A treasure discovered in a book in 1931 - Part I

This article deals with the fortuitous discovery in 1931 of a French philatelic gem:

1 - The 1 franc Vermilion
2 - 1 Franc Vermillon tête-bêche
3 - The most prestigious item of French philately 

1 / The 1 Franc vermilion

The first two stamps of France were issued on January 1, 1849 : the 20c black (for covers weighing up to 7,5 gr.) and the 1 franc vermilion for covers weighing between 15 gr. and 100 gr.

The 1 franc vermilion (Yvert &Tellier #7, Scott #8, Stanley Gibbons #25) is the most prestigious stamp of French philately. It was printed from December 30, 1848 to January 7, 1849 for a total of 509,700 stamps. A single panel of 150 was used for this 1st printing.

There is one tête-bêche per panel so 3398 were theoretically printed. It’s difficult to count exactly the number of vermilion tête-bêche, just like the vermilion stamps, because over the course of this first printing, the color of the stamps, red according to the administration, changed from a light red rather orange to red-brown for the last few sheets. What we do know is that there were 122,398 vermilion stamps destroyed by the postal administration on July 21, 1851.

This red-brown, identified as carmine later, will be the color adopted for the following printings. December 1849, the postal administration will send to all post offices a note stipulated that "light red" stamps (vermilion), mainly those of the 1st printing, must be returned to this administration for destruction because they could be confused with the 40 centimes orange stamps whose sale was about to begin (February 1850).

Dec. 1, 1849: directive from the administration for the withdrawal of 1 franc vermilion.

2/ 1 Franc vermilion tête-bêche

Few stamps printed and some destroyed, one can imagine the rarity of this stamp which remains the dream of all collectors. And what about the supreme Grail, a tête-bêche?

We recense only these tête-bêche in this rare color:

- A block of 4, bright vermilion, the one that will be presented in the next chapter;

- A block of 4, called Vervelle of the name of the philatelist who discovered it in the papers of Mr. Hulot in charge of printing the first French stamps. This vermilion is pale, the paper very thin and not gummed. A collector's item often confused with that of this article in terms of their belonging to collections. This one has been in the collections of Ferrari, Blind and also Champion and Ballat;

- A strip of 3 dull vermilion, canceled grid;

- A strip of 3 bright vermilion, canceled grid.

3 / The most prestigious item of French philately

Unused block of 4, bright vermilion,  with a tête-bêche.

This rarity has an incredible story which adds to its legend an aura of "philatelic holiness".

In 1931, in southwestern France, a man whose father had just died browsed the library he had just inherited. He is looking at the books that might interest him, leafing through a few, when suddenly ... he discovers between two pages, a mint block of 22 stamps bearing the effigy of Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture, harvests and fertility. Not being a stamp collector, he shows them to one of his friends who is a stamp collector. Imagine the face of this man who is presented with a block of 22 copies of the rarest French stamp! At the time, only one of these stamps had a catalogue value of 10,000 francs. Certainly several stamps are defective (folds, small splits or tears) and the gum is cracked.

Reconstruction of the original piece as it was discovered.

This philatelist and the owner go to Mr. Boscus, a stamp dealer in Bordeaux.

Letterhead from L. Boscus, "Un petit magasin... des petits prix = "A small store... low prices".

Léon Boscus’s eyes are lit up in front of these stamps for which there are no qualifiers to express their rarity. Prudent, Mr. Boscus wants confirmation that this find is genuine. As a member of the Chambre Syndicale and International Society of Paris Stamp Dealers, he therefore relies on his Parisian colleagues.

In Paris, it's a bit of disillusionment, "too good to be true!" exclaim the Parisian merchants. A commission of experts is therefore mandated to examine these stamps.

After study and deliberation, there is no doubt that these stamps are genuine.

 👉 The continuation of the story of this block of 4 vermilion, part II.

Reference : "La collection La Fayette, timbres mythiques de France", Michèle Chauvet de l'Académie de Philatélie, SPINK - BEHR (2003).