Once upon a time, in the fifty-first year of the eighteen hundreds, in the commune of Mézières in the region of Ardennes in northern France, an aspiring thespian by the name of Gabriel left his cottage as the sun rose on a frosty February morning. Clutching a letter destined for the city of Mon, across the border in Belgium, Gabriel whistled and smiled at the day before him. It was a Saturday and the first of the month, which meant that it was the opening evening of the theatrical society’s play, ‘La Chasse au Chastre’ – The Bird of Fate – being performed at the local theatre and in which Gabriel had secured a small part in the first of what was a two act play. Turning up the collar of his heavy coat Gabriel was making his way to the town’s post office, for his dispatch to Mon needed to catch the first mail coach of the day. As his boots crunched on the icy ground his mind was not on the communication to Belgium in his hand, but on his lines which he rehearsed under his breath, gesticulating his part with his arms aloft and twirling around as if working the crowd from an imaginary stage.

Meanwhile, at exactly the same time, another budding actor Raphaël sat behind his counter in the post office, rummaging through the stock of stamps which would support the day’s postings. He grumbled privately to himself as he realised that they had no stamps of the value of 10 centimes, due to the cessation of this printing in November of the previous year and the post office’s reserves had dwindled over the months until now they found they were completely out of stock. Raphaël knew that the second printings of the Cérès 10 centimes were not expected to arrive until the following week at the earliest. The trouble for Raphaël would be the cross-border tariff of 20 centimes which was a popular rate and which he would normally make up by issuing a pair of 10 centimes. However, Raphaël determined that he would utilise his available stock of 40 centimes to facilitate and he’d do this by slicing them into two halves, thus making two 20 centimes stamps, albeit they were the top and tail of one adhesive. Having settled his mind on the topic of the postal tariffs and the stamps available, he too turned his mind to theatrical matters, because Raphaël had a substantial part in ‘The Bird of Fate’ (La Chasse au Chastre) that evening and he began to run through his entrance onto the stage and the script which he’d perform in the second half of the play. As he turned his head to the ceiling, lifting his hands as though speaking his lines to an imaginary bird perched in the branches of a barren tree, the door opened and in stepped Gabriel waving his correspondence, and still speaking out loud his lines. When he noted that his friend Raphaël appeared to also be rehearsing his part in the play, he paused at the entrance, and not wishing to disturb his fellow actor any further than he had, he carefully pushed the door closed and admired Raphaël’s composure. When a silence fell, Gabriel pressed his letter to his breast and threw out his other arm in the direction of Raphaël and declared; “All the world’s a stage.” Instantly aware of Gabriel’s meaning, Raphaël relaxed his pose and laughed heartily at his friend and replied, “And all the men and women are merely players.” They both fell about laughing and still giggling Gabriel stepped forward in an exaggerated gait and crossed the short distance from door to counter. “And my dear friend Raphaël they have their exits and their entrances, of which the latter I come this sunny morning to buy 20 centimes of your finest French postage.”

The postal worker appreciated the play on words and saw that Gabriel was holding a dispatch in his hands. Knowing that Gabriel often wrote to his cousin who lived 30 kilometres away, he cut his first 40 centimes stamp in half and handed one portion to his theatrical colleague. Gabriel retrieved from his coat the coins to pay and placed them down on the counter and in the same moment picked up the tail end of the stamp and fixed it to his letter. In so doing he left it on the counter for Raphaël, who looked quizzically at the correspondence and seeing that the destination was not where he’d assumed, but to Mon which was at least 95 kilometres away, he realised that his friend’s posting would need an additional 20 centimes to get safely to its intended recipient. “I’m afraid, my friend, that your letter needs a further 20 centimes to make it to Mon, the tariff for that distance is 40 centimes.” Gabriel shook his head and apologised. “Raphaël do forgive me, my mind is devoted to our performance scheduled for this evening and my lines in the first act. Here is an additional 20 centimes.” And at this Raphaël laughed and countered that it was in fact his fault for assuming the letter was as his usual postings and regretted that he did not check the destination before providing him with the correct postage. “My thoughts also were set upon the script for tonight, although mine are in the second act.” At this he placed the other portion of his severed 40 centimes stamp upon the letter and picked it up in his hands to inspect it. “Oh my! Look at this Gabriel! See, our ‘bird of fate’ has caused such a wondrous spectacle!” With this he turned the letter to face his friend. Gabriel stood amazed and gazed at the letter he’d brought from his cottage that morning, now dressed with two parts of the one stamp and concluded, “Raphaël, it is a sign from above. All will be well with our performance in either half tonight, for we have inadvertently acted out our parts and created, ‘a tale of two halves’.


Lot 3022 in the France and Colonies Catalogue – Auction on Tuesday 14th of December 2021

1851 Letter from Mézières to Mons (Belgium) with exceptional franking composed of two halves of the 40 centimes Cérès of 1850. Very fresh and spectacular cover – a great rarity of the first issue of France and classic philately, only two letters are listed.