French motorcycles on stamps

Probably it is not common knowledge amongst motorcycle fans, but France has a rich history as motor producing country. In the first decades of the 20st century there have been several hundreds (!) different manufacturers. There size was strongly varying.
Some "manufacturers" were local smiths or bicycle repair men that bought a ready to use engine, and mounted it on a bicycle for the local market. Most of these brands have only lasted a few years.
Next to that there are a lot of brands that have produced large numbers of motorcycles over longer periods. Brands like Peugeot, Motobécane, Monet Goyon and Terrot are quite well known, but who knows names like Ultima-Lyon, MGC, Sans-Soupape or Dax?

A lot of French motorcycles distinguish by remarkable and progressive technical solutions. What to think of a so called "monoblock" engine (engine & transmission built together in 1 housing instead of loose) in 1930 (Motobécane), or hub center steering around 1930 (Majestic)? And let's not forget the Millet of 1893, with a 5-cilinder engine built inside the rear wheel.
This progressiveness is also proven by the first years of motorcycle history, to which several French brands have contributed. Already in 1871 a few hundred units were built of a 2 wheeled bike driven by a steam engine. This Michaux-Perreaux is considered by some people to be the first commercially available motorcycle, 13 years before the German Hildebrand & Wolfmüller. Also the De Dion-Bouton tricycle from 1890 has contributed to the development of the motorcycle. And by the way, the Daimler Einspur, generally recognised as the first motorcycle, was driven by an engine of this French company!
All together reason enough to search what can be found of all these brands on stamps. The result was a little disappointing. I did not find more than about 30 stamps (including mopeds), and on a few of them the same motorcycle was depicted. This may not seem a little, but on the total number of motorcycle stamps it is not much. For comparison: a quick search for Moto Guzzi's resulted in 12 stamps!

So, what did I find? Let's start with the light bikes. I found the stamp of Madagascar from 1972, with an image of a postman with a Mobylette moped. The same Mobylette is depicted on one of the stamps of Afghanistan from 1985.

Madagascar stamp with Mobylette moped

Ivory Coast stamp with Solex

On the stamp from the Ivory Coast, issued on the occasion of the World Stamp Day 1961, a postman is again depicted, this time with a Solex.

Also Spain has recently put a Mobylette on one of the ATM-stamps (see the new issues in Newsletter 67). This time a much older model, and equipped with a side-car! Older ATM issues show a Motobécane B44 from 1930 (with a monoblock engine) with side-car, and a Monet Goyon LB from 1932, also with side-car.

ATM-stamp from Spain with Motobécane & side-car

ATM-stamp from Spain with Monet Goyon & side-car
Niger stamp with Motobécane racer

Also in the field of motorcycle sports some   French bikes can be found. For instance Niger has depicted a 125 cc Motobécane racer. The same type of motorcycle is found on stamps from Gabon and Mali.

I personally like an issue of Senegal from 1999, a sheet with images of various 2-wheeled sports. Amongst others it contains a 2½ hp Peugeot with a picnic basket on the back (!) accompanied by the text "Paris-Nice".

Part of the sheet from Senegal with the Peugeot image

A very nice example of French motorcycle engineering can also be found in the category sports, in the lower right corner of a sheet from Rwanda (and recently also a sheet from Congo). Here we see a Peugeot 2-cilinder racing motorcycle with 4 valves per cilinder and 2 overhead camshafts. Already in 1913! In the upper right corner there is a De Dion Bouton tricycle (here from 1897), and in the lower left a Motoconfort 100cc 2-stroke from 1924. On the other sheet of this issue there are also 3 French motorcycles (Gnome & Rhone, Griffon en Millet).

Sheet from Rwanda with Peugeot racer, Motoconfort and De Dion Bouton

Sheet from Rwanda with Millet, Griffon and Gnome & Rhone

The French share in the development of the motorcycle can be seen in various issues on the occasion of the 100st anniversary of the motorcycle in 1985. On the sheet of Sierra Leone for instance we see, next to the Daimler Einspur, the Millet from 1893.

Sierra Leone stamp with Millet

Laos stamp with Gnome & Rhone

Laos has included a Gnome & Rhone from 1920 in its series.

An attentive reader may have remarked that until now I did not mention a single issue from France itself. It may be strange, but until recently France issued a few stamps with a motorcycle on it, but none of them was French! In 1925 a stamp booklet has been issued with on the cover an advertisement for Monet Goyon motorcycles. As could be expected it is provided with many words of praise, with as summit the sentence underneath the motorcycle image: "The perfection of French production".

Cover of French stamp booklet with advertisement for Monet & Goyon

It was not before 2002 that France has administered justice to its own motorcycle history. On a sheet in the series for promotion of youth philately 10 motorcycles were depicted, and 3 of them are French: a Terrot 500 RGST, a Majestic from around 1930 (with hub center steering!) and France's present pride, the Voxan.

French sheet with ao. Majestic and Voxan

As said before a lot of French motorcycles are somewhat special. Just for this reason the Durch owners of (older) French motorcycles have joined in the "Club Franse Motoren", or short "CFM" (in English: "French Motorcycle Club"). The main aim of this club is to spread the knowledge of French motorcyles, and in this way contribute to the preservation of the French motorcycle history.

This sociable club has its own newsletter "Un Peu de Tout" (French for "a little bit of everything") and organizes a few meetings each year. One meeting is a technical day, to enhance the technical knowledge and skills of the members. Another activity is the documentation centre, that stores various sorts of information, like manuals, folders, photographs, test reports etcetera. For more information please see the website (in Dutch):


Paul Essens


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