Stamped Holidays

Bonne Fête Nationale Française!

First Day Cover of United States #C120 (1989)
First Day Cover of United States #C120 (1989)

The 14th of July is annually celebrated as French National Day, also known as Bastille Day.  In France, it is known as National Day (fête nationale) or, more commonly, le quatorze juillet (the fourteenth of July), commemorating the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789.  The Bastille was a medieval fortress and in the center of Paris. It contained just seven inmates at the time of its storming but was a symbol of the abuse of the monarchy: its fall was the flashpoint of the French Revolution.

Interestingly, the reason for the attack on the Bastille was not the hope of freeing prisoners but the hunt for gunpowder following the looting of firearms and cannons at the Hôtel des Invalides.  The few prisoners that remained were freed but a deadly battle ensued including the brutal beheading of the prison governor and his officers.  This was more of a side effect of chaotic uprising rather than the original intent.  Upon hearing of the attack that evening, Louis XVI asked a French duke “Is this a revolt?” to which the duke famously replied, “No, sire, this is a revolution.”

France hosted the Fête de la Fédération on the July 14, 1790, to celebrate the France’s constitutional monarchy and to honor France’s newfound unity.  It wasn’t until 1880 that the date became a national holiday.  Since that year, a military parade had been held in Paris and has passed down the Champs-Élysées every year since 1918 except during the years of German occupation (1940 to 1944) when the ceremony took place in London under the command of General Charles de Gaulle.  The parade passes down the Champs-Élysées from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde.

On July 14, 1989, the United States issued an airmail stamp (Scott #C120) to commemorate the bicentennial of the French Revolution.  At the time, the stamp generated some controversy as it was perceived that it contained an error — the reversal of the colors of the French tricolor flag.  The U.S. Postal Service responded at the allegorical figures of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity were simply placed on color panels that were not meant to represent the national flag.  Kim Parks of the Postal Service’s stamp support branch, states that ”It was not intended to impersonate a flag. In fact, there was a conscious effort not to remake the French flag.”  Still, many were disturbed at the color reversal.  There was also some discussion in the press about the fact that the image of Fraternity, based on an engraving in the Musee Carnavalet in Paris, lacks the nipple on the exposed breast of the original!

France #1307 (1971)
France #1307 (1971)

France released three stamps in the sixth installment of a History of France series in 1971, with the 65 centimes value (Scott #1307) picturing the storming of the Bastille appearing on 10th July.  I find the majority of French stamps extremely beautiful due to the fine engraving as seen on this specimen, rendered in dark brown gray blue and magenta.

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