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French Colonies

"French Colonies" is the name used by philatelists to refer to the postage stamps issued by France for use in the parts of the French colonial empire that did not have stamps of their own. These were in use from 1859 to 1906, and from 1943 to 1945.

The first of these were small square stamps issued in 1859, depicting an eagle and crown in a round frame, with the inscription "COLONIES DE L'EMPIRE FRANCAISE". They were imperforate (as were all Colonies stamps until 1881). A total of six values, 1c to 80c, appeared between 1859 and 1865.

The next series appeared in 1871 and 1872, and borrowed the contemporaneous designs of France, with profiles of Ceres and Emperor Napoleon III. While some of the nine values can be distinguished from the French stamps by color or value, others are extremely difficult to identify.

Several of an additional series of Ceres heads issued between 1872 and 1877 have a similar problem, and are distinguishable only by being imperforate, as was the Colonies part of the Peace and Commerce issue of 1877 to 1880.

In 1881, a new series, featuring "Commerce" alone and inscribed "COLONIES", was issued for the Colonies, perforated 14x13.5. The 13 values, ranging from 1c to 1fr, were in colors comparable to those used for France. In 1886 the 25c stamp, previously printed in yellow, was reissued in black on a rose-colored paper. Stocks of the Commerce issue were frequently surchargeed by the colonies during the 1880s and 1890s.

A series of common postage due stamps was issued beginning in 1884, with a last one appearing in 1906. Thereafter each colony used only its own stamps.

The concept was revived by the Free French forces during World War II, who printed eight types of semi-postal stamps in 1943 and 1944. After the Free French landed in Corsica and Southern France, the stamps were used in those areas, and became valid throughout France in November 1944.

Finally, in 1945 a general issue of postage due stamps for the colonies was produced.