of the same series that are as nice as those ones.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

First stamp issue from France in 2011

One of my good resolutions for 2011 is to update my blog more often than what I did in 2010. Let’s hope that I will get the free time needed for this. One of the other good resolutions is to speak a bit more about stamps issued by my own country. Therefore I will try, as much as possible, to tell you about all the new issues from the French postal administration. I will also try to take some time to write about older issues.
The French post will issue the first stamps of 2011 on the 10th of January. This issue will be part of the now usual “hearts” series. As each year, two heart-shaped stamps and a souvenir sheet will be issued, all being created by a famous fashion designer.
For 2011, this is Maurizio Galante who has been chosen. He is an Italian designer born in 1963. The stamps he has designed are rather simple but very colorful.
The particularity of those stamps is that they call for modification as shown in the margin of the stamps!
The 0.58€ stamp is named “color me”. People are invited to use pencils to color the stamp.

This stamp is also issued in the form of a souvenir sheet with five copies of the stamp.

The second one is named “engrave your initials” and invites people to engrave in the middle of the stamp their initials and the ones of their lover, as sometimes done on the trunk of a tree. Isn’t it cute?

Personally I’m not a big fan of this issue. First of all I think that the “hearts” series lasts to long. It was nice and surprising the first time we got heart-shaped stamps, now this is becoming to much a habit. And I think this specific issue is a bit a “gadget”. Ok that would be cool if such issue attracts more people and make them use stamps on their mail instead of labels. But to reach this goal, people first need to be aware of this issue. As I said in one of my previous posts: except philatelists, who are really informed about the stamps issued by their own country?

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

My second cover from Tanzania

Africa is a continent from where I rarely get mails (except from Algeria and Egypt, may be). So I was very happy when recently I received my second letter from Tanzania. I already shared with you the first one I got . Here is now the second one.
Apart from the fact that both covers were sent from Dar Es Salam and from the same sender, they share an additional common point. They are franked with stamps belonging to the same set. The large stamp of this cover belongs to a set issued on the 15th of August 2008 and dedicated to Tanzania Marine Parks. The stamp on the cover pictures a lizard fish.
At the time of the first cover I had difficulties to find information about this set, but in the mean time I was able to learn more. Here is a complete picture of the set that contains a total of eleven stamps! Interestingly not all the stamps have the same format.

The cover is also franked with a block of four copies of the same stamp that was issued in 1991 and that pictures an African wood pigeon (Colum unicincta, also commonly called Afep pigean).

Monday, January 03, 2011

The future of our hobby ?

Over the two festive weekends I had the opportunity to think a lot about our hobby and to worry about its future. All this thinking was triggered by a xmas gift. Not one I received but one I gave.

A couple of friends have had a baby, a cute little girl, a bit more than six months ago. I had the opportunity to share the xmas meal with them, and I decided to offer to the little girl (among other things) the book of the 2010 stamps issued by the French postal administration.

This is a book that contains a copy of all stamps issued during the year, together with a lot of information around the subject of the stamps. I don't know if the litle girl will be one day interested in stamps, but if she is, I am sure she will be happy to have the stamps issued on the year of her birth. A long time investment you see ;-) I was very interested by the reaction of the parents. They were very surprised by the huge number of stamps issued in the year. And they were also surprised because they had not seen any of these stamps before. It confirmed me the idea that, nowadays, the French post is issuing stamps that are known and used only by the philatelists. Then I thought: when is the last time you received a letter franked with a stamp (even a definitive one) and not coming from a philatelist? The answer frightened me!

Then I even thought that may be, in ten years from now, when this little girl is old enough to understand what a stamp is, then may be stamps will not exist anymore! It reminded me the time when a colleague from Romania looked extremely surprised when I explained to her that I needed her help to translate the legend of a stamp of ny collection: there are still people collecting stamps? Was the question she asked!

When you think about all this you start to worry about the future of stamps and the future of our hobby. Because this is not specific to France. You can read everywhere philatelists from all over world, complaining about the increasing number of stamp issues, the decreasing quality of these issues, the fact that they are more and more issued only for collectors, the fact that their postal administration do not encourage people using stamps on their mail, the fact that some postal clerks are destroying nice stamps by cancelling them with a pen... I'm sure it rings a bell in your head,

So as the start of a new year is also the opportunity to build a list of good resolutions I decided to build my list of philatelic good resolutions:
- I will not frank my mail with something else than a nice stamp, if possible engraved and recess-printed (I must admit that sometimes I used labels (ATM) instead of stamps… this will not happen anymore)
- I will do all I can to promote philately by participating actively to youth programs organized by the association I belong to
- I will sort out the mess at home among my stamps accumulated over the years in order to use them to trigger interests of other people on philately
- I will update this blog as often as possible (at least three times a week would be great, daily would be a dream)
- I will do whatever is possible to share my passion about stamps and I will show that I’m proud to be a stamp collector
This is a small stone in the big edifice, I know…