Philatelic Travelogue: Paris & Its Stamp Market first appeared in The Stamp Forum Newsletter in September 2020 written by Chris Dorn, a member of The Stamp Forum, an affiliate of the American Philatelic Society.
Philatelic Travelogue: Paris & Its Stamp Market
By Chris Dorn (Beryllium Guy)
In the last issue of the TSF Newsletter, I wrote a travel piece about some interesting places in Provence, with strong historical context but perhaps not so strong philatelic connections. In this article, I am doing another travel piece, but with what I hope will be viewed as better stamp-related content.
Paris, City of Light
Paris, France is, without a doubt, one of the most famous and historic cities in the world. Its name evokes images of romance, fashion, tourism, art, architecture, royalty, and much, much more. It is one of my favorite cities in the world. I have never actually lived in Paris, but I stayed there once for several weeks in the mid-1980s and I just fell in love with all of the great things that the city has to offer. Paris originally received the moniker "City of Light" during the Age of Enlightenment, as it was a center for education and ideas. By 1828, with the introduction of gas streetlights on the Champs-Elysees, the nickname became literal, too.
In my younger days, I did a 6-month backpacking tour through Europe, and Paris was the city in which I ended up spending the most time by far. It is a city that is so rich in places to see and things to do, that one could spend an entire lifetime getting to know it. So, as tourists, we can only hope to scratch the surface, but it is so much fun to do the "scratching" that some, like me, have returned to the city many, many times since our first visit.
My wife and I are fortunate enough to have close family friends who live on the western outskirts of Paris. They are generous hosts, and have invited us to stay with them for weekend getaways on a number of occasions during our time in France. This latest visit spanning a few days in late June and early July was our third time here since last April. We enjoy it enough that frankly, we should try to come more often!
History of The Stamp Market (Le Marche aux Timbres)
In writing this article, I was motivated to do a little research about the famous Paris Stamp Market, as I felt certain that as with most things in Paris, there must be some interesting history behind it, and I was not disappointed. It seems that after postage stamps were introduced in France in 1849, by 1860, middle-school students in Paris had already begun to collect stamps, and they started to trade them in the gardens of the Royal Palace.
French historians consider these early activities as the origins of what we now know as the philatelic "bourse," these days more commonly associated with stamp exhibitions. By 1864, these large gatherings of collectors started to attract troublemakers, so the bourse was officially outlawed. In response, of course, the collectors simply relocated their activities to another place, in this case, the Luxembourg Gardens, but they were eventually forced to leave there, too.
In the end, in 1887, a wealthy stamp collector bequeathed some prime real estate to the city of Paris under the provision that it would permit an open-air stamp bourse on the land. Such was the birth of the Paris Stamp Market, now located in a small lane called "Carre Marigny", and it is this small lane that is the primary location of the stamp market.
An artist's concept of the Paris Stamp Market in 1941 done from a wood engraving and used on a postcard. This example is franked with a France, Scott 435 BO-centime brown definitive stamp depicting World War I hero Marshal Petain issued in 1941.
A Cinderella stamp created from what appears to be a different engraving of the earlier design, this one produced in 1942 to raise money to help artists. Image courtesy of Michael Hide (Londonbusl).
According to the blog website "Pietons de Paris" (which means "Paris Pedestrians" and can be found here: http://pietondeparis.canal blog.com/), the Paris Stamp Market is unique in Europe, and perhaps in the world. In my experience, that may be a slight overstatement. It may well be unique how long the market has been going on, and that land was donated to the city in order to make it possible in perpetuity, but I do not believe that outdoor stamp markets are unique to Paris. In fact, I have been to a very nice one in Barcelona, Spain on two occasions.
In any case, there is undoubtedly something special about the Paris Stamp Market, now in continuous operation since 1887, more than 130 years and counting! With this history in mind, let's take a look at the Market today.
Personal History with the Paris Stamp Market
In retrospect, I have no idea why I did not explore the Stamp Market when I was in Paris back in the 1980s. I admit that I did not know of its existence prior to that trip, but when I was there, I discovered it one day by accident, when I was just walking around town. I do recall looking at stamps on the dealers' tables, but I was not too confident in my ability to converse about stamps in French back then, and in my memory, I think I was a bit intimidated by how big the Market seemed in those days.
After missing that opportunity, I have wanted to return to the Stamp Market ever since. The Market normally operates three days a week: Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, but also on national holidays, which seems like a very civilized idea to me. After first arriving in France, I tried to visit the Stamp Market on a Sunday in April 2018, but it turned out to be rainy that day, and I learned, as one might have expected, that the outdoor market does not operate when it rains.
An old cliche about life is that "the third time is the charm." For my attempts to visit the Paris Stamp Market, that saying proved to be true. I finally succeeded in getting to the Market on a fine day at the end of June 2019, and I had a good visit there, but I was a bit surprised at what I found.
The good news is, that after all this time, the Paris Stamp Market is still running, and for my part, I found many nice stamps there during my visit. The bad news is, that due to the political situation in France, protesters are regularly blocking off streets in Paris near the Market, which is limiting the dealer participation. In years past, there have been some 50 dealers in attendance. I was told that these days, there are 19 dealers who have registered and paid in advance to participate, but on the day of my visit, there were only 4 dealers on site.
Left: The author checking out a dealer display at the Paris Stamp Market. Right: The author looking through one of the many albums of interesting stamps and other material at the stand of dealer Jean-Pierre Boulay.
If you are wondering about what political situation may have impacted the Stamp Market, it is simple and well publicized. Perhaps you have heard of the "Gilets Jaunes" (translates to "Yellow Vests") in France. These people are protesters against injustices in the French Government systems that make daily life more difficult for working class citizens. The movement of the Gilets Jaunes started in October 2018 and was originally only supposed to last for one weekend.
The movement took hold, however, and has continued regularly for some months, and is now still sporadically occurring at the time of this writing (July 2019). Part of the Gilets Jaunes protesters' agenda is to cause disruption to business and the daily life of French people to call attention to their cause. Blocking streets and slowing down or stopping traffic altogether is a major part of what they do. Unfortunately, what remains of their current activities has had a significant effect on the Paris Stamp Market.
Acquisitions from the Recent Visit
All I can say is, despite the current issues faced by the Paris Stamp Market, I had an excellent experience there, and I acquired some great stamps in the process. On this occasion, I only spent about 2 hours at the Market, which is not as long as I would have liked, but it was the amount of time I could easily allow as part of a family tourist visit!
I did take a look at what all four dealers had to offer, but I effectively spent all of my time with one dealer named Jean-Pierre Boulay. I learned that Jean-Pierre was a Paris firefighter for more than 30 years, and when he retired, he became a full-time stamp dealer. He had ample stocks of stamps, postcards, and covers from which to choose. When I told him that my interest was worldwide classic stamps, he directed me to a large album of material. I found items to my liking from the very first page.
1 / 3
Two of my first finds: France, Offices in Zanzibar, Scott 5 and Scott 7. I really like these Peace & Commerce definitive issues (referred to by the name of the designer "Sage" in French) overprinted or surcharged for use in French colonies and offices abroad.
2 / 3
A pair of nicely centered postage due stamps: France, Scott 115 and Scott 164.
3 / 3
A couple of imperforate France postage due stamps overprinted and surcharged for use abroad: Ivory Coast, Scott Q17 (parcel post) and Senegal, Scott 11 (postage due).
After I chose a healthy number of sets and singles to my liking, and Jean-Pierre added up my acquisitions, he not only gave me a nice overall discount, he also directed me to several boxes of stock cards and told me to choose five as a gift. At that point, I realized that I was a bit pressed for time, as I needed to go with my wife Amy for lunch before going on to our next sightseeing tour, and she was now waiting for me to finish. The stock cards were not in any particular order, so I decided to pull out any that looked interesting, and then narrow those down to the final five.
I had grabbed about a dozen cards, and as I started to go through them to decide on which five to keep, Jean-Pierre insisted that I should just take them all. He is quite the gentleman, old Jean-Pierre! I was delighted with my purchases and my gift. What a great day!
Denouement (Finishing Touch)
Sometimes a word from one language is adopted for use directly into another language, and the word "denouement" is one of those. It is clearly a French word, but I recall learning it when I was a student in English class. Our literature teacher told us that it refers to a short final element in a story that comes after the main concluding action, and this story has one.
(Left) Great Britain, Morocco Agencies, Scott 201-204 and 206-208.
Amy and I went off and had a great lunch in a small cafe not far from the Market. During our lunch, I remembered one other set of stamps that I had seen but not purchased, and by the time we were finished, I asked if we had time to stop by the Market for just a minute on our way to meet up with the family for the sightseeing.
As it happened, our family members were running a little late, so we had the time to make one last quick stop at the Market, where Jean-Pierre sold me a nice unused set of King Edward VII, Great Britain, Morocco Agencies overprints. I was delighted to get these.
As we were leaving, Jean-Pierre asked where we were going next, and we told him that we were headed to the Basilica of the Sacre Coeur in Montmartre . He asked us to wait a moment, and after a brief search in his stock, he gave us a postcard of the Basilica, which had been postmarked in 1910, a great way to finish my first real visit to the Paris Stamp Market. I have already been in touch with Jean-Pierre since then, and I hope to get back to Paris to visit the Market and see him again before too long.
Period picture postcard of the Basilica of the Sacre Cceur (Sacred Heart) in Montmartre, given to me as a gift by stamp dealer Jean-Pierre shown alongside a photo of the Basilica taken on the same day in June 2019 .
The other side of the postcard, franked with France, Scott 159, 5-centime green definitive stamp depicting 'The Sower" (La Semeuse in French), issued in 1907. Receiving postmark dated 5 February 1910.