postage stamps of French Antarctica

Terres Australes et Antarctiques Francaises

 by Eunice Shanahan  


Antarctica — Bewitchingly beautiful, paralysingly cold
and luckily a long way away!

I have never been there, but feel I know it intimately, as I have collected the stamps for more than 25 years.

Over the years there have been some really attractive sets of stamps issued for the British Antarctic, including the Falkland Islands Dependencies and South Georgia, New Zealand's Ross Dependency, the Australian Antarctic Territory, but for sheer consistency of good design, pleasing colours and superb production my vote goes to the French.

The T.A.A.F. is a slice of land wholly within the huge lump of the Australian Antactic section of the Continent It was created on 6.8.1955 and consists of Terre Adelie, the Crozet Archipelago (annexed in 1772), and other sub-antarctic islands such as Kerguelen and St Paul & Amsterdam.

(Fig.1) .

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The French have a long history of discovery, exploration and scientific work in Antarctica, and this has given enormous scope to the stamp designers.

As a result stamps have been issued showing the flora and fauna of the area. In addition, many of the French possessions and bases have been illustrated. They have also used the stamps as a means of publicising and honouring the achievements of French Explorers and Scientists.

The First definitive stamp was a 15f blue and deep blue/green of Madagascar overprinted with T.A.A.F. in red. However this was not the first stamp to be used, for from 1924-1955 TAAF was linked for administrative purposes with Madagascar the nearest French Colony to the Antarctic base.

French research personnel first occupied the Dumont D'Urville base from 1949-50 so in 1948 200,000 of the 100F airmail stamp of Madagascar were overprinted Terre Adelie, Dumont Durville 1840" in red, and issued for use in T.A.A.F.

Almost all the stamps have been engraved giving them a clarity of design not found on photogravure printing. The colours are subtle blues, greys, greens and browns with occasional flashes of bright yellor or red or orange. The lettering is always clear and easy to read, and in nearly all cases the purpose of the commemorative stamp issue is evident in the design. For instance, this stamp issued to commemorate the 30th anniversary of French Expeditions to the Antarctic

The stamps are issued in January of each year, so that they can be taken to the base on the annual supply run. This is only possible during the Antarctic summer. This was posted at sea 10th January 1982, onboard the vessel Marion du Fresne of the Compagnie General Maritime, from the base Alfred Faure, Crozet, TAAF.

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Because of the variety and number of stamps issued, I have found it is possible to present the collection in different ways. Instead of keeping them in strict order of issue date, I have split them into topics or themes. First there is the natural life found on Antarctica. The stamps issued depicting the plants, mammals and birds forming the food chain have generally been the definitives.

Next there are the discoverers and explorers and the vessels in which they sailed :-
de el Cano   and his ship Victoria — Dumont D'Urville, Charcot, Crozet,
Admiral D'Entrecasteaux , with his ships La Recherche & L'Esperance,
James Clark Ross, Capt. James Cook, and many others — this is a history section on its own.

Then there is the scientific work and achievements of the base personnel. The research was commemorated by a se-tenant strip of 3 stamps to mark the International Geophysical Year 1957-58, 50 years of research and 100 Years of research.

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A great amount of vital research is carried out in Antarctica concerning the weather and climate which affects the whole globe.

There is also work being carried out on salmon breeding .

I would include in one section anything to do with the people, such as the anniversaries of the occupation of the bases — the building of the church etc.

Finally, I would put together all the issues which France has put out as a part of a wider issue for all her Territories or Colonies, such as the Space launches, International anniversaries, such as the UPU and ILO. The earlier issues are obviously more expensive but all of these stamps are readily available, I bought mine from a 'new issue' dealer.

How you present the collection is naturally a personal choice. It can also be a really time-consuming and enjoyable pastime, but even when they are in the stockbook, I never tire of looking at what I consider to be the most attractive of all the Antarctic stamp issues. These images do not really do justice to the stamps, so, the next time you are at a stamp show, look for the stamps of T.A.A.F. (or French Southern and Antartic Territories) in the dealers stocks — you may be surprised.

This originally appeared in the Australian Stamp Monthly, January 1990.


Copyright 1999 By EARS Leisurewrite

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