A Beautiful French Village

France - Scott #1126 (1965)
France – Scott #1126 (1965)

It’s a random stamp day which means that I couldn’t find a stamp that matched up with any events that happened on this particular date in history. It’s an opportunity for me to look through my stamps to find something interesting to highlight. I’ve long had an affinity for the colorful engraved stamp issues of France and her colonies and soon came across this beauty. Scott #1126 was released by France on June 19, 1965, about six months before I was born. It pictures the village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, or simply Moustiers, (Mostiers Santa Maria in the Occitan language spoken in southern France and a few other places). This is a commune in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence department in southeastern France, a part of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region and considered one of the “most beautiful villages of France”.

Moustiers-Sainte-Marie lies at the western entrance to the Gorges du Verdon. It was built on platform terraces a hundred or so meters up the side of a limestone cliff. At twilight when the sun on a clear day strikes the south-facing cliff, a diffuse pink light glows across the village. It has been a center of the pottery trade, especially faïence, for centuries. A spring flows out of the cliff and creates a waterfall in town, providing water power.

The peaks above the village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, with the famous star suspended between. Photo taken on September 20, 2008.
The peaks above the village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, with the famous star suspended between. Photo taken on September 20, 2008.

Above the village, a gold-painted star hangs on a 225m-long chain suspended between two cliffs. Its origin, according to a legend popularized by Provençal poet Frédéric Mistral, lies in the 10th century. During the Crusades, the knight Bozon de Blacas was held prisoner by the Saracens; he vowed to hang a star over his village if he was able to return. No one knows how the star was originally hung there. The original star and chain have been replaced several times since then. The current star is about 50 years old. Ten years ago it fell after the chain snapped, and was rehung using a helicopter.

Engraving of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie by Édouard Charton appearing in,' Le Magasin Pittoresque, 1777 à 1786, Aux Bureaux d'Abonnement et de Vente', 1858.
Engraving of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie by Édouard Charton appearing in,’ Le Magasin Pittoresque, 1777 à 1786, Aux Bureaux d’Abonnement et de Vente’, 1858.

The 50-centime Moustiers-Sainte-Marie stamp — printed in green, blue gray and bistre — was designed and engraved by Jean Pheulpin who designed over 650 stamps between 1950 and 1988 mainly for France and her colonies (Iceland being a notable exception). Born in 1907 in Valentigney in the district of Doubs, Pheulpin learned the art of engraving at Boulle, the College for Applied Arts in Paris took lessons from master engraver Antoine Dezarrois at the School of Arts. His first issued stamp engraving (which he also designed) was a 50-franc airmail release by the Comoro Islands portraying an airplane flying over a Comoro village (Scott #C1); it was also used on a 200-franc Comoros stamp issued in 1954 (Scott #C3). Phuelpin’s first French stamp was a 15-franc value picturing St. Nicholas by Jean Didier issued for the Popular Pictorial Art Exhibition in Epinal on June 23, 1951 (Scott #657). He is particularly well-known for the engravings he made for Laos and his series of stamps picturing elephants issued by that nation  (Scott #41-47) in 1958 won the Grand Prix de l’art philatélique Française.

Flag of FranceFlag of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'AzurCoat of arms for Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, featruing the famous star

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