The making of the stamp
On May 26, 1957, Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield announced that a commemorative stamp to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Marquis de Lafayette, “le soldat de deux pays,” would be issued on the following September 6, the actual anniversary of his birth (image of the stamp is on the cover). On August 10, he further announced that first day ceremonies would be held simultaneously in three sites that according to him were closely associated with Lafayette.
These were Lafayette College, in Easton Pennsylvania; Fayetteville, North Carolina, the first town in the United States to bear his name; and Louisville, Kentucky, where the opening day of the 1957 Kentucky State Fair was to be called “Lafayette Day.”
Only five years before, on June 13, 1952, at the behest of the American Friends of Lafayette, a commemorative stamp was issued to celebrate the 175th anniversary of Lafayette’s landfall at Georgetown, South Carolina.
Overriding the view that two stamps honoring the same person ought not to be issued within a short time, it was widely assumed that the bicentenary of Lafayette’s birth provided the perfect opportunity to confirm continuing Franco-American friendship. To that effect, the Lafayette Bicentennial Committee was set up on September 8, 1956.
To emphasize its importance, President Dwight D. Eisenhower became honorary head of its National Committee. Other members included Clarence Douglas Dillon (1909-2003), the recently retired American ambassador to France, as president; Hervé Alphand (1907-1994), the French ambassador to the United States; and dignitaries such as Henry Francis DuPont (1880-1969), who served as vice president; and Herman B. Wells (1902-2000), president of Indiana University, located at Lafayette, Indiana.
Plate Number Report
Plate. No. Impressions Printed
25798 165,525 August 19, 1957
25799 165,527 August 19, 1957
25800 171,294 August 21, 1957
25801 171,295 August 21, 1957
Events in the United States
In the United States – where there are in excess of 100 towns and counties in 38 states named after Lafayette and at least 25 major outdoor sculptures, busts and statues – festivities were organized throughout the entire bicentennial year. For some years in advance, organizations like the American Friends of Lafayette were active in preparing the ground for nationwide celebrations.
To name but a few, one of the first celebrations organized by the Lafayette Bicentennial Committee took place on April 12, when ceremonies were held at the Rockefeller Center to mark what the mayor of New York proclaimed as Lafayette Bicentennial Day.
The previous night, the fifth Avril à Paris gala was held in honor of the 183rd anniversary of Lafayette’s marriage to Marie Adrienne Françoise de Noailles (1759-1807). It was held at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel with Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962) and her playwright husband, Arthur Miller (1915-2005), in attendance, along with French actors Gérard Philippe (1922-1959) and Jean Marais (1913-1998). A parallel banquet was held in Paris under the aegis of General Pierre Armand Gaston Billotte (1906-1992), former minister of defense.
On the same day, San Francisco opened a French film festival featuring the work of Marais and Philippe, Françoise Arnoul (1931-2021), Micheline Presle (b. 1922) and the films of the director Jean Renoir (1894-1979). The Bay Area celebrations concluded on September 13 at a gala dinner addressed by the French ambassador, who used the occasion to tell his American audience how the French were playing a civilizing role in Algeria.
On April 23, Henry Francis du Pont welcomed dignitaries to Winterthur Museum of American Decorative Arts in Winterthur, Delaware, formerly du Pont’s home, which staged a major exhibition devoted to Lafayette. The luminaries who attended were French ambassador to the United States, Hervé Alphand (1907-1994); governor of Delaware, James Caleb “Cale” Boggs (1909-1993); and Pierre Bédard (1895-1970), chairman of the executive committee of the National Lafayette Bicentennial Committee and president of the Parsons School of Design. The Voice of America broadcast the proceedings.
On June 7 and 8 the convocation of Lafayette College at Easton, Pennsylvania awarded honorary doctorates, including those to Ambassador Alphand, who in his acceptance speech defended the Algerian war, and General Pierre Armand Gaston Billotte (1906-1992), former minister of defense, who reviewed Lafayette’s contribution to the American Revolution.
Events and homages took place throughout the year, and many other organizations, such as the American Friends of Lafayette were involved. New England governors issued a proclamation that designated 1957 as Lafayette Bicentennial Year, as did many mayors and other elected officials across the country.
Date of issue: September 6, 1957
Catalog number: Scott 1097
Designer: Ervine Metzl
Modeller: Charles Ransom Chickering
Vignette engraver: Charles Alton Brooks
Frame engraver: Robert Joseph Jones
Letter engraver: Robert Joseph Jones
Color: maroon (Post Office Department); rose lake (Scott)
Format: Electric eye plates of 200 divided into four post office panes of 50 by horizontal gutters, arranged 10 horizontally by 5 vertically
Perforation: 10.5 by 11
Size 0.84 inches by 1.44 inches (21.34 mm x 36.58 mm)
Printing: Bureau of Engraving and Printing using a Cottrell Electronically Actuated Web Press
Quantity issued: 122,990,000
First day sites:
Easton, Pennsylvania covers serviced: 260,421
Fayetteville, North Carolina covers serviced: 230,000
Louisville, Kentucky covers serviced: 207,856
Events in France
In France, the National Bicentennial of Lafayette Committee set about organizing a year of celebrations. The main events took place in Paris and at Chavaniac, Lafayette’s birthplace. One of the first events occurred on February 6, marking the signing of the Franco-American alliance of 1778. On May 20, homage was paid to Lafayette by American and French troops assembled at the foot of his statue in Paris. On July 3, President René Coty inaugurated an exposition at the Hôtel de Rohan in Paris of more than 600 artifacts from the National Archives.
The Paris Mint struck a bronze medal designed by sculptor and engraver Maurice Delannoy (1885-1972). It was 6.9 centimeters (2¾ inches) in diameter.
On June 6, the mayors of 21 American municipalities named for Lafayette started a Lafayette tour, a three-day tour or pilgrimage through the Auvergne, Lafayette’s native stomping grounds, as part of Lafayette week. It was kicked off with a banquet. France had invited mayors of approximately 40 municipalities from 16 Eastern, Southern and Midwestern states that bore the name Lafayette. The mayor of Lafayette Colorado turned down the invitation because “Our town was named for La Fayette Miller, a rancher.”
The French press reported that the visitors wore “colorfully informal clothes.” Transported by air from Paris, they disembarked at Vichy airport where Mayor Pierre Coulon (1913-1967) received them. Specially organized buses and trains provided transport across the Auvergne. The highlights of their visit were the Château de Chavaniac, converted into a museum; a speech delivered by Prime Minister Maurice Bourgès-Maunoury (1914-1993); and a reception by President of the Republic Jules Gustave René Coty (1882-1962).
A record of the events and ceremonies was placed into an album that Jean Marie and Pierre Billotte sent to President Eisenhower on behalf of the French committee.
Designing the stamp
The design process started with a detailed sketch drawn by Ervine Metzl, which had as its centerpiece a portrait of Lafayette as a lieutenant general in 1791. It was taken from an oil painting on canvas done in 1834 by Joseph-Désiré Court (1797-1865).
Metzl worked from a photograph of the painting that hangs at the Palace of Versailles (Figure 2). Metzl’s drawing was passed to Bureau of Engraving and Printing designer Charles Chickering to model it for engraving.
Figure 2. Portrait of the Marquis de Lafayette by Joseph-Désiré Court (1797-1865) used as the basis for the postage stamp.
Metzl (1899-1963) was a successful illustrator for magazines and other commercial clients and designed a half-dozen other U.S. postage stamps. In the past, Metzl had criticized the bureau’s designers for producing over-detailed designs that often obscured the message of the stamp.
In this case, Chickering produced two models from the Metzl drawing, both of which simplified his original design. Chickering eliminated the arrows at the top of the stamp but otherwise was faithful to Metzl’s work. The two very similar models were submitted for approval July 19 to the Post Office Department and one was accepted on July 22. The POD approved the die proof on August 6.
An homage to Metzl’s work posted by a relative can be found on Instagram at https://www.pinterest.com/cliffmama/ervine-metzl-graphic-artist/ (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Artist Ervine Metzl (1899-1963) made his living as an illustrator, including images for magazines and posters.
The design itself
At the center of Metzl’s vertically arranged composition is the half-length Court portrait of Lafayette as he was imagined to have looked in 1791.
Entwined ornamental vines on left and right sides encase the reproduction of the painting. On the left side the vines twine around a late 18th century flintlock rifle and on the right side around a replica of the sword presented to Lafayette by the United States Congress. The legend “1757 La Fayette 1957” is inscribed over the portrait in dark modified script. At the top is a plaque that bears the initials “R.F.” and a Liberty cap from the French Revolution, while furled flags extend toward the sides with a torch and a scroll at their center.
While the Liberty cap was very much a symbol of the French Revolution, the configuration of the flags surrounding the medallion marked “RF” – for République Française are not. Those were generally symbols of the Third Republic and, in any case, as a monarchist Lafayette was opposed to having a republic.
The entire design is housed within a double outline frame. Immediately below the portrait is the denomination “3¢” in white Roman typeface within a shaded circular frame from which emanate long slender leaves bearing a fleur-de-lis on either side. Across the bottom of the stamp is the wording “United States Postage,” in dark lettering.
Figure 4. The proof of the 1957 Lafayette stamp signed by Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield.
A missed opportunity?
Would the bicentennial have been an occasion for a joint issue, if not a parallel stamp issued in France?
First, the postal authorities in the United States were only just beginning to envisage the possibility of a joint issue. One did not come into being until 1959. More importantly, France did not issue a postage stamp because the Marquis de La Fayette (as it was spelled by his father and before the French Revolution) was never anywhere near as popular in France as he was in the United States, where he was an icon of the American War for Independence. For the French, La Fayette, although committed to universal suffrage, human rights, and the abolition of slavery, was associated with the defense of the monarchy.
In France, Lafayette was only given his own postage stamp recognition in 1989 when he appeared on a 2f 20c plus 50-cent semipostal stamp as part of a first series (Scott B605) of stamps called Revolution Leaders and Heroes.. He had, however, previously appeared with George Washington and the airplane The Spirit of St. Louis on two stamps in 1927 to mark the national convention of the American Legion, held between September 18 and 27 of that year in Paris.
In my previous article about the 1952 stamp issued to celebrate the 175th anniversary of Lafayette’s landing in America in 1777, I wrote of his involvement in the American Revolution and his importance in securing the recognition, and more importantly the financial and military aid that allowed the colonial forces to triumph over their British adversaries.
His arrival was not necessary greeted with enthusiasm. What on earth was George Washington, fresh from defeat after defeat by the British army, to make of the short, slim, and pale 19-year-old French nobleman with the impossibly long name of Marie-Joseph Paul Roch Yves Gilbert de Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1836), who was ushered into his presence as still one more in the procession of dreamers and adventurers who offered him their services?
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), Arthur Lee (1740-1792) and, above all, Silas Deane (1738-1789), the revolutionaries’ representatives in France, were bombarded with requests from young wayward nobles like Jean-Georges Muller de la Piolette, who wanted to open a glassworks; vintners such as the “chevalier” Thomas O’Gorman of Tonnerre (1732-1809); and monks like P. Nicéphore, a Benedictine who said he would serve in the army if Franklin would pay off his gambling debts. Franklin finally composed a model of recommendation for the applicants: I must refer you to himself for his Character and Merits, with which he is certainly better acquainted than I can possibly be.
The year 1777 had brought forth many volunteers before the young Lafayette, who had served as a reserve captain in the French dragoons, bought a ship, the Victoire, and sailed to America with 11 companions. He arrived in South Carolina and traveled overland to Philadelphia, where he was given the rank of major general in the American army, and then reported to Washington.
Earlier that year, 24-year-old Thomas-Antoine de Mauduit du Plessis (1753-1791), later murdered by his own regiment, arrived with Philippe Charles Tronson du Coudray (1738-1777), who subsequently drowned in the Schuylkill River.
Charles-François Sévelinges, the Marquis de Brétigny, sailed on his own ship with supplies and nine officers. Captain Jacques Boux offered to build ships but only delivered them after the war was over. And then there was a certain Rullecourt, who sailed the wrong way and occupied an island off the North African coast.
Lafayette had developed a strong Messianic commitment to the cause of the colonialists, thanks to his Rousseau-inspired romanticism. The orphaned aristocrat dreamed of the “noble savage”: simplicity, virtue triumphant, and nature enthroned in Voltaire’s American wilderness. He was determined to join their battle against the old order.
Understandably, Washington was far from keen, but there was something about the young man who incessantly quoted his moral guides, Voltaire and Rousseau, whom Washington had never read, that he found attractive.
Lafayette offered to serve without pay (only expenses), and he was so well connected in France, despite having sailed illegally against the expressed wish of Louis XVI, that Washington listened. When Lafayette said, “I am here to learn, not to teach,” Washington relented.
In our earlier account we described his subsequent participation in military campaigns, which led him to being named maréchal du camp (field marshal).
After Cornwallis’ surrender Lafayette returned to France, where, as a liberal aristocrat, he fought for a constitutional monarchy in the 1789 Revolution.
While serving as the commander of the Armée du Centre at Metz, he was accused of treason and fled, ending up in an Austrian prison until 1799. Opposed to Napoléon, he left the political field of combat until the reinstatement of the monarchy under Louis XVIII (1755-1824) and Charles X (1757-1836). A strong supporter of the Bourbon restoration, he became vice president of the Chamber of Representatives. He served as a deputy and on various occasions took command of the Garde nationale. Disappointed by the Bourbons’ authoritarian tendencies, he helped Louis-Philippe (1773-1850) succeed to the throne.
By 1804, because of his years of confinement in various prisons, he was bankrupt. He lost his ancestral home, the 13th-century Château de Chavaniac, a fortified manor house of 18 rooms, as well as a residence in the exclusive Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris.
Thomas Jefferson offered him the governorship of the Louisiana territory as a form of compensation, which he turned down for fear of Napoléon acting against his family.
Congress gave him two checks for “services rendered.” One was for $120,000 (in terms of spending power the equivalent of $2.65 million in 2020) and the other for $809,000 (2020 equivalent of $17.8 million). He also was given land in Louisiana and Florida. In contrast, many veterans of the Continental Army received little or no recompense and, indeed, were subject to a round of high taxes. The disparity only highlights the importance attributed to Lafayette.
Meanwhile, Lafayette kept up contacts with the new American republic. Accompanied by his son, Georges Washington de La Fayette (1779-1849), in 1824-25 he triumphantly toured the United States for 13 months. Everywhere he was feted, traveling to all 24 states and visiting his old friends John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and, particularly, James and Elizabeth Monroe (1758-1831; 1786-1830), who with Gouverneur Morris (1752-1816) had helped his family financially and had secured the release from prison of his wife, Marie Adrienne Françoise de Noailles, Marquise de Lafayette (1759-1807).
In the cold light of day Lafayette was a hero, an asset, and also a burden, but his star shone very brightly, particularly in the U.S., which posthumously awarded him honorary citizenship in 2002.
In the 18th and early 19th century French mind there was no room between the idea of a republic and a monarchy, and Lafayette’s adherence to the idea of a constitutional monarchy or monarchy light was an anachronism. His attachment to the United States was looked on with ambivalence.
His funeral, held May 22, 1834, at the Église de l’Assomption, was attended by King Louis Philippe and his government as well as by representatives of the army and other dignitaries. More than 100,000 filed by his coffin. In the United States, an equestrian statue was erected in his honor in front of the White House. In France every year, the American ambassador presides over a ceremony at his grave at the Picpus cemetery to honor the memory of “our French friend.”
First day ceremonies
For the first time in the 13 years since the stamp to mark the 75th anniversary of the Transcontinental Railway (Scott 922) – which was issued simultaneously at San Francisco, Omaha, and Ogden Utah – first day of issue sales took place at three different sites. These were Louisville, because September 6 was called La Fayette Day to mark the opening of the 1957 Kentucky State Fair; Easton, Pennsylvania, because it was the site of Lafayette College; and Fayetteville, North Carolina because it was the first American community named after him.
L. Rohe Walter, special assistant to the postmaster general, said it was not a new policy but that each of the three cities named “had such valid claims for recognition that it was impossible to slight any one.”
Here is a review of ceremonies at the three sites for the issuance of the Lafayette stamp on Friday, September 6, 1957.
The celebration began at 9:25 a.m., when Minute Men Air National Guard planes put on a 25-minute display, including one plane that flew only 30 feet above the fairgrounds and released a French flag by parachute. Thereafter, an entourage of carriages that began the previous Monday in Maysville, Kentucky, and passed through all the Kentucky towns Lafayette visited in his 1825 tour, arrived.
Robert Valeur, the first counselor of the French embassy, who had traveled from the beginning “in a rickety, ancient stagecoach down the main streets of practically every town in northern Kentucky,” along with Lieutenant Colonel Robert Bouchard and his wife, arrived to a greeting by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America. The Daily Advertiser of Lafayette, Louisiana reported that, “the staff is afraid he’ll need a lot of the soothing ointments when he gets back to Washington.”
The first day of issue ceremony, the third to be held at Louisville, started at 11 a.m. in front of Freedom Hall at the Kentucky State Fairgrounds in Louisville (ironically named after Louis XVII). The ceremony began with the massed bands of Kentucky high schools playing La Marseillaise, led by A.G. Wright, band director of Purdue University, located in Lafayette, Indiana.
Assistant Postmaster General Eugene J. Lyons (1919-1998), heaped praise on Lafayette before presenting 14 leather-bound albums each containing a sheet of the stamps autographed by the postmaster general to Governor Albert Benjamin “Happy” Chandler (1898-1991), Lieutenant Governor Harry Lee Waterfield (1911-1998), Louisville Mayor Andrew Broaddus (1900-1972), Valeur, and senators Thurston Ballard Morton (1907-1982) and John Sherman Cooper (1901-1991).
Valeur hung a gold and white medal around neck of the governor, in part because on a recent trip to France he had said Algeria was a “French problem” and the United States should “not butt in.” Valeur also presented a rosebush flown in from France. It was planted temporarily near the main flagpole in the fairgrounds. Not to be outdone, the Louisville chapters of the Amicale Française and the Alliance Française presented a further dozen bushes to form a nucleus of a Lafayette rose garden.
Postmaster Joseph Denunzio Scholtz (1890-1972) set up a branch post office for the day in the fairgrounds’ exhibition wing. In the evening, a celebratory football game took place in the stadium between Lafayette High School and Louisville’s St. Xavier High School.
State Fair Board Chair Smith Broadbent then dedicated the main entrance road as Lafayette Avenue.
The first day ceremonies at Lafayette College, were a more somber affair. They started at 12:15 p.m. in the Colton Memorial Chapel, with Ralph Cooper Hutchison, PhD (1898-1966), president of the college, conducting the proceedings.
Hutchison spoke of Lafayette as one of the “great men of the world and human freedom.” Next, French Consul General Pierre Gabard (1913-1967), based in Philadelphia, said it was a great honor to be present at the college for the issue of the stamp.
Assistant Postmaster General John M. McKibbin, Bureau of Post Office Operations, a former vice president of Westinghouse Electric Corporation, paid tribute to a “remarkable and inspiring man, one who at an early age recognized America’s fight for freedom as a history-making step toward all mankind’s fight for the same freedom.” He reviewed Lafayette’s contribution to the revolution and described the painting that served as the basis for the stamp.
He presented souvenir albums to Hutchinson; newspaper publisher Lloyd Felmley, president of the board of trustees; senators Joseph Sill Clark and Edward Martin; Francis Eugene “Tad” Walter (1894-1963), Pennsylvania congressman; Orion H. Reeves, the mayor of Easton; Lyle T. Streeter (1906-2000), acting postmaster of Easton; and Pierre Gabard (1913-1967), of the French Consulate in Philadelphia.
At 8:30 a.m., the stamp was placed on sale simultaneously in the Alumni Memorial Gymnasium of the College and at the Easton Post Office.
Fayetteville, North Carolina
The final ceremony took place in the only U.S. community named after Lafayette during his lifetime.
The ceremonies were held at Breece’s Landing on the Cape Fear River, followed by a Lafayette 200th Anniversary banquet. Assistant Postmaster General Hyde Gillette (1906-2007), presented albums to a large number of distinguished guests, including North Carolina Governor Luther Hartwell Hodges (1898-1974), French Embassy Attaché Jacques Andriani, and Fayetteville Mayor George Burbank Herndon.
During the day Fayetteville organized a pageant. Herndon was not present because he, along with other mayors from American localities named Lafayette, was attending a ceremony in France for ceremonies at Lafayette’s birthplace.
During the day the presidents of France and the United State exchanged telegrams that were read at a ceremony in Washington D.C.
Parallel events took place in France the same day. As in Louisville, a cavalcade started out at Vichy three days before the ceremonies. On Sept. 6, celebrations were held at the Château de Chavaniac, which included a group of French and American dignitaries such as Charles Yost, U.S. Minister Counselor in Paris, representing Ambassador Amory Houghton, and his wife; General William Y. Smith, a career military office who just five years earlier had been shot down over North Korea while flying his 97th combat mission; and Abram Nathaniel Spanel (1901-1985), industrialist and philanthropist, and his wife. On Sept. 7, Prime Minister Maurice Bougès-Maunoury arrived at Chavaniac to speak on the theme of Franco-American solidarity.
Images of the covers and the double outline frame can be found in the online version of the article here.