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French Stamps

Commemoratives of 1939-1940

The commemorative French stamps issued in 1939 showcased important people and events in French history, the French military, and the spirit of the French Revolution of 1789. 

By early 1940, hostilities between Germany and France were already commencing.  Most of the stamps issued during 1940 were charity stamps, with their purpose being to raise money for the Red Cross and various wartime funds.  Those stamps will be described in the Charity Stamps section of this France website category.

The 90 C. denomination French stamp shown above, at the left (Y&T #425, Sc. #371), was issued on April 18, 1939 to celebrate the Laying of the Keel of the Battleship Clemenceau on January 17, 1939.

The design features a portrait of Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929), the Prime Minister of France during the First World War, and the Battleship Clemenceau.

The Battleship Clemenceau was not completed until 1940.  Initially, she fought on the side of the Vichy Regime in Senegal, however, in 1942, the Clemenceau switched sides, and she fought for the Free French Navy, alongside the British Royal Navy, in the Indian Ocean for the remainder of the war.  The Clemenceau continued to serve the post-war Republic of France.  She was finally decommissioned in 1967 and scrapped in 1968.

The 2.25 Fr. denomination French stamp shown above, at the right (Y&T #427, Sc. #374), was issued on April 24, 1939 to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Photography.

The design features François Arago announcing the discovery of photography at the Academy of Sciences, along with two medallions containing portraits of François Arago (1786-1853) and Louis Daguerre (1787-1851).

The two French special-event stamps shown above (Y&T #426, #458, Sc. #372-73) were issued in 1939 and 1940 for the New York World's Fair.

The two common designs feature the Statue of Liberty, the French Pavilion, and the Trylon and Perisphere.

The New York World's Fair, with the theme "The World of Tomorrow", was held at Flushing Meadows, Queens, New York from April 30, 1939 through October 31, 1940.  It was the second largest World's Fair of all time.  Many countries around the World participated in the World's Fair, and in the two years it was open, over 44 million people visited its exhibits.

Within six months of the fair's opening, World War II would begin, a worldwide catastrophe that would last almost six years and result in the deaths of over 50 million people.

The 2.25 Fr. denomination stamp shown above, at the left (Y&T #430, Sc. #388), was issued during 1939 to publicize France's Participation in the International Water Exposition at Liège.

The design features the modern water pumping station ("Machine de Marly") at Marly-le-Roi (a Paris suburb), which was finally taken out-of-service in 1967

The original "Machine de Marly" was constructed on the grounds of the Château de Marly by King Louis XIV in 1679, to pump water from the Seine River to the fountains of the Palace of Versailles.  The Château de Marly and its original pumping station were destroyed, following the French Revolution.

The 90 C. denomination commemorative French stamp shown above, at the right (Y&T #444, Sc. #390), was issued on June 20, 1939 to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the French Revolution.

The design features the famous painting, "The Oath of the Tennis Court", by Jacques Louis David (1748-1825).  This event marked the creation of the National Assembly of the new French Republic on June 20, 1789.

The 90 C. denomination commemorative stamp shown above, at the left (Y&T #442, Sc. #389), was issued on June 10, 1939 to celebrate the 1,400th Anniversary of the Birth of St. Gregory of Tours.

St. Gregory of Tours (538-594) was a Gallo-Roman historian and the Bishop of Tours which made him the Prelate of Gaul.  He is the main contemporary source for Merovingian history.

The 70 C. denomination commemorative French stamp shown above, at the right (Y&T #443, Sc. #391), was issued on June 23, 1939 to celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Completion of Strasbourg Cathedral.

Strasbourg Cathedral, constructed between 1015 and 1439 over a former Romanesque church, is considered to be one of the finest examples of late Gothic architecture.  At 422 ft., it was the World's tallest building from 1647 to 1874.  Today, it is still the sixth tallest church in the World, and it is the highest existing structure built entirely within the Middle Ages.  Victor Hugo called it a "gigantic and delicate marvel".  The structure can be seen from the plains of Alsace, as well as from the Black Forest on the other side of the Rhine river.

The 90 C. denomination commemorative French stamp shown above (Y&T #445, Sc. #392) was issued on June 23, 1939 in observance of the 23rd Anniversary of the Battle of Verdun during World War I.

The design features a view of the City of Verdun and the Porte Chaussée.

The Porte Chaussée is the main-gate to the City of Verdun, built during the 15th Century as part of the city's fortifications.  It is located at the end of the bridge crossing the Meuse River.

The Battle of Verdun, fought from February through December 1916, was the longest and one of the bloodiest battles of World War I.  The nine-month-long battle was fought between an army of 1,140,000 French soldiers and an army of 1,250,000 German soldiers. 

The French won the battle, but the total carnage was horrible.  The total estimated casualties, on both sides, including civilian residents of Verdun, were over 670,000 wounded and over 300,000 killed or missing in action!  That equates to over 40% of all the combatants!!

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Commemoratives of 1939-1940


The 2.25 Fr. denomination commemorative stamp shown above (Y&T #421, Sc. #370) was issued on March 15, 1939 to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Birth of Paul Cezanne (1839-1906), the famous French Post-Impressionist painter.

Two later printings of this stamp, in distinctly different shades, were made using plates with elements that differ slightly from those the original printing.  They are very rare.  Please refer to the France specialized catalogs for details.

The 50 Fr. denomination stamp shown above (Y&T #461, Scott #396) was issued on November 7, 1940 to honor Georges Guynemer.

Georges Guynemer (1894-1917), was a French ace with 54 combat victories, during World War I, and he was a national hero, at the time of his death on September 11, 1917.