Stamps and devices in the French Revolution Collection

As part of the terms of our “rapid cataloging” project for the French Revolution Collection, we catalogers do not typically describe ornamentation on the pamphlets. Title vignettes as well as head- and tail-pieces tend to go unmentioned, in part because they occur frequently on French publications from this time period. However, I have seen several instances of stamps or unusual printed devices that I thought worth tracking in the catalog.

Stamp description: Trefoil with crown and scepter.
Case FRC 12299 “Rapport fait par Jean-Alban Lefiot, député du département de la Nièvre, d’une mission qu’il a commencé à remplir…”

This stamp appears at the end of the pamphlet text, and is consistent with the content, which focuses on counterrevolutionaries among the French government employees. It uses iconography that is readily attributed to the two social classes of the Ancien Régime attacked by the Revolution: the trefoil for the clergy and the scepter and crown to represent royalists.

Stamp description: Reclining woman holding a caduceus, “45 cent.” Case FRC 13411 “Hÿmne à J.J. Rousseau,” Case FRC 14585 “Le mouvement français,” and Case FRC 15495 “Hymne en mémoire des succès de la République.”

This stamp appears on three different pamphlets, each in differing levels of legibility. Since the stamp includes a reference to a price (45 cent[imes]) and all three pamphlets were issued from the same publisher/bookseller (or music seller in this case), this stamp appears to be a price stamp, perhaps from the time of issue. The main figure is a reclining woman bearing a caduceus. Based on typical iconography, this could be a representation of the goddess Iris, who served as a divine messenger among other things, though this would be a fairly grand way of heralding an item’s cost. Below, I include a processed version that layers the stamp images to reconstruct a clearer view.

Stamp description: Republican Colossus.
Case FRC 14181 “Discours prononcé par P.C.L. Boudin, député par le département des Ardennes…” (published in Paris) and Case FRC 14188 (the same title, published in Nîmes)

You are perhaps familiar with the modern French government’s use of “Marianne” as a national symbol. A similar female figure representing Liberty was also used during the early stages of the French Revolution, but during the radical-leaning Reign of Terror (1793-1794), members of the French government wanted a more powerful image. Lynn Hunt’s 1983 article, “Hercules and the Radical Image in the French Revolution” gives a lengthy history about the revolutionary French government’s selection of a representative figure during the Terror. Artist Jacques-Louis David was in charge of designing the figure, and he settled on a colossal Hercules to be used as an image for the government’s seal and also as a large piece of public sculpture. Hunt indicates in her article that she had not found an extant example of the seal having been cast. I think our pamphlets might contain examples of that very seal, which closely resemble Augustin Dupré’s sketch for the engraving that appears in Hunt’s article. Our examples of the device include a Hercules figure (carrying his characteristic club) who holds two smaller figures in his hand. Hunt describes these two figures as being miniature versions of Equality (holding a balance) and Liberty (with a Phrygian cap).