Monday, July 18, 2022

Papillon de Metz, what is it

This is the story of two sisters, both deeply in love with one another, but once they were bitter enemies. Their names are Germany and France. Today they live at peace with one another and are leaders of the European Union alliance, but as late as WWII, they were bitter enemies. Their animosity to one another can be traced as far back as Roman times but here we will stick to one specific incident, the 1870 Franco Prussian war.

Before the unification of Germany in 1871, one of the states was the Kingdom of Prussia, led by Otto von Bismark, the same person who was responsible for the unification of Germany. In 1870 a coalition of German states led by Prussia went to war with France and eventually defeated France. The end result was the creation of a unified Germany. In this war Paris and other areas of France were surrounded and were under siege by the coalition forces.

One such area was a fortress named Metz. The French Army of the Rhine was defeated by the Germans at the Battle of Gravelotte on 18th August 1870 and they retreated into the Metz fortress. The fortress was promptly surrounded by German forces. The French thought that they had enough food for about five months but because there were about 170,000 soldiers trapped in the fortress, the provisions only lasted for 41 days. They needed food.

Beato, Felice A. - Eine von Deutschen besetzte Festung in Metz nach der Übergabe durch General Bazaine (Zeno Fotografie).jpg
One of the Metz forts under German occupation after the French surrender
By Beato, Felice A. - Image, ID number 2000185254X, Public Domain, Link

So now we have a surrounded fortress with people inside who need to send messages out to whoever, loved ones or request for reinforcements or whatever. So they took out their iPhones and loaded the WhatsApp app and immediately tapped in messages. Oh wait, this is 1870. How do they get messages out? Some people did rely on smugglers to get messages in and out, but this was unreliable and of course unofficial and on the other hand, can you really trust a smuggler?

On September 1st, Major Doctor Papillon, medical assistant in the ambulance of the Guard, was talking

Julien François Jeannel
to the military pharmacist, Julien François Jeannel, and he suggested the use of paper balloons to send messages out of the fortress. Actually ths was the end of his contribution to the system. On September 2nd, Jeannel proposed this method to Chief of Staff, Marshal Bazaine. He scoffed at the idea but enabled Jeannel to build a few balloons for initial testing. He had no confidence in the idea and considered it to be kids' toys.

These initial balloons became known as the "Pharmacists' balloons". From September 5th to 15th, the pharmacists launched 14 hydrogen-filled balloons carrying around 3000 very small letters. They called these letters "butterflies", maybe because the idea came from Doctor Papillon which means butterfly. These letters were constructed of tracing paper coated on both sides with varnish to make them waterproof. Only 7 of the first 14 balloons managed to carry messages to their destination. Today less than 20 letters are currently known. How many balloons were sent on which dates? No one really knows as there were days in which it rained heavily, so it would make little sense to send out a paper balloon.

Although Marshal Bazaine felt that these were toys, they reached their destination and so the senior commander of the Metz Fortress, General de Coffinières, decided to take it under his wing. He approached the Artillery and Engineering Application School to develop a new system and making it available to all, civilians and soldiers. A post office was opened and the mayor of Metz was informed of the official creation of the balloon post. The letters were to be written on "onion skin" paper, and measure only 10 cm x 5 cm. These balloons became known as The balloons of the School of Artillery and Engineering. I wonder why?

Ten balloons were launched by the Engineers between September 16th and October 3rd, each containing several thousands of the butterflies. Marshal Bazaine claimed that a number of the balloons had been captured by the Prussians and discontinued their use as of October 3rd. According to Yvery and Telliers specialized catalog, the total number of letters transported in this way is estimated at 150,000 but less than 125 are currently known.

On 20th October, the food provisions of the fortress ran out and I will not write here about what the French Army ate instead. 27th October, Bazaine was forced to surrender his entire army, simply because they were starving.

The letter above, was sent on the 9th balloon on 29th September 1870. It was sent to Abbeville, Gateway to the Bay of Somme. 

  • "Le Siège de Metz" ~ Yvert &Tellier Le Spécialisé p 487 - 489

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Monday, July 11, 2022

Some notes about my YouTube channel

Just a short update this time. My YouTube channel now has 290 subscribers (stalkers). This puts peer pressure on me as I feel the need to continue to provide good content. How many more subscribers do I need until I am considered a YouTuber?

I entered my YouTube in the first Virtual Philatelic Websites and Social Media Exhibition. I will not go into the details of the competition, but you should check it out. Of special mention are two young philatelists, meaning under 40, yes babies in the philatelic world, but these are Lisa from StampCat and Richard from Richard Philatelist.
Ok, I hear you asking why am I telling you this? Well way back in November there was an exhibition in which I entered this blog. There was a popular voting option, in which you my readers, can vote for me. With your help, I came runner up in the popular vote. So now I am asking again.

Here is the link to the page:

Now that you are there, look for my YouTube channel, near the bottom of the sites. It is listed alphabetically.

Click "View the Site" in the bottom right.
Now you will see an option of "Vote for this site". 
Please click that button for me.

Thank you

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

The special case of Theresienstadt

The Theresienstadt Ghetto was established by the SS during World War II in the fortress town of Terezín, in German-occupied Czechoslovakia. The ghetto is quite close to Prague and you can actually take day trips to get there. The Gestapo was tasked to turn Terezín into a Jewish ghetto and concentration camp.

Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the SS, established the ghetto and directed the transportation of Czech Jews in November 1941. It held Jews from German-occupied Czechoslovakia, as well as tens of thousands of Jews deported chiefly from Germany and Austria, as well as hundreds from the Netherlands and Denmark. More than 150,000 Jews were sent there, including 15,000 children, and held there for months or years, before being sent by rail transports to their deaths at Treblinka and Auschwitz extermination camps in occupied Poland, as well as to smaller camps elsewhere. Less than 150 children survived.

The Nazis intended the camp to house elderly, privileged, and famous Jews from Germany, Austria, the Czech lands, and western Europe. Conditions were harsh. At times, over 50,000 Jews lived in the space once inhabited by 7,000 Czechs. Food was scarce. About 33,000 people died at Theresienstadt, mostly due to the appalling conditions arising out of extreme population density, malnutrition and disease.

The ghetto also served as a "retirement settlement" for elderly and prominent Jews to mislead their communities about the Final Solution. It was also presented as a “model Jewish settlement” for propaganda purposes.

Ghetto inmates were only allowed to write on official postcards, and at set intervals. Postcards were written to or received from family members and friends, but could also be used as confirmation receipts for packages or permits to send packages. Receiving parcels was very important as they often included food to supplement what they received in the ghetto. The messages on the postcards had to be written in block letters in German and couldn’t exceed 30 words. Later on, the rule regarding the word limit was abolished.

The ghetto had a specific and complex postal service. The way it worked was like this:

  1. The ghetto internee makes a request from the Jewish Council in Prague. "Send me food please"
  2. The Jewish Council in Prague forwards the request to the sender of the parcel, a relative, a friend, sponsor.
  3. The person who is going to send the parcel, comes in to collect the stamp (pictured here) or the stamp is sent to him.
  4. The sender either hands the parcel into the Jewish Council in Prague with the stamp affixed to the parcel or mails it at the post office with both the concessionary stamp on the parcel and correct postage on the waybill. Not all the senders lived in Prague.
  5. The parcel is then delivered to the ghetto.
  6. The receiver then signs a thank you card and a receipt and receives the parcel and takes it home. Food at last!

Some of the inmates tried to contact their relatives through letters and messages that were illegally smuggled from the Theresienstadt Ghetto in order to bypass the strict censors from the “Jewish self-administration” and the SS.

Although parcels were more important to the inmates, the number of preserved postcards reveals the scale of the mail system in Theresienstadt. The content of the postcards was strictly regulated and censored.

I will end this blog post with a warning. I had the used stamp in my exhibit for many years, until I could buy a mint issue. When I had the mint issue I wanted to sell the used one, but found out that it was a forgery. How could they tell? It turns out that there are some tell-tale signs, such as the lack of a window in the cathedral.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Sample without value

A few years back I purchased an item that had black cloth on it. I was told that I could use it whenever I wanted to use something black. This week I decided I wanted to use it and I thought it would be good for something like, Black September or Jews had to wear special cloth or during mourning we wear torn material or even, we were looked on without value, the sky’s the limit.

I didn't understand the philatelic explanation and wanted to learn more. This sparked me to go on on a philatelic research endeavor.

The black cloth here is what is known as a “sample without value” or in French “échantillon sans valeur” in essence a merchant could send a sample through the mail system at a special rate, a kind of precursor to today’s parcel mail.

In France and French territories, meaning those that Napoleon conquered, in Article 16 of the law of 22nd August 1791, "samples without value" were charged at 1/3rd of the single letter rate. This was again confirmed by the “Instructions Générale” of 28th April 1808, article 18. Of course this was under certain conditions, the main condition being that the sample must be mailed under a wrapper or in any manner that it was very visible that this was a sample; if not full postage would be required to be paid.

As of the first postal convention between France and the German Empire, dated 14th December 1801 (article 14), this was also implemented in international mail exchange.

After the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, the Congress of Vienna created a kingdom for the House of Orange-Nassau, which combined the United Provinces of the Netherlands which included Belgium. When the Dutch took over the postal administration, it suspended the Napoleonic special rate for “samples without value”.

Belgium gained her independence in 1830, and kept some of the Dutch postal instructions, including the suspension of this special rate.

This letter was sent within Belgium from Brussels to Verviers in 1843, a distance of 116km. From 1st January 1836, new rates were in implemented, so the postage rate was 5 décimes (50 centimes) for a distance between 100km and 150Km. It was sent in the countryside, SR or service rural to Francomont and this required additional cost, an extra 1 décime making the postal rate of 6 décimes = 60 centimes.

New rates were implemented in Belgium on 14th September 1864 and cheaper rates for samples under were re-enacted. So in Belgium from 1830 to 1864, samples without value were sent at the regular postage rate.

I would like to thank my friends Michaël Smorowski and Mr. Paul Wijnants for there help here. It was invaluable.

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Saturday, May 14, 2022

Go F**K yourself says Ukraine

On February 24, a Russian guided-missile cruiser, the Moskva, asked Ukrainian border guards on Snake Island, south of the port of Odesa, to surrender. Instead of surrendering, the 13 soldiers told the enemy warship "go f*** yourself." The island was hit by Russian missile strikes afterwards but the soldiers survived. This small act of defiance went global.

A Russian missile cruiser "Moskva" anchored near Mumbai, India, May 21, 2003. 

The Moskva was subsequently sunk with Ukraine's Operational Command claiming that it was hit by Neptune anti-ship missiles. Russia claimed a fire broke out causing ammunition aboard to explode, inflicting serious damage to the vessel and forcing its crew to be evacuated. The Moskva was a very large ship (over 13,000 tons), 186 meters long, capable of coordinating operations and commanding several other ships at the same time. Hence its name of "flagship." It was commissioned in the Soviet Union in 1983 and was apparently built in the Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv!

Ukrainian post wanted to take advantage of this and world sympathy and commissioned a stamp issue. A shortlist of 50 designs were put to a vote and the winning stamp was designed by Lviv-based artist Boris Groh and was issued in two values:
F = Registered Letter within Ukraine and W = Overseas letter up to 50 grams.

The stamps show a Ukrainian soldier giving the finger to the Russian cruiser Moskva. On the sheet’s selvedge is the phrase that has become a rallying slogan for Ukrainians in their underdog battle against Moscow: “Russian warship, go …!” Roman Grybov, who apparently uttered the phrase attended the dedication ceremony. He received a medal for his defiance.

Initially only a million stamps were issued and there was a huge buying frenzy, sometimes the stamp going for as high as thousands of dollars on eBay. Ukraine post then limited sales to a sheet per person. One person reported: "I ordered 3 (last 3 he had listed) on eBay from a small dealer in Ukraine. Says profits will go to local hospital." I wonder...

I have seen a single stamp available for only $29 on eBay, if anyone wants to buy. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Oh Occupied Berlin, what about your mail system

Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister on the eve of WWII, said “In war, whichever side may call itself the victor, there are no winners, but all are losers.” Very true words, though they went unheeded to a German dictator who had dreams of ruling over all of Europe.

We all know the history of WWII and we will not rehash it here. Germany, as we know lost the war. However even before the Allies had won the war, they were already deciding what to do about Germany. It was actually this kind of attitude that brought on WW2, two decades after the first one. In February 1945, before the war ended, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Russian Premier Joseph Stalin met near Yalta, Crimea, to discuss the reorganization of post-WWII Europe. The Western powers wanted to establish democratic regimes and Stalin wanted a Soviet “sphere of influence” in Central and Eastern Europe.

On May 7, 1945 Nazi Germany finally capitulated to the victorious Allies. Russian troops had entered Berlin's northern and eastern perimeters on April 21st, and on May 2nd Berlin's commandant surrendered to the Red Army. Allied troops started arriving in Berlin at the beginning of July 1945 and the exclusive Soviet occupation finally ended. July 11th the four powers established a Kommendatura to govern Berlin.

The allies decided to divide Germany into four occupied zones: Great Britain in the northwest, France in the southwest, the United States in the south and the Soviet Union in the east. Berlin, the capital city, now situated in Soviet territory, was also divided into the same four occupied zones.

Now the fun starts. Berlin had been devastated by the war. It was a city in ruins; every third building was destroyed. However they quickly re-established infrastructure such as railroads, subways and newspaper services. Food was of course, in short supply. Post offices were either totally destroyed or heavily damaged; only a third remained at least partially usable. There was also mail that had piled up in the mail boxes and post offices in the last days of the war and had not been dealt with. Outgoing mail was still there as outside destinations had been cut; incoming mail could not be delivered because the war was raging on.

What to do with mail? The beginning of actual regular postal services began in August 1945. In the preceding months the post offices spent much of their time in other than mail-related work such as rebuilding their destroyed facilities. But mail was sent out. In the Soviet Zone many areas produced their own local issue stamps from 1945 through 1946. These local issues (Lokalausgaben) continued to be valid until October 31st 1946.

The powers agreed that all stamps would use the Roman/Latin alphabet for official purposes. A 12Pf rate was decided on for a regional letter and was valid for mail sent to any part of the Allied Occupied Region. The Soviet Zone 12Pf was valid for use in any part of the Zone. And here a conflict arose. On 23rd June 1945, the Soviets issued a red 12pf stamp for use in East Saxony but using Cyrillic letters. The bilingual inscription "Post / Potschta" was in breach of agreements and protests by the "Western" powers ensured that it was rapidly withdrawn within a few hours. There is a question today of whether these stamps were actually issued or withdrawn before they got to the post offices in East Saxony.

During August of 1945, Berliners could start writing to their families, friends and even business connections. Life started up again. The Soviets quickly issued a stamp to be used in Berlin, the Bear stamp. It was not until 1948 that the Allies issued stamps with a Berlin overprint specially for use in Berlin. The Allies issued a set of stamps which could be used anywhere in the occupied zones. In some areas there were no available stamps. See my video on Denazification.

Berlin, although governed together by the four powers, was in the heart of the Soviet zone of what once was Germany, far away from the Allied occupied zone. There was nothing in place to guarantee free Allied access to Berlin. The Russians claimed that West Berlin was a part of their zone as it was in the general Soviet zone. In June 1948 the Allied forces decided that the area of Germany that they were controlling would become independent, having its own currency and of course stamps. The Soviets totally disagreed and cut off all western access to Berlin. Roads, railways, waterways and even electricity were cut. Food was in scarce supply. The US Military governor for Germany ordered all available transport planes to fly food and other necessary supplies into West Berlin and so began the Berlin airlift. The Tegel airport was built in the French zone to handle all the aircraft.

As a means to defray the costs of this massive resupply operation and to provide continuing assistance to the people of Berlin, the military government passed a law requiring a 2Pf tax on various classes of
mail. The tax was to be paid ONLY by the blue stamp, first issued on Dec. 1, 1948 and inscribed "NOTOPFER / 2 BERLIN / STEURMARKE". This translates to "Emergency Victims / 2 Berlin / Tax Stamp". This tax stamp was sold by the post office and it had no use other than on mail. Initially, the Notopfer stamp was required only in the combined American and British zones. It was later used in the French Zone. Strangely it was never used in Berlin itself, nor was it required on mail to Berlin, on mail to the Soviet Zone and on mail to foreign destinations. Initially every class of mail required the Notopfer. This represented a 10% tax for regular mail, but was a whopping 50% for printed matter. Businesses complained loudly about this and printed matter was later made exempt.

The Soviet blockade was eventually lifted in May 1949 but the use of the Notopfer stamp continued until 1956.

Image taken from Delcampe

West Germany or the Republic of Germany was created in May 1949 when the United States, Great Britain, and France consolidated those zones under their occupation. East Germany, or the German Democratic Republic, was established in October 1949. West Germany was allied with the U.S., the U.K. and France and became a western capitalist country with a market economy and East Germany was allied by the Soviet Union and became communist. However Berlin was still a divided city and West Germany wanted her as their capital. East Germany claimed Berlin as her capital and that was a source for a different conflict.

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Monday, February 28, 2022

What is Aryanization?

It is no secret today that Hitler didn't like the Jews, in fact he hated them and wanted them out of Europe. In Germany, a hundred years ago, Jews were a part of everyday life, doctors, scientists, bankers, lawyers and many others and some were very wealthy. The Nazis preferred Germany for the Germans, Aryans, and in their eyes Jews were foreigners. They were not blue eyed, blond adonis.

When the Nazi party took over Germany in 1933, they immediately set about removing Jews from all walks of public life. Jews were sadly removed from many jobs in the public sector such as the civil service and teaching or forced to work only as consultants as can be seen here: . However there were many Jewish owned businesses, some successful and much like today, a boycott on Jewish business was enforced. There were even calls for Jews to "Go back to Palestine". Ironic as today many Europeans are saying get out of Palestine.

A simple boycott of Jewish businesses was unacceptable, because some of the businesses such as the Herman Teitz department store, were very successful. Hermann Tietz, the co founder of the Herman Teitz department store, was born in Poland and he was the first to carry out the idea of the department store in Germany. The Berlin Ka-De-We store was one of their stores. Try and boycott the network and you cut off your nose to spite your face. So what do you do?

The Nazis came up with Arisierung or Aryanization, or the transfer of Jewish owned property to non-Jews, meaning make those businesses Aryan. There were two distinct phases, Voluntary which was from 1933 to Kristallnacht (1938) and Forced which was after Kristallnacht.

Under "Voluntary Aryanization" the Nazis forcefully encouraged Jewish businessmen to sell their businesses at a fraction of their value, often as low as 20 to 30%. As it was they were facing economic and social discrimination. One of the companies that was voluntarily forced to sell out under these terms, was the Herman Teitz Department store. But Houston we now have a problem. This was a well know company and their logo was well known. You cannot have a Jewish sounding name. So the Nazis changed the name to Hertie (Herman Tietz). Check out the image.

Under this "voluntary" situation, about two thirds of Jewish owned businesses either closed their doors or sold out.

Along comes the 1938 violent Kristallnacht pogroms (November 9-10) which showed Jews that they were no longer at home in Germany, as if by now they had any doubt. But in the aftermath of the events, on 12th November, the German government issued "The Decree on the Elimination of Jews from German Economic Life". This law effectively barred Jews from operating stores, agencies and trade. They were forbidden to sell goods or services of any kind. The "Decree on Utilization of Jewish Assets" of Dec 3rd set a time limit for the transfer and set a value of the sale of the firms, at a fraction of their market worth. Every remaining Jewish business was given a non-Jewish person to oversee the immediate sale to non-Jews. Their fee was almost the same as the amount of the sale and was paid by the former owner. This meant that the Jewish owner came out with next to nothing. As an example the "Jos. Koenigberger Tuchfabrik Company", was forced to sell to "Tuchfabrik Meissner & Co. K.G."

I would like to say that since the horrors of the Holocaust, just under a hundred years ago, that we have evolved, but with the anti Jewish laws in some countries (Jews cannot own property or else the sale of land to Jews is a death sentence) and the rise of hatred worldwide, I unfortunately cannot.

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Thursday, February 17, 2022

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or someone else?

Here is something funny for the day. In 2002, Mozambique issued a series for famous composers. This is the stamp they issued for Mozart. Only problem is that they wrote Ludwig van Beethoven on the stamp.

Beethoven's image is bottom left. Interestingly enough is that the image shows the symbol of the Free Masons. Apparently both Mozart and Beethoven were founding members.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Reached 200 mark

Well, I reached the 200 subscribers pointed on my YouTube channel. I don't promote my videos enough of course. Thank you everyone who supported me.

In November 2021, I got a Large Silver award for this site. I was happy because it was the first time this site competed. I just got the jury breakdown and I was shocked. I got 28 out of 40 for Originality, whether I deserve that or not is irrelevant, but the comment made was "random subjects not in great depth and stories behind them rather than philatelic information". The site is "Stories behind the stamps"

Here is my latest video:

Monday, January 31, 2022

What happened to President Mubarak

Before the Gulf War, Iraq issued endless stamps, often between 18 and 22 issues a year. Under Saddam, Iraq had excellent weapon manufacturing capabilities (remember Project Babylon which was also known as Saddam Hussein's super cannon?) and both Israel and Iran were the main targets. Today Iraq, like Syria, doesn't really exist and both are controlled by Iran. However despite its weapon manufacturing, it did not have stamp printing capability. All the printing of stamps was commissioned to European printers and most of them to the state printer of Hungary.

After the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the First Gulf War, Desert Storm, broke out. The Iraqi army was forced to retreat to behind Iraqi borders and sanctions were imposed on Iraq, under the auspices of the United Nations.

After the war Saddam tried to bring the country back to pre-war status and quickly the state infrastructure such as electricity and of course postal services were restored.

As part of the sanctions, Iraqi assets abroad were frozen and therefore had little access to foreign currency. She could also not sell her oil to generate foreign currency. As a result, Iraq's economy plummeted and this also affected the postal service and its services. There was no foreign currency to contract overseas printers. Remember that in the early 1990s, there was no real internet as we know it, that only came about in 1992 and there was definitely no WhatsApp. The main way to communicate was through letters and Iraq did not have the money to design and issue new stamps. As a result, the post office began to take old stamps out of storage and send them to post offices for use.

With the end of the war and the imposition of sanctions, President Saddam wanted revenge on the Arab states that had betrayed him. In 1989, with the establishment of the ACC, Arab Cooperation Council, Iraq issued a series of stamps depicting the leaders of the four founding states: Ali Abdullah Saleh of North Yemen, King Hussein of Jordan, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Saddam Hussein of Iraq.

But there was a problem with the two stamps we mentioned: one of the leaders appearing on them is Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Egypt not only joined the UN Declaration condemning Iraq on the Invasion of Kuwait, but also actively participated in the coalition to expel Iraqi troops from Kuwait. Moreover, Iraqi soldiers were captured by Egyptian soldiers! The embarrassment? How can you do something like that to your partner? This was unforgiveable.

But Iraq needed to use the stamps! So Saddam decided to kill two birds with one stone. To enable the stamps to be used, Saddam Hussein issued an decree stating that Mubarak's face be erased or removed from the Iraqi stamps! Postal officials were quick to comply with this order and the accepted method was to punch a hole through the stamp where the President of Egypt's face appeared.

The cover below was mailed in 1993 and uses one of the stamps in the series. You can clearly see the hole that removed President Hosni Mubarak's face, making it possible to use the stamp. It is interesting to know what Egypt's reaction was when these stamps appeared on the market.

The story, written by Nick Macris, appeared in the November 1993 issue of Global Stamp News. The pictures were provided to me by Mr. Van Someren and he gave me permission to use the images. Thank you very much.

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