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Introduction to the Rights of Man Series - revised 12/26/21

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Introduction to the Rights of Man Series - revised 12/26/21


Post by jim-fairfield »

Hello everyone,

The following is the article on the Rights of Man Series that I have written for my album. A few weeks ago, I found an excellent older article on this series in the France & Colonies Philatelist, and so, I was pretty eager to get the new information into my article on the series. (At least it was new information for me.) So as of late December 2021, there is a lot of new information in the article below. Much of it concerns the two printing methods used for the subseries of 1900, but there are quite a few changes throughout the article.

The Rights of Man Series is one of the more short-lived ones for French stamps prior to 1915. But there is a fascinating story behind its relatively short life, one that, in my opinion, is one of the more interesting in all of French philately. I hope you enjoy it.

The Rights of Man Series is the second of the three series that comprise what I have named the Republican Ideals Series Group of 1900 to 1930. The other two series in the group are Liberty, Equality, Fraternity and Liberty and Peace. This series, the Rights of Man, had by far the shortest lifespan of the three. In less than three years after its release, the Ministry of Posts, Telegraphs, and Telephones (the P.T.T.) had fully replaced it with a new series, the Sower Series.

Usually, French catalogues and philatelic writers refer to the Rights of Man Series by the last name of the designer, Louis-Eugène Mouchon, as in the Type Mouchon or the Mouchon Series, though in France, another common name for these is les Mouchons. I just prefer a name that indicates the subject or theme of the stamp, and hence my name for it.

I am following the lead of the major catalogues in dividing the Rights of Man Series into two subgroups, one issued in 1900 and a second in 1902 with small but noticeable design changes. I am giving these two subseries the following names:
  • The Rights of Man Subseries of 1900
  • The Rights of Man Subseries of 1902
Also, Mouchon did all the design and engraving work for the series—although typically at this time, it was different people who performed these different tasks. And indeed, with the other two series of the Republican Ideals Series Group, there were different people performing these tasks.

Two Methods Used in Printing the First Subseries. It is only on occasion that I discuss printing methods in much detail in my articles, but I am doing so here because this first subseries, that issued in 1900, had such an interesting production history, involving, as it did, two rather different printing methods.

But before I begin, I would like to acknowledge my indebtedness to Robert T. Kinsley, whose 2001 article on the Rights of Man Series published in the France & Colonies Philatelist is the primary source for this information on printing methods (see my “Sources” section at the end). His article on the series is excellent, and of course, I highly recommend it to all who are interested.

Overview of the Printing Methods and Denominations. The Atelier des Timbres-Poste (the government printing works) used both a one-pass and a two-pass method to print the Rights of Man Subseries of 1900. In both the Yvert et Tellier and Maury catalogues, the stamps printed with the two-pass method are identified as Type I, and those printed in a single pass are identified as Type II. For the series as a whole, there were five denominations: two (the 10- and 25-centime stamps) were printed with both the one-pass and two-pass methods, and three were printed using just one method or the other. Of these latter three, the 20- and 30-centime stamps were printed using the two-pass (Type I) method only, and the stamps of the 15-centime denomination were printed with the one-pass (Type II) method only.

As suggested by the type numbering itself, there was a sequence in the Atelier’s use of the two methods. The two-step Type I method came first, and the one-step Type II method came a little later, although for at least some part of the time both methods were employed simultaneously. And yet, note that regardless of the method used in printing the stamps of this subseries, all were issued on the same day, December 4, 1900.

The Two-Pass Type I Method. Below is a list of the four Type I stamps. And I might add that the numbers Mr. Kinsley provides for quantity printed here are either the same as or more exact than those given in the 2009 Maury catalogue, and so I think they are quite trustworthy. The stamps are arranged by printing start date. Each stamp is given three lines of text here.

Maury No. 114 / Scott No. 119a (25c)
Printing Dates: March 3 – April 9, 1900
Quantity Printed (in 1000s): 25,080

Maury No. 112 / Scott No. 116a (10c)
Printing Dates: March 10 – April 11, 1900
Quantity Printed (in 1000s): 13,350

Maury No. 113 / Scott No. 118 (20c)
Printing Dates: April 10 – 20, 1900
Quantity Printed (in 1000s): 5,100

Maury No. 115 / Scott No. 120 (30c)
Printing Dates: April 21 – May 10, 1900
Quantity Printed (in 1000s): 11,400

Not shown in the listing above is the 15-centime value. But I have little doubt that those in charge at the Atelier would have included this denomination in the initial two-pass printings. In his article on these stamps, Mr. Kinsley references an early study by Wilfred Bentley that “states that the first printing of the 15 centimes value, ‘if existed,’ perished in a fire. It is now known, however, that color trials exist of the 15c Type I.” So it seems very probable that there did exist some quantity of the 15-centime denomination in Type I form, but that the entire stock of these was lost in a fire. (More on this below.)

With the two-pass (Type I) method, the Atelier used two different printing plates for each run. The first step was to print the frame/vignette using one plate. In this first pass, the interior of the cartouche or value tablet was left blank. Then with a different plate, the numerals of value were printed in the blank area of the cartouche. Of course, this was a more laborious printing method, but, I am assuming, it did save time in producing plates since the plates for the frame/vignette only had to be created once for the entire set of denominations.

The One-Pass Type II Method. However, it soon became apparent that the Type I method had a serious drawback, and that was with displacement of the numerals of value in the cartouche. The numerals were being printed poorly centered or even slightly outside the cartouche much too often, and so, somewhat early in the process, the Atelier decided to move over gradually to a one-step printing method, which was, after all, the usual method for printing mono-color stamps at this time anyway. With a one-step process, the plates would have engraved on them the image of each stamp in its entirety, including the numerals of value, thus precluding any need for a second pass. This, of course, is the Type II method, and the Atelier used it for the following three denominations:

Maury No. 118 / Scott No. 119 (25c)
Printing Dates: April 9 – June 6, 1900
Quantity Printed (in 1000s): 71,250

Maury No. 117 / Scott No. 117 (15c)
Printing Dates: April 11 – June 8, 1900
Quantity Printed (in 1000s): 1,425,000

Maury No. 116 / Scott No. 116 (10c)
Printing Dates: May 7 – June 25, 1900
Quantity Printed (in 1000s): 85,500

Questions That Arise from the Printing Data. In looking at the printing data for both groups (Type I and Type II), a couple of questions do arise. First, if it became clear to the authorities that one of the printing methods was clearly superior—presumably Type II—then why was the Type II method not used to print the 20- and 30-centime values, which were printed as late as they were? Note that the Atelier began printing the 20-centime value using the Type I method on April 10th and the 30-centime value using this method on April 21st—even though printing with the Type II method had already begun on April 9th for the 25-centime value.

I do not really have a definite answer for this, but I will hazard a guess. It may be that the Atelier had already progressed fairly far in or had completed plate set-up for the 20- and 30-centime denominations prior to consideration of the one-pass method, and since these two denominations were not going to require really large quantities of stamps anyway, it may be that the authorities thought that the necessary set-up process for a switch-over to Type II (with new plates) would be more trouble than it was worth, everything considered. Again, just a guess.

A second question: why do we have the 15-centime denomination only in Type II form? After all, as you can see from the table for the Type II group above, the quantity printed for this value is by far the largest of any denomination in either type, and so, it would have made sense for the Atelier to have gotten started on these, if not earlier than, then at least at around the same time as any of the other denominations, right?

I think the answer is that, indeed, the Atelier did print up some quantity of the 15-centime value using the two-pass Type I method, but that, as explained above, they were all lost in a fire. Also, the fire probably occurred well before the end of the print run for the Type II version of the stamp (June 8th). For if the fire had occurred later than that, the Atelier would have been required to go back to print more of this denomination using the Type II method at some time later than June 8th. Also, very likely, the fire must have incinerated the entire Type I stock of the 15-centime denomination, since no Type I’s in this denomination exist (although if a few of the 15-centime Type I’s had survived the fire, it would be likely that the PTT would have ordered them destroyed also, just to prevent any speculation by dealers in a scarcer variety).

How the Scott and Stanley Gibbons Catalogues Distinguish the Varieties of the Two Printing Methods. While both Maury and Yvert et Tellier provide excellent illustrations and ample descriptions of the fine design differences that distinguish the two methods of printing for the 10- and 25-centime denominations, there is very little on this in the Scott Catalogue. In Scott, for the two denominations that have both types (Scott 116 and 119), the main catalogue number is used to identify the one-pass or Type II stamps, and a minor variety letter under the main catalogue number is used to identify each of the two-pass or Type I stamps—although, ironically, the two-pass method was the first to be employed in printing these stamps. But while the Scott Catalogue does list the two-pass stamps, a problem for anyone relying exclusively on Scott is that there is no information to help in determining which of the two varieties of Nos. 116 and 119 you have.

However, Stanley Gibbons does provide more than Scott. With Stanley Gibbons, there are separate major catalogue numbers for the two types of the 10- and 25-centime denominations, and there is a short verbal description of the differences between them. But in comparison to the major French-language catalogues, Stanley Gibbons does not offer a great deal in the way of help in distinguishing between the two types. If you want more clarity, I highly recommend Maury or Yvert et Tellier.

Series Theme. For the stamps of this series, the theme is shown on a tablet held by the female figure. The tablet reads: “DROITS DE L’HOMME” (in English: RIGHTS OF MAN). This is a shortened version of the name of a document that was foundational to the Revolution of 1789. According to a Wikipedia article on the document, the full name is “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen” (in French: Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen). This declaration laid out the basic rights of all men and was officially adopted by France’s National Constituent Assembly in 1789.

The Declaration of the Rights of Man was drafted by the Abbé Sieyès and the Marquis de Lafayette, in consultation with Thomas Jefferson. Influenced by the doctrine of “natural right,” the rights of man delineated in the Declaration are held to be universal: because they pertain to human nature itself, they are valid at all times and in every place. The Declaration became the basis for a nation of free individuals protected equally by the law. It is included at the beginning of the constitutions of both the Fourth French Republic (1946) and the Fifth Republic (1958), and it is still current. Inspired by several 18th century Enlightenment philosophers, the Declaration was a core statement of the values of the French Revolution and had a major impact on the development of popular conceptions of individual liberty and democracy in Europe and worldwide.

The 1789 Declaration, together with the 1215 Magna Carta, the 1689 English Bill of Rights, the 1776 United States Declaration of Independence, and the 1789 United States Bill of Rights, inspired in large part the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The 1789 French Declaration has a total of 17 articles, but rather than set out all of them here, I am presenting just the first six in order to provide some sense of the document itself:

Article I – Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions can be founded only on the common good.

Article II – The goal of any political association is the conservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, safety, and resistance against oppression.

Article III – The principle of any sovereignty resides essentially in the Nation. No body, no individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the Nation.

Article IV – Liberty consists of doing anything which does not harm others: thus, the exercise of the natural rights of each man has only those borders which assure other members of the society the fruition of these same rights. These borders can be determined only by the law.

Article V – The law has the right to forbid only actions harmful to society. Anything which is not forbidden by the law cannot be impeded, and no one can be constrained to do what it does not order.

Article VI – The law is the expression of the general will. All the citizens have the right of contributing personally or through their representatives to its formation. It must be the same for all, either that it protects, or that it punishes. All the citizens, being equal in its eyes, are equally admissible to all public dignities, places, and employments, according to their capacity and without distinction other than that of their virtues and of their talents.

Designer and Engraver. Louis-Eugène Mouchon was both the designer and the engraver for the Rights of Man Series. According to Wikipedia, Mouchon was born in Paris on August 30, 1843, and died in Montrouge on March 3, 1914. He was the son and pupil of the painter Louis Claude Mouchon. Louis-Eugène also was a painter, but in addition he worked as a graphic artist, medalist, engraver, and sculptor. During his career, he created state papers, stamps, coins, currency, and medals, not just for France, but for a number of countries worldwide. He exhibited at the French Salon from 1876 onwards and became an Associate of the Artistes Français in 1888.

Series Design. With this series, we have just about everything: from ideas of universal rights to gender politics and sex—and then there is thrown into that mix plenty of argument and controversy. For me, although there may be other stamp designs that match this one aesthetically, and a few may surpass it—overall, I find this series to be by far the most interesting in French philately.

As noted above, the catalogues divide the stamps of the Rights of Man Series into two groups or subseries, based on small changes made to the design in 1902. To help with the design discussion on the few next pages, I am providing here examples of both versions of the design. And also, for a discussion of design style that comes next, I am providing an example from Germany’s Germania Series.

Rights-of-Man 1900.jpg
The 1900 Rights of Man design

Rights of Man 1902.jpg
The 1902 Rights of Man design

The 1900 Germania design

Design Style. For a point of comparison and contrast to the Rights of Man design style, please refer to Germany’s Germania design just above (coincidentally, the initial release of this German design was in the same year as the Rights of Man design).

As you can see, there is a great deal of resemblance in the overall styling for both the French and the German designs. Both feature profile views of the main figure, and the framing is somewhat similar. Both display a female figure in armor to represent the nation. But Germania exhibits a much greater degree of militancy, with her metal helmet, the large metallic cups on her breasts, and what appears to be chain mail over her torso. Also, she clutches the hilt of a large sword in her right hand. Finally, the expression on her face is that of power and aggression.

The goddess who represents France, on the other hand, has body armor, and certainly the metallic cups covering her breasts are there to see, but whatever armor she may be wearing is not as prominent as Germania’s. Indeed, a loose-fitting gown covers most of her body, and so although there may be some slight indication of militancy on the part of the goddess of France, hers is not really an aggressive expression or posture. She seems more focused on presenting the ideas of the Rights of Man Declaration.

So now let’s take a closer look at the Rights of Man design. In the coming sections, we will consider both the 1900 and the 1902 designs. However, the basic allegorical image used in the two designs is virtually the same. The modifications that came in 1902 do not substantially affect the stamp’s basic design.

The Design and Its Allegorical Significance. According to the writer of an article in the Stamp Circuit magazine (online), experts and students of philately are one in saying that the image on the Rights of Man stamp shows an allegorical female figure, presumably a goddess, who represents the government of France. She wears on her head a laurel wreath, the age-old symbol of victory and excellence, and also a Phrygian cap, an important symbol of freedom going back to ancient Rome and adopted by the revolutionaries during the Revolution. She also has the Scepter of Justice leaning across her body to just above her shoulder. But more central in importance is the tablet representing the Rights of Man that she has on her lap. She holds and steadies it with her left arm and hand.

In addition, under magnification, it is apparent that the goddess is wearing armor over her breasts, with each bra cup made of metal, presumably steel—and the detail here is quite extraordinary: Mouchon even shows tiny rivets or bolts at the base of each metallic cup. In terms of the allegory, a bra constructed of metal does make some sense—perhaps to indicate the country’s strength and power—and its capacity to provide protection. Also, if you look closely in the same area, you can see a small lion’s head just above the goddess’s bra and breasts. Given this placement of the head, the lion’s body would have to be just inside the bra and between the goddess’s breasts.

My take on the central design is that, with the goddess and lion, Mouchon is capturing in a single allegorical image the relationship between the individual and society as laid out in the Rights of Man Declaration. As noted above, the goddess represents society or the government. The lion is a figure for the individual citizen. And so, appropriately, with this reading, the lion would be much smaller in size than the goddess since the individual is much smaller than society as a whole. And yet, while the lion is much smaller in size, he is, after all, a lion, and in this, Mouchon is symbolizing the dignity and power of the individual, that the natural rights of the individual are to be respected by society. Moreover, society is there to protect the individual, and this is shown by the lion’s placement behind the armor that covers the goddess’s breasts.

Also important to the overall allegory is the Scepter of Justice. By making it as prominent as it is in the design, Mouchon wanted to show the important place of justice in the Rights of Man Declaration. Article VI, given above, is just one among many of the document’s articles that explain the proper and just relation of the individual to society.

Reaction to the Design. According to all sources I have seen so far, the design and details of the Rights of Man stamps were soon subject to criticism, scorn, and ridicule—and this came from several quarters. In the same article cited above, Robert Kinsley reports that the primary reason for the design’s poor reception was “the large value tablet and the large numbers therein (which, as an aside, left no room for the “c” of centimes).” This problem with the value tablet was a difficulty particularly for the top authority at the P.T.T., Chief Minister Alexandre Bérard, and, of course, this meant that it would eventually become a major problem for Mouchon as well.

But there were others also who were very critical of the design. In an article in Linn’s in 2016, Larry Rosenblum states that “[a] label sold in Paris parodied the design using a standing woman holding a banner proclaiming ‘Rights of Woman’ (Droits de la Femme).” And since at this time equal rights for women was becoming increasingly an issue, according to Ashley Lawrence in his book The Sower, A Common Little French Stamp, when this stamp appeared, many French women were outraged by the idea of a goddess, a female, presenting the Rights of Man.

It may help us to understand the strong feelings of the French women at this time if we consider that, historically, to say the least, they had not been treated very well in their attempts to gain equality. In an article in Linn’s in 2019, Rosenblum provides some interesting information on one major attempt by a French woman to advance women’s rights. During the Revolution, in 1791, a French playwright and activist for women’s rights named Olympe de Gouges wrote the “Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen.” However, Rosenblum explains that “being reflective of its time, the earlier Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was literally only for men, not women,” and the men at the time largely ignored the women’s efforts in this area. But if that by itself was not enough for de Gouges, according to a Wikpedia article on her, in 1793 “she was executed by guillotine during the Reign of Terror (1793-1794) for attacking the regime of the Revolutionary government and for her association with the Girondists” (the Girondists or Girondins were a political party that fell out of favor in 1793—in a big way). I know, de Gouges was not executed specifically for promoting women’s rights; nevertheless, she did end up as I have described—and this would not be a happy episode to have in the collective memory of French women at the time of the release of the Rights of Man stamps.

In addition, there were other entirely different types of criticism of the design. According to a writer for the Stamp Circuit magazine, to some observers in France at the time, the figure on the stamp looked like a promiscuous woman inviting men for fun (although, I must say, I do not understand the basis for this criticism; nevertheless, that is what this writer reports). For others, the complaint centered on the cartouche or value tablet. According to Lawrence, many felt that “[t]he printing of the figure of value in the cartouche, separately from the main design, was unsatisfactory.”

The Subseries of 1902 and Its Replacement. So due to the comments and flak received, the P.T.T. asked Mouchon to improve the original design. After a redrawn image was submitted, the redesigned Subseries of 1902 started to become available to the public in April of that year. The new version featured a redesigned value tablet, now with a more ornate border. Also, Mouchon moved the word “POSTES” (for “Postage”) from the value tablet’s upper border to the upper frame of the stamp.

Nonetheless, these efforts were deemed insufficient—for criticism continued to come from many sectors and related to more than just one aspect of the stamp. Also, very importantly, as I indicated above, a major problem for Mouchon was his lack of support regarding the stamp with the top authority at the P.T.T., Chief Minister Bérard. In his book on the Sowers, Lawrence states that “in October 1902, the Minister for Posts took a decision that he hoped would attract votes, and announced that the Type Mouchon would be replaced by the Type Semeuse. Designed by Louis-Oscar Roty, la Semeuse, the Sower, had appeared on silver coins since 1897, and was popular with the general public. The Minister’s announcement excited his colleagues, and was applauded by the press.” And so, stamps of the new Sower Series began coming out in early April 1903.

Mouchon’s Later Work. As a final note, Mouchon may have drawn a small amount of consolation from the fact that, although the Rights of Man design was discontinued for French stamps in 1903, for a number of years longer, the French colonial administration did continue to use the design (the 1902 version) for the stamps of a few of the smaller colonies—in some cases, until as late as the early 1920s.

In his article on this series, Mr. Kinsley proposes some possible reasons as to why use of the Rights of Man design may have persisted for so long with certain French colonial issues: "However, together with the Blanc and Merson types, the redesigned Mouchons, modified to show POSTE FRANÇAISE at the top instead of only POSTES, and the name of the French Bureau Abroad at the bottom instead of “Republique Française,” endured until the end of such foreign offices about March 1931. That such an unpopular design remained in use for so long at the Offices Abroad was perhaps a function of the long life of the Sower design, which was entirely unsuited to be modified to identify those offices. (Or perhaps no one really cared what design was in use for those far-off offices.)"

Although from the point of view of the public at large Mouchon was a failure with the Rights of Man design, he did continue working with the P.T.T. He was an excellent engraver, and although he was not asked actually to design any new French stamps, the P.T.T. did place him on the task of engraving the dies for the new Sower Series. Also, Mouchon continued designing stamps and medals for other countries, including Portugal and Russia. And, as a welcome aside, even during and after his work on the Rights of Man stamps—this period being what must have been for Mouchon an extremely difficult time—he and Roty, the designer of the replacement series, always “regarded each other with great affection and respect."


“Allegory to French Republic – Mouchon’s Take Using Postage Stamps” from the Web site for the Stamp Circuit magazine, retrieved on July 17, 2020. (The author’s name was not given.) It is from this site that I obtained the illustrations of the two versions of the Rights of Man stamps.

“Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen” from the Wikipedia Web site, retrieved on July 17, 2020.

“Girondins” from the Wikipedia Web site, retrieved on December 18, 2020.

Kinsley, Robert T., "The Rights of Man," France & Colonies Philatelist, July 2001. pp. 70-73.

Lawrence, Ashley, The Sower, A Common Little French Stamp, France & Colonies Philatelic Society of Great Britain, Glastonbury, Somerset, U.K., 2012, p. 8. Copies of this book may be ordered by emailing Mr. Lawrence at ashleylawrence1000@gmail.com.

“Louis-Eugène Mouchon” from the Wikipedia Web site, retrieved on July 17, 2020.

“Olympe de Gouges” from the Wikipedia Web site, retrieved on December 18, 2020.

“Phrygian cap” from the Wikipedia Web site, retrieved on February 13, 2014.

Rosenblum, Larry, “The heritage of the French Revolution is all around us,” Linn’s Stamp News, August 19, 2019, p. 74.

Rosenblum, Larry, “Three failures lead to the long-lived Sower design,” Linn’s Stamp News, April 18, 2016, pp. 30-32.
Jim Shead - Fairfield, Iowa
APS#: 216445
FCPS#: 3427

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