French Colonialism in Stamps


Oct 02, 2014 Europe/London

The French were once one of the leading powers and explorers. Starting in the 18th until the 19th century, they expanded their ‘spheres of influences’ outside of the continent. But starting the 1960s, the territories began to reclaim their independence. The French influence may have waned in terms of administration, but its contribution to world arts and affairs persisted in many spheres, stamps and philately as well. The market is loaded with French stamps including mint inexpensive stamps that are accessible for all types of collectors and enthusiasts. The challenge is to spot these on collections since French colonial stamps are arranged in order, before France. For example, French Morocco comes before France in many stamp listing and collections.

The French Colonies

The 18th century was a time for exploration and mercantilism, and France was one of the leading powers of the time. Colonies were the source of raw materials, and as such countries like France scrambled and compete with each other. Some of the leading powers include Ottoman Empire, Japan, Netherlands, Spain and Portugal. These countries made their mark not just on world affairs but also on world stamps and philately.
When speaking of French Colonies that were immortalized on stamps, the bulk part of the list can be found on the African continent, owing to the country’s rich natural resources.  Some of the countries on the list include Morocco, French Equatorial Africa, French West Africa and Algeria. Also included in the list are Comoro Islands, Reunion, Mayotte and Madagascar. The French also had considerable influence in Asia, particularly in French Indochina. France also maintained considerable influence on French Polynesia, and in South and North America. In North America, France controlled the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon. This means that the influence of France was extensive, and in all these territories, the French government decided to produce stamps.

French stamps for different Colonies made available

There were different stamps used by the French in its many colonies, including the Eagle and Crown where stamps were printed by relief and the denominations was indicated on tinted paper. Originals are highly sought-after, and reprints were of lesser value. The colonies also saw the release of Emperor Napoleon III (1871) and stamps featuring Ceres, the god of grains. By 1876, the government also issued perforated stamps inspired by Peace and Commerce. The theme was also shown in their 1881 series of stamps, featuring the words ‘Colonies Postes’. The French-released stamps were used by the colonies, but they soon yearned for a new set of stamps. To address the requirements of the colonies for their own sets of stamps, the government decided to create plates that allowed for customization by individual colonies. A second plate was put up to accommodate for the name of the colony.
By the first few decades of the 20th century, the colonies released their own stamps using two colors. These stamps were called 'pictorials', and used in different regions like French Indochina. Stamps like the 75c Cambodian Woman stamps allow stamp collectors to go back in time and learn about the history of France. This is the beauty in philately and stamp collection- it allows you to discover the glorious past and travel to different places you’ve never been to.