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Delandre Vignettes

by Bonnie & Roger Riga

Delandre vignettes have a colorful history

In cinderella collecting, stamps with a military theme are perennial favorite. Particularly popular are a group of stamps known collectively as "Delandres".

These include thousands of colorful World War I era vignettes detailing the various units of the French and other allied armies, fundraising stamps for the French Red Cross, and a variety of other patriotic and propaganda stamps (Figure 1).

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Figure 1. Patriotic labels for Belgium and France created by Gaston Fontanille, known as "Delandre. "The top label identifies the Belgian Army National headquarters, while the label below quotes Napoleon:"The tactical question is of little, the moral question is everything !"

All were produced by a Frenchman who went by the name Delandre. His is a very interesting story of imagination gone wild  ---- and crooked.

Born Gaston Fontanille in the 1880’s, he was a son of a prominent family in Valence, a city in southeastern Francewhere his father was high magistrate.

Gaston was something of a bad seed who sold spurious noble titles to the gullible, created a chemical company whose board of directors listed many highly influential men, though none of them  knew they were serving in that capacity.. He was arrested and jailed more than half a dozen times for his schemes.

With the onset of World War I, Delandre, as he preferred to be called, set up shop to produce and market stamps for the various units of the French Army (Figure 2). He hired some of the most famous military artists of his time and began to produce what eventually became thousands of individual stamps, including those for colonial units, occupied territories, schools, and forts.

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Figure 2. Delandre creations for the French military commemorate (from top to bottom) the 64th Infantry Regiment, the 155th Infantry Regiment, the 4th Engineers Regiment,  the 1st Tonkin Riflemen Regiment, and the 123rd Territorial Regiment (normal multicolored and sepia single color varieties).

When the military censors refused to allow him to distribute the stamps to the soldiers in the field, Delandre simply gathered them in packets and sold them to the general public. creating a new retail model that continues in the hobby to this day.

The French Red Cross commissioned Delandre to produce stamps of a similar nature to the military vignettes (Figure 3). This was his eventual downfall, because he neglected to share the profits from the sale of these stamps with the Red Cross. Figure 4 shows a bogus Red Cross issue of Montenegro created by Delandre.

He was arrested on June 20, 1917 and sent to prison where he died in 1923.

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Figure 3. Delandre's French Red Cross issues created for the Union of French Women (UFF); and related colonial issues for Saint Sebastian, Madagascar and Port Said, Egypt.
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Figure 4. A Montenegro bogus Red Cross issue, one of the stamps that eventually led to Delandre's final incarceration.

These days the name Delandre rarely evokes the swindler and con man, but instead has become a shorthand way of referring to the stamps and collecting area for which he is better remembered.

Delandre also produced an album for his stamps, but the album, a collectible in itself, contained many more spaces than the actual number of stamps that existed. Essential  information and a catalog were finally made available for this collecting area, beginning in 1984, with the publication of a series of five catalogs covering  Delandre's output. The first two volumes were created by Walter Schmidt of Oregon with later studies by Schmidt and Charles Kiddle of Great Britain. For the collector with a serious interest in these issues the catalogs catalogs comprise a key reference.

Collectors find these stamps a challenging and rewarding pursuit. Many stamps are found both perforated ed and imperforate, and sometimes in several color variations. Topical collectors will find diverse subject matter, such as trains, dogs, artillery, ships, maps, uniforms and costumes (Figure 5)

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Figure 5. Topics are abundant on Delandre's many labels. Thesr military themed issues include a ship (the French armored cruiser Leon Gamretta), a microscope (for a Bacteriological Laboratory issue) a horse (representing yhe 1st Chasseurs, a light cavalry regiment), and a map (showing Anglo-French occupation of Tenedos, Turkey). The Gambetta stamp also shows the Phygian cap of Marianne, the symbol of French liberty.

Many of Delandre's creations are common, selling individually for $5.00 or less, but many are also quite rare and fetch considerably higher prices. A very good collection can be assembled with persistence, but a truly comprehensive collection will cost a substantial amount of money.

Delandre the man was a shady character of the worst sort, but Delandre the collecting area is a fascinating, colorful and worthwhile segment of our hobby.  Gaston Fontanille never could have  envisioned such an outcome to his schemes.

This column first appeared in Scott Stamp Monthly and has been edited for online presentation.
This page was last updated July 8, 2016.
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