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100 centimes = 1 franc.

1960, 100 (old) francs = 1 new franc.

Before 1660

During the 14th and 15th centuries France was dominated by the English, who, through marriage and conquest, had gained control over large areas of what is modern France. Following the battle of Agincourt in 1415, Henry V of England married the daughter of the French king and briefly became king of France and England. On his death in 1422 the regency set up for his infant son was not strong enough to combat the growing sense of unity in France. In the later part of the 15th century the Wars of the Roses began in England and this diversion helped Louis XI of France to bring under his control many of the provinces, dukedoms and baronies which, through ever-changing allegiances, had prevented the formation of a unified nation.

The nucleus formed at that time grew in strength and national identity until Henry of Navarre welded the country into a single unit in 1589. After this period Cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin converted France into the most powerful nation in Europe, though religious difference led to civil wars which tended to split the country when it was not fighting a common enemy.

The first mail service was set up on 19 June 1464 by decree of Louis XI but it only operated for the king and the royal court. The first international couriers were established by the Count of Thurn and Taxis in 1490. Over the years the mail service developed, and in 1576 a tax was established for sending letter under the control of the French government, the first such charge for a post which was not directly for the court. At the direction of FouquetdeVarennes the organization became more precise and was made available to the public in 1603. However, it was a regulation of Pierre d'Almeras, General of Posts, on 16 October 1627, approved by letters patent of the king on 12 May 1628, which established the first postal tariff for the public. The first service was from Paris to Dijon or Macon (2 sous), Lyons, Bordeaux or Toulouse (3 sous). These tariffs were changed in April 1644 and by then the services had extended very considerably. The 2-sou rate disappeared, but 41 places were listed with rates between 3 and 5 sous. In May 1644 the rates for letters to overseas destinations were approved. The rate to England was 10 sous and to other adjacent territories from 9 to 16 sous. Letters were marked in manuscript.

Further development of the service began in 1630 under the Marquis de Louvois, who was Superintendent of Posts until 1668.


Under Louis XIV, the 'Sun' king (1643-1715), the internal disputes were largely suppressed and the boundaries with Italy and Spain confirmed. The wars of the later 17th and early 18th centuries were designed to extend the French eastern frontier to the Rhine. The region between Switzerland and the North Sea continued to be a battlefield until World War II, with only short periods of peace.

The reforms of Louvois continued in the early part of this period. In 1673 the tariffs were altered so that they were in direct relation to the distance carried. There were four zones: up to 25 leagues, 25-60 leagues, 60-80, and over 80 leagues. The rates for a letter ranged from 2 to 5 sous.

In 1676 the rate was again revised but on this occasion to allow for the use of an envelope. In England the policy was that a letter should be a folded sheet and an envelope was considered to be a second sheet and the charge was doubled. However, in France the charge for an envelope was set at only 1 sou and this allowed the manufacture of envelopes to develop while in England no such industry existed until the 1820s.

Letters were endorsed in manuscript until the start of the 18th century, when the larger offices adopted straight-line marks. The markings of the French postal service can be classified in three different types: those using the word 'De', which were the cachets de depart; 'Port Paye' which were the prepaid markings; and 'Deb', which were arrival marks (Debourse). These words appear beside the name of the town.

By 1789 a complete network of postal services had been extended to cover the whole country. Established relationships with neighbouring countries were continued and access was given to the entry of French mail into the imperial service operated by the Counts of Thurn and Taxis.

In 1789 the nation rose against the feudal abuses in France and the royal government was overthrown. After four years of terror, including the execution of the king and queen in 1793, the French revolutionary wars began. However, before this, there had been disruption of the postal service, partly by execution of the senior officials and partly because of uncertainty of control in some districts.

Tariff alterations had been made for internal letters in 1704, when the distances carried were increased to 150 leagues; in 1759, when the rates were raised to 4-14 sous; and in 1792, when a major change was made. By this legislation, payment by distance remained (5-15 sous) but mail in the same departement was carried at a fixed rate of 4 sous. In 17S9 a special 'poste' was opened in Paris.


The execution of the king and the formation of the Directory after the country had been declared a republic led to pressure from the major powers in Europe, which advanced to attack France. In 1793 wars began, and lasted almost without interruption for the next 22 years. Initially the loss of many officers traditionally drawn from the aristocracy weakened the leadership of the army, but the spirit of the troops led to many early successes and the frontiers were not only preserved but extended into Belgium and towards the Rhine.

Following the successes of the Italian campaigns in 1796-7, Bonaparte's climb to the emperorship of France began. After the expedition to Syria and Egypt, Bonaparte returned to France and overthrew the council of 500, which had replaced the Directory, and on 10 November 1799 Napoleon Bonaparte was declared first consul. In 1802 he became consul for life and on 18 May 1804 he was proclaimed emperor. The seeming relentless advance of the French armies continued until 1812, at which time the armies were stretched from Portugal to Moscow but the growing strength of the Allies led to defeat of the French in a series of campaigns in 1813. By early 1814 France had been driven back to its original frontiers and Paris was entered by the Allies on 31 March 1814. Napoleon abdicated and was exiled to Elba. The Bourbons were restored.

On 1 March 1815 Napoleon left Elba and returned to France. He arrived at Fontainebleau on 20 March the start of the '100 Days'. He was defeated at Waterloo on 18 June 1815 and returned to Paris, where he was forced to abdicate. The Bourbons were again restored and Napoleon was exiled to St Helena.

The reorganization of France under the Code Napoleon led to many changes in the postal services. Changes in the method of payment had begun under the Directory and in 1795, after many alterations in the system of weights and distances, a new series of rates was issued. These increased all stages by 1 sou, so that the rates for distance ranged from 6 to 18 sous and the rate for the same departement became 5 sous. In December the same year changes were again made. The costs were greatly increased and the number of stages for distance was reduced. The minimum cost was now 50 sous, but this was reduced to 6 sous in July 1796.

Obviously these fluctuations could not be allowed to continue, and in 1800 a revised series of charges was introduced, which with minor changes remained in force until 1815. Initially a letter up to 7 grammes (1/4 oz) was 2 decimes for 100 kilometres. This related to a previous rate of about 4 sous for 20 leagues. An interesting factor is that the maximum distance was increased from 180 leagues 850 kms (530 miles) to 1000 kms (620 miles) - a measure of the advances which the French had already made.

During the wars France occupied and absorbed into French territory Belgium and Holland, Germany to the Rhine, Savoy, Piedmont and Tuscany. Satellite regimes were established with the Helvetic Confederation (1803), the Kingdom of Italy and the Kingdom of Naples (1805), the Confederation of the Rhine (1806), the Grand Duchy of Warsaw (1807) and Spain (1808). Under the Napoleonic reorganization all the departements were given numbers which were included in the post-marks. Numbers were also given to the occupied territories (some of these are listed under individual territories) which took the numbers of departements from 84 to 129.

Dated postmarks were introduced in France from the early years of the century and there were many marks issued to the Grande Armee for use by the French armies in the field. Marks of entry into France and the route by which they had arrived were also indicated on the postmarks at this time.

Napoleon's Conquests to 1814
Click map for larger view



The Congress of Vienna reduced France to its original boundaries and, in particular, ensured that the eastern frontier was moved back from the Rhine. The Bourbons continued to exercise control of the country until 1830, when, following a revolt, Charles X was deposed in favour of Louis Philippe, Duke of Orleans. He reigned until 1848, when another rising deposed him and the Second Republic was declared.

The postal service was consolidated into the new reduced area. Rates were reset in 1828, when the distance was reduced from 1000 km (620 miles) to 900 km (560 miles), and this remained essentially the rate until stamps were issued in 1849. The currency was also reformed and the present format of 100 centimes to 1 franc was introduced.

Postal markings continued to show the different types of markings for arrival and despatch and the military service continued to develop mainly in connection with France's colonial expansion.

First stamps were printed in values of 20 centimes and 1 franc, the rate for letters having been set at 20 centimes for 71/2 grammes (¼ oz). The stamps were inscribed REPUB. FRANC.


With the introduction of adhesive stamps, a series of new marks was introduced to obliterate the new labels. Initially these were in various forms of diamonds or circles with parallel lines or bars. Between 1853 and 1876 a series of new cancellations, consisting of a diamond of dots containing a number, was used by French POs. Two series were produced with small and large numerals - each one indicating the offices of despatch. These cancellations were also used in POs abroad.

Further stamps were added to the range between 1850 and 1852. Initial tariffs introduced at the time stamps were issued were quickly changed and the internal rate became 25 centimes in 1850, though this reverted to 20 centimes in 1854. This tariff remained the basis until 1871.

Meanwhile major political changes were occurring. At the beginning of December 1851, Prince Louis- Napoleon Bonaparte, President of the Republic, organized a military coup which led to the dissolution of the National Assembly. Election of the president for ten years was proposed. In October 1852 the Senate was called to decide on the future of the constitution. The restoration of the empire was proposed and agreed subject to a vote by the people. The vote was held on 21 November 1852 and was carried by 7¾ million votes to ¼ million against. Napoleon III was declared emperor on 2 December. Initially stamps appeared with Napoleon's head replacing 'Ceres' but with the inscription remaining as REPUB. FRANC. However new stamps appeared in August 1853 inscribed EMPIRE. FRANC.

In 1854 France joined England in the war against Russia fought in the Crimea. In the later stages they were supported by the Sardinians. The French army was particularly successful in the assault on Sebastopol. Because of the shortage of British ships, much of the early mail from British forces was carried by French vessels. Mail from this campaign was marked 'Armee d'Orient'.

In 1859 France, allied with Sardinia, fought the Austrians for control of northern Italy. In return for their support, France gained Savoy and the Alpes Maritimes.

In 1870 Napoleon led his country into a disastrous war with Prussia. He was unaware of Bismarck's plan to form a buffer on the west bank of the Rhine. The trigger which started the war was the agreement that a Prussian prince should become king of Spain. This was unacceptable to Napoleon and war began on 28 July 1870. The French were defeated, the emperor was captured at Sedan on 2 September, and the empire was dissolved. The Third Republic was declared immediately and a provisional government established at Bordeaux.

Stamps supplied to the provincial POs quickly ran out and new printing was made at Bordeaux mint. The 'Ceres' design of the Second Republic was reintroduced and the inscription REPUB. FRANC.

The Prussians advanced into France, Paris was invested by 19 September, and capitulated on 28 January 1871. During the siege, several attempts were made to get mail in and out of the city. Letters were sent out in manned balloons (balons montes) and attempts were made to send letters by floating metal canisters down the Seine (boule de moulin). However, the most successful system for incoming letters made use of pigeons from Tours. Messages reduced in size were read by projecting the paper onto a screen (this service was also available from Britain).

Under the terms of the peace agreement, France lost Alsace-Lorraine (q.v.) to Prussia and subsequently to the German empire. Bismarck had gained his foothold on the west bank of the Rhine.


After the disaster of the Franco Prussian War, it took time for France to recover and to regain its place as a major power in European politics. The various alliances of this period enabled France to rely on its new allies for common defence while it gradually rebuilt its own strength. It was a time when the French gradually expanded their empire in Africa and began to develop a colonial policy throughout the world.

At home the postal organization remained much as before, but new tariffs were introduced in September 1871, partly as a result of the war, and the basic internal rate returned to 25 centimes. It remained at this level until after World War I.

Postcards were introduced with a rate of 15 centimes in January 1873 and an express service was started in March 1892 at a cost of 50 centimes. Registration had been suspended during the Prussian occupation and this was re -established in February 1873.

France was one of the original signatories of the UPU in 1874. The first meeting had been planned in Switzerland in 1870 but was delayed because of the Franco-Prussian War. Even when it was eventually held, the French delegation was late and many of the decisions were approved in its absence. Rates for the UPU countries were introduced in October 1875 at a rate of 30 centimes, but this was reduced to 25 centimes in May 1878 after the first congress of the UPU, which was held in Paris.

The extension of the French colonies led to rapid development of the French mailboat service during this period. The division of Africa between the main European powers was completed by 1900, through France was still in conflict in North and West Africa.

On 1st January 1899, following the introduction of the Imperial Penny Post a week earlier, the French established a Colonial rate equal to the internal French rate.

The Entente Cordiale with Britain was declared in 1907 and a Franco British exhibition was held at White City, London in 1908. The alliance of the two powers in combination with Russia seemed to provide a balance of power, to offset the strength of the Central Powers, but this was not to be. In 1914 the assassination of the Austrian Archduke led to the outbreak of World War I.


France entered the war with Germany after the invasion of Belgium, and immediately moved into Germany in the area of Alsace. However, the strength of the German drive through Belgium broke the French northern armies, and the army in Alsace withdrew. After the battle of the Maine, the Germans were driven back and the war settled down to a stalemate of trench warfare for the next three years. Apart from Germany and Russia, the French forces suffered the greatest losses and part of northern France was occupied by the Germans for most of the war. In 1916 German stamps overprinted for the Western Military Command were used in these occupied areas, and it was not until 1918 that all these areas were regained by France.

French forces also fought in Italy and in the Salonica campaign. Forces postmarks were used from these areas. The French commander at Salonica distinguished himself in 1918 by making the longest and quickest advance of World War I. With the British holding his flank against attack from the Turks, the French advanced through the Balkans and up to the line of the Danube. This led to French forces markings being used throughout this area and, later, overprinted stamps were introduced for civilians in these areas. At the end of the war, France regained Alsace-Lorraine (q.v.) from Germany and, apart from re-occupation in World War II, they have remained French ever since.


The peace conferences of World War I were held in Versailles and at St Germain en Laye. Special postmarks were used on the mail from the delegates. The many changes in the boundaries in Europe are detailed under each country; French forces were employed in peacekeeping in areas of unrest and Field P0 marks were used by the French army. Overprinted French stamps were used in Memel (q.v.) until the French were forced to withdraw in 1923.

At home France was not so seriously affected by the inflation in Germany as some other countries, but the decline in the value of the franc led to several increases in postal rates in the 1920s.

The rate for internal postage had been reduced to 15 centimes in 1917 but returned to 25 centimes in April 1920, 30c in July 1925, 40c in May 1926 and 50c in August 1926, where it remained until 1937. It moved to 65c in July 1937, to 90c in November 1938 and to 1fr in December 1939.

In November 1919, after successful trials during the peace conference, the first airmail service was introduced between London and Paris. The rate for this service was initially 3fr in addition to the normal postage. The French, like the British, needed to develop quicker mail services to the colonies abroad. In particular, France pioneered the flights to West Africa -initially from Toulouse to Casablanca and then to South America. The British Post Office used the Air France service until it was suspended in 1940.

The service to the Far East was more difficult to sustain because so many countries had to be overflown on the route. The need to complete a service to Indo-China was the main objective for the French, and this line was completed in 1934.

The building of the Maginot Line in the late 1 920s gave France a feeling of security against any growth of power in Germany. With the resurgence of the German army after 1933 when Hitler became chancellor, it was obvious that the French army and the Western Allies needed time to rebuild their forces, particularly their air strength. The Munich Agreement of 1938 gave both countries a breathing space of one year but, despite this, war was declared in September 1939 after the German invasion of Poland.


France entered the war on 3 September with Britain and immediately prepared for assault from Germany. Because of the strength of the Maginot Line, Germany did not attack immediately. In April 1940 Denmark and Norway were invaded and a French force formed part of the Allied Expeditionary Force to north Norway.

In May the Germans invaded Holland and Belgium and quickly passed through to enter France from the north-east and directly south of Luxembourg, which by- passed the Maginot Line. The French army fell back and its British allies, pinned to the Channel coast, were forced to withdraw from Dunkirk.

On 10 June Italy declared war and moved into the undefended region of southern France. On 12 June Paris was declared an 'open city', and the government was moved first to Tours and then to Bordeaux. On 17 June Marshal Petain asked the Germans for an armistice and on 22 June France was forced to accept the harsh terms imposed by Hitler.

France was divided into occupied and unoccupied areas. The latter was roughly south of the Loire but included no part of the Atlantic coast. Vichy was the new seat of government.

The war seriously disrupted the mail service, and although the basic structure remained it was now separated by the new boundary. Alsace and Lorraine (q.v.) were returned to German direct control. French stamps which had been issued by the Third Republic remained in use throughout France, and the first issue of the new French state appeared on 12 November 1940.

The rates of postage were increased from 1 franc to 1]50c in January 1942. Overseas contact with the French colonies was particularly difficult because of the action of the Allies and many places declared for Free France under General de Gaulle. A mail service continued with Britain from unoccupied France, which was nominally neutral. An air service via Lisbon and Madrid operated during 1941 and 1942, but when Britain and America invaded North Africa in November 1942, the Germans occupied the whole of France and this external link was discontinued.

On 6 June 1944 the Allies invaded Normandy and in August, southern France. By the end of 1944 virtually all of France had been liberated and Paris became the capital again in August. Stamps of a new design were printed in Washington and brought to France by the Allies in June. These were used in liberated areas as the forces advanced. They were placed on sale in Paris in October 1944. A further series, which had been printed in Algiers, was first placed on sale in Corsica in 1943, and was also released in Paris in November 1944.

A provisional government had been formed on 25 August 1944 and in September some of the pre-war designs of 'Iris' were released in new colours and, in the same month, a new 'Marianne' design, which had been printed in London, was also released. This issue was used until late in 1945. The complication of these four different issues all being used at the same time was compounded by the overprinting of many French stamps captured by the advancing Allies with the letter RF. The postage rates were again increased on 1 March 1945 and the basic rate was increased to 2fr.

1945 to date

As a result of the war, France regained all the territory which had been lost in 1940 and also some small area on the frontier with Italy north of Menton. The provisional government of August 1944 was replaced in October 1946 by the Fourth Republic.

Normal postal links, both internal and external, had been quickly reformed and by September 1944 overeas mail was being delivered in southern France. However, France now began to suffer from inflation and the postal rates rapidly increased. From 2 francs in 1945, the rate reached 20 francs in 1957.

Because of the failure of French military policies in both Indo-China and Algiers, coupled with changes in government of the Fourth Republic, General de Gaulle was again asked to take control and the new constitution came into effect with the Fifth Republic on 4 October 1958. The rate of postage continued to climb; in 1959 it was 25fr and when the new currency was introduced in January 1960, this rate was confirmed. As elsewhere in Europe, this rate has continued to escalate since that date.

France has been a member of the EEC since its formation and, though a member of NATO when it was formed, withdrew in the 1960s.



Stamps as France

German occupation of Alsace-Lorraine 1940, as Germany.


During the Franco-Prussian War, some areas of France were occupied by the Prussian Army and a provisional issue was released on 10 September 1870. This was also used in Alsace-Lorraine after it was ceded to Prussia. By the convention of 14 February 1871, the rate from Alsace-Lorraine to France was set at 40 centimes - 20 centimes local stamps and 20 centimes French. On 31 August the rate was increased to 45 centimes with 25 centimes in French adhesives required. On 1 January 1872 the rate was reestablished at 45 centimes but the German portion of 20 centimes could also be paid with 2 silver groschen. On 5 May the need for double franking ceased. From then until 1918 stamps of the Empire were used throughout both provinces.


After World War I the two provinces were returned to France and French stamps were reissued and used from 1919 onwards.


Provinces of France reconquered by Germany in May 1940. On 29 July 1940 the French departements of Haut Rhin and Bas Rhin in Alsace were combined with Baden to form the new province of Elsass-Baden. Similarly, part of Lorraine was combined with Saarpfalz to form Westland.

Overprinted stamps for Elsass (Alsace) were issued on 15 August 1940 and Lothringen (Lorraine) on 21 August. Both issues were used until 31 December 1941, when they were fully integrated into Germany, and German stamps were used until reconquest by Allied forces late in 1944. Stamps of France have been used in these areas ever since.

For details of the Gulf War 1990-1991, see the section on Kuwait, under the Persian Gulf.

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