France collectible postage stamps and covers

The sheer variety of French postage stamps available to buyers makes this area of collecting one of the very busiest, if not the busiest, in the hobby today. This section of Europe-Stamps.com concerns the postage stamps issued for use in the Republic of France, not French colonies.

Second Republic stamps, 1849

France’s first stamps were issued in 1849, a year after the revolution that led to the establishment of the Second Republic under new President Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte. The first series showed the head of Ceres, the Roman goddess of growing plants. There were several denominations of these stamps, and there are several variations noted by collectors. The name of the country as inscribed was the abbreviated form REPUB FRANC.

Second Empire stamps, 1851

In 1851, Bonaparte led a coup that ended in his taking the title of Emperor and the establishment of the Second Empire of France. New stamps were issued, depicting Napoléon III instead of Ceres and the new inscription EMPIRE FRANC; the design was very similar to the Ceres stamps. The Second Empire lasted until 1870, issuing several more stamps showing the Emperor and using the fuller inscription EMPIRE FRANÇAIS.

Third Republic stamps, 1870

In 1870 France was defeated by the Prussians, and Napoléon III’s Empire fell. For a couple years, the provisional government in unoccupied Bordeaux issued 1849-style Ceres stamps with REPUB FRANC on them. Nominally the Third Republic, this era was more formally established in 1875, and beginning in 1876 a single new stamp design was used for the remainder of the century on a variety of French stamps.

New stamp designs, 1900

New stamps in 1900 showed more allegorical figures in their designs, and this would remain the case for the stamps of France until Louis Pasteur appeared on a 1923 issue. From that point, stamp designs were diversified in general. During this time, some stamps were inscribed RÉPUBLIQUE FRANÇAISE (sometimes with one or both ‘U’s shaped like ‘V’s) and others POSTES FRANCE.

France stamps of World War II, 1940

During World War II, French stamps continued to be issued by the Vichy government, with the inscription POSTES FRANÇAISES, then (in 1943) simply FRANCE.

The phrase RÉPUBLIQUE FRANÇAISE was resurrected for use on some stamps by a provisional government from 1944 to 1946. In 1944 and 1945, stamps were issued for the country by the United States and Britain; these were inscribed FRANCE and depicted the Arc de Triomphe.

Fourth & Fifth Republic stamps, 1946 — now

In 1946, the Fourth Republic was established, and a healthy, modern stamp-issuing approach was taken from this point. Towards the end of the 1950s, the various French colonies around the world (especially in Africa) began to seek independence, and with that and other problems in France, a new constitution was created, beginning the era of the Fifth Republic (this is the modern republic of today). This change is not particularly notable, philatelically, as stamps of the Fourth and Fifth Republics have a seamless continuity.

Collectibility and variety of French stamps

France has courted the international collectors’ market in many areas. For a start, the subjects commemorated on regular-issue French stamps are wide-ranging; if you collect almost any subject on stamps, chances are there are some French stamps that would suit you. Mint never-hinged (MNH) stamps are, of course, highly collectible and numerous, as are specialty items like full stamp sheets, minisheets, stamp blocks, and air post items. See our subcategories for interesting items like this for sale, and for notable French souvenir sheets, cinderella stamps, first day covers (FDCs), postage due stamps, revenue stamps, and much more. The selection here changes daily.

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