By Kathleen Wunderly
Considering its size — the second-smallest country in the world, at .78 square miles — Monaco has a disproportionately complex and colorful history. Enviably situated on the French Riviera, with France on three sides and the Mediterranean on the fourth, Monaco usually points to 1215 as the beginning of its modern history. That was when soldiers from Genoa, Italy, farther up the coast, built a seaside fortress in what is now Monaco.
Much earlier, in the sixth century B.C., the area was a Greek colony known as Monoikos, from the Greek for “single house,” a possible reference to the fact that the colony had only one house or temple, to the god Hercules.
Francois Grimaldi (unpleasantly known as “Malizia” because of his cunning nature), from a notable Genoese family, seized control of the fortress on Jan. 8, 1297. He and his fellows penetrated the stronghold disguised as Franciscan monks. The Grimaldi dynasty subsequently lost control of the region, regained it in 1331, but maintained only tenuous control until finally buying the territory in 1419 from the Crown of Aragon.
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The sale did not stop other entities from pushing their way into Monaco’s affairs, and the country was, in turn, a protectorate of Sicily (1458), France (1488), Spain (1524), France again (1793-1814), and Sardinia (1815-60).
As of 1500, a member of the Grimaldi family became sovereign prince and absolute ruler, until a constitutional monarchy was formed in 1911, a situation that continues to this day under the current Grimaldi descendant, Prince Albert II.
As far as postage, Monaco used stamps of Sardinia beginning in 1851, until France recognized Monaco’s sovereignty by treaty in 1860, and French stamps came into use June 15, 1860. Monaco began issuing its own stamps on July 1, 1885, with a set of stamps depicting the ruling monarch, Prince Charles III.
In addition to appearing on the first stamps of Monaco, Charles III is noteworthy for having started a state-run casino at Monte Carlo in 1858. The casino’s huge success led to the abolishment of income tax for residents of Monaco in 1869, a situation that continues to this day, although banking has surpassed casino revenues as the major element of the country’s financial base.
Despite deciding to reject the use of France’s stamps, Monaco was aligned with that country in so many ways, politically and economically, that it naturally turned to that source for help with its first stamp issue.
Jean-Baptiste Daniel Dupuis (1849-99) was the winner of the Grand Prix de Rome in 1872 for his medal design, and won the competition in 1879 to create a medal for the city of Paris. (He later produced four medals for the Universal Exposition of 1889 in Paris, winning a gold award.) Dupuis was a reasonable choice to design the new Monaco stamps; his already renowned talent for making small-scale portraits on medals would transfer readily to a postage stamp portraying Charles III.
Louis-Eugene Mouchon (1843-1914), a painter and graphic artist who at the time was studying to extend his career to include medals as well as coins and currency, engraved the die with Dupuis’ design. The stamps were printed by typography at the Government Printing Works in Paris.
Mouchon later gained lasting philatelic renown with his Rights of Man stamp design for France, first issued in 1900, and eventually simply called “the Mouchon series” by collectors. He also created stamps for France’s colonies, Argentina, Greece, Portugal, and many other countries.
The 1885 stamps, Monaco Scott 1-10, show a tiny “D. DUPUIS” at left in the bottom margin, with “E. MOUCHON” at right.
Charles III died on Sept. 10, 1889, and was succeeded by his son, who became Prince Albert I. The printing order for the 1885 stamps had to have been overly optimistic (the population of the country was about 12,000 at the time), because large stocks remained when Albert ascended the throne in 1889. The prince must have been content with his father’s image on the only available Monaco stamps; no new issues were contemplated until early 1891.
Dupuis was not the designer of the new stamps. Inventories of his work indicate a great many medals attributed to him circa 1889-91, and he also was designing French coinage. Perhaps he declined to design another stamp for Monaco because he was otherwise occupied, or perhaps he was not asked.
Eugene Mouchon ended up doing both the design and the engraving for the new issue, Scott 11-29, issued from April 1891 to 1921 (and overprinted and surcharged as Scott 30-35 from 1921 to 1922). His name appears in capital letters at left in the bottom margin of the stamps.
The new issue of 1891 has a profile portrait of Albert I facing left, with an olive branch curving around him.
A crowned allegorical figure, probably representing Monaco, is seated at right atop the tablet showing each stamp’s denomination. She holds another olive branch and a shield showing part of Monaco’s coat of arms, which is taken from Francois Grimaldi’s diamond-patterned tunic.
Above the female figure are the words “Deo Juvante,” also from the coat of arms and the motto of the Grimaldi family. It is Latin for “With the help of God,” a vow mentioned in writings by Lambert Grimaldi in 1458, when he thwarted a plot against him. Across the top of the stamp is the country’s official name, Principaute [Principality] de Monaco.
The 1891 issues have denominations of 1 centime (Scott 11), 2c (12), 5c (13), 10c (15), 15c (17), 25c (20), 50c (23), 1fr (26), and 5fr (27). The intervening Scott numbers are for the 40c (22) and 75c (24) stamps that were not placed on sale until 1894, and the new 5c (14), 10c (16), 15c (18), and 25c (21) stamps that were issued in 1901 to comply with the stamp-color regulations of the Universal Postal Union.
Interestingly, a seemingly random group of the denominations was printed on similarly random colored paper stock: that is, in the 1891 issue, the 50c, violet brown on orange (Scott 23); 1fr, black on yellow (26); and 5fr, rose on green (27).
In the 1894 issue, the 40c was printed in slate on rose paper (Scott 22) and the 75c in violet brown on buff (24). In 1901, the 15c was printed in violet brown on straw-colored paper (18), followed much later, in 1921, by the 75c in olive brown on buff (25). France was printing some of its own stamps at the time on those paper colors, so the choices for Monaco simply may have been matters of convenience at the Government Printing Works in Paris.
In another factor relating to color, the noted Monaco specialist in England, the Rev. George E. Barber, said in 1913 that, “Tints of the paper in this  issue are affected by the gum, which varies from yellow to dark brown.”
Barber was fully aware of the use of colored paper for some of the issues, so he evidently was able to differentiate the color effects of gum from those of paper color.
All of the Prince Albert I stamps were printed by typography on unwatermarked paper, then perforated gauge 14 by 13.5.
The portrait stamps of Prince Albert I had a long run, from 1891 until a new and different issue appeared in 1922. The high-ticket stamp in the Scott 11-29 series is a double impression of the 15c rose stamp of 1891 (17a), seldom seen and with an estimated value of $1,400 in the 2016 Scott Classic Specialized Catalogue of Stamps and Covers, 1840-1940.
A used set of Monaco Scott 11-29 is valued at $500.70 in the 2016 Scott Classic Specialized catalog. You may not have to be the man (or woman) who broke the bank at Monte Carlo to afford a mint set of the same stamps, but expect to pay close to the Scott Classic Specialized catalog value of $1,024.