France were early pioneers of aviation, powered flight and airmail services. It is therefore somewhat surprising that it was not until 1927, that France issued its first airmail stamps (Poste Aerienne). That inaugural issue featured two stamps of the noted Merson design, commemorating the first International Display of Aviation and Navigation hosted in Marseilles, and were overprinted with an image of the Blériot XI aircraft made famous by Louis Blériot in 1909 to make the first powered flight across the English Channel. This issue was following by others, including that of 1946 that is the subject of this post.
The first recorded manned flight was launched in Paris in a hot air balloon built by the Montgolfier brothers on 21 November 1783. As early as 1870, France had established an airmail service using hot air balloons, referred to as ‘Ballon Monte’ (Manned Balloon). This became a critical line of communication during the Franco-Prussian War and the subsequent Siege of Paris. Between 1970 and 1871, more than 60 balloons were constructed and launched from disused train stations such as Gare du Nord and Gare d’Orleans to convey mail, as well as escapees, from the besieged city.
France released many stamp issues in the early 1900’s reflecting the pioneering role they played in the evolution of powered flight. The airmail issue of 1930 was the first in France to feature an image of an aircraft in the design – in this case a Farman F.190, a utility aircraft built in France, flying above the church of Notre Dame de la Garde in Marseilles. By 1946 there had been numerous airmail and commemorative issues featuring powered flight including a single stamp was issued in 1934 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Blériot’s flight across the Channel.
The 1946 airmail issue is notable for the designs, typical of the post-war French issues but stunning none the less. The issue was designed by the prolific illustrator and engraver, Pierre Glandon, whose name appears on each of the stamps. There were four stamps in the issue of denominations between 40f and 200f and all feature a image comprising Roman and Greek mythological characters and depictions of aircraft of the era:
- 40f Centaur (creature said to have been born of the Cloud, Nephele) [Green]
- 50f Iris (goddess of the rainbow and messenger of the gods) [Pink]
- 100f Jupiter (god of the sky and lightning) [Blue]
- 200f Apollo (god of the Sun, light and more) [Red, featured image]
To view postal issues of France, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.