Let’s ‘face’ it, none of us are getting to the barbers or beauty salons at the moment. I’ve been hauled up in a house with three ladies for the last four weeks and although it matters little that my male grooming has slipped a grade or two, being candid it matters a bit more for the ladies, and there are some grumblings within the female camp that their beauty regime is being uncomfortably hampered.

It’s a good job for social distancing then, because staying two metres away from everyone you meet whilst on a foraging mission at the local supermarket, means there is less chance that anyone is going to notice any grooming oversights. Not so lucky is our featured stamp, which is more likely to come under the magnifying glass, but more on that shortly.

Between just us, there have been days, no weeks, where I’ve allowed the stubble to grow. Why not? Beards are popular now, fashionable, and who’s really paying attention?

However, beards aren’t so popular among the ladies, so spare a thought for poor ‘Ceres’ here our goddess of – no not beauty – agriculture and fertility. It’s a French stamp. Looks to me like we have what is commonly known as the ‘Bearded Lady’. Shockingly the normally clean shaven features of our goddess are sporting a ‘chin puff’, which I’m reliably informed by a buddy who knows his beards, that this goatee is a thicker version of the landing strip. Whatever it is, it shouldn’t be there.

However, Ceres isn’t the first French female representative to grow a beard. Clémentine Delait (1865 – 1939) was a French lady famous for an incredibly decorative beard. Delait ran a café in Lorraine France, and the said beard provided her with a profit from the increase in curious customers at her café, and her husband also capitalized by selling photographs to the visitors who came to gawp at his wife’s hairy face.

As early as the 12th century there have been reports of ladies with facial hair. The term Bearded Lady is synonymous with 18th and 19th century female sideshow performers. The 2017 Hollywood blockbuster ‘The Greatest Showman’ featured a bearded lady called Lettie Lutz. Even my three lady companions here knew about Lettie.

However, it isn’t as well known that a Bearded Lady is one of the most famous stamps in the French first postage adhesive issues of 1849-1850. These normally attractive stamps depict the profile of the goddess Ceres, and were produced in six different values. This unflattering effigy of Ceres on the 1849 1F Dark Vermilion shows clearly the “beard” variety under her chin, and was offered for sale by David Feldman in 2013 as a major rarity, being one of only two recorded mint examples of this variety known with original gum.  Must say, I’ve never seen anything like it. 

It’s all a bit, how would the French say? Risquée, or should that be risqué? Interestingly, the stamps were designed to be a representation of the French Republic and you’d have to say that Jacques-Jean Barre the artist and engraver, and Anatole Hulot the printer were way ahead of their time in both fashion and attitudes. Paris, where the printing was undertaken, has always had a reputation for the ‘chic’ and the arts, so is it beyond the realms of possibility that our groomer Barre became the artists in all this, or was it a shaving gaff by Hulot?

Who knows? It makes for a better story that this philatelic beauty is a slip of the engraver’s trimmer. The question is, was it a deliberate incident or just a lapse in the grooming.

Well, if our current predicament is anything to go by, we can forgive Barre and Hulot whatever the real reason, because let’s ‘face’ it, who among us can point the finger at a bit of chin hair?