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FRANCE
2003

Vidocq

1775-1857

Scott: 2971, SG: 3918, Yvert: 3588, Michel: 3730, WNS: FR054.03
August 30, 2003
perf 13.4×13

25 × 40 mm

The World's First Detective

François Eugène Vidocq was not a fictional detective... but he might as well have been, for all we really know about him! He was the model for Honoré de Balzac's Vautrin and Emile Gaboriau's Lecoq... (and some say for Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Maigret and Sam Spade, as well!) and much of what is "actually known" about him is based on works by unknown authors... including his famed autobiography!
"François Eugène Vidocq was an ex-convict who set up the Brigade de la Sûreté, the French national detective police force, and went on to become the world's first private detective. Here are a few of this real-life master sleuth's innovations:
  • He used disguises, decoys, and criminal stool pigeons
  • He experimented with fingerprinting
  • He invented invisible inks
  • He kept detailed files on criminals
  • He conducted blood and ballistics tests
  • He pioneered handwriting analysis"
The Vidocq Dossier, by Samuel Edwards, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1977

One of a set of six stamps focusing on writers and literature.


Destinées romanesques (Storybook Destinies)
Miniature sheet, 4,60 € - 1,60 € for the French Red Cross
Scott: 2976a

Date of issue: postmark 30.08.2003

text on the back of envelope

Quand on évoque Vidocq, il est toujours difficile de faire la part entre la légende, l'histoire et le personnage littéraire. Où est la vérité lorsque les deux héros de Balzac et de Victor Hugo, Vautrin et Jean Valjean, prennent la place du citoyen Vidocq, véritable mythe littéraire plus célèbre par les personnages qu'il a inspirés que par lui-même ! Qui était Vidocq ? Le fils d'un boulanger d'Arras. Ne en 1775, il fait parler de lui des l'âge de 16 ans à l'occasion de son premier vol. Pour se racheter, il s'engage dans l'armée, déserte, est arrêté, s'évade du bagne de Brest, est repris et finit dans les rangs de la police... en dénonçant toutes ses relations de la veille !

En 1811, on lui confie une brigade spéciale faite d'anciens bagnards. Il quitte la police en 1827, fortune douteuse faite. On le rappelle en 1832 mais, mêlé a la répression anti-républicaine de juin 1832, il est invité a donner sa démission. I1 fonde alors une police privée. Les écrivains de l'époque, à la recherche de personnages sulfureux pour les inspirer, trouvent avec Vidocq le modèle idéal, voyou, voleur, bagnard et policier ! Il devient l'ami « fréquentable » de Balzac, Hugo, Lamartine, Dumas, Sue, malgré deux nouvelles arrestations en 1837 et 1843... Il meurt en 1857, après avoir écrit ses mémoires en 1828, « Les Voleurs » en 1836 et « Les vrais mystères de Paris » en 1844.

Dessin du timbre : Serge Hochain - - - Impression du timbre en heliogravure
Mise en page du timbre : Jean-Paul Cousin - - - Illustration de l'enveloppe : Serge Hochain


When we consider Vidocq, it's always difficult to separate the legend, history, and the literary character. Where is the truth when the two heros of Balzac and Victor Hugo, Vautrin and Jean Valjean, take the place of citizen Vidocq, a true literary myth, more famous through these characters that he inspired than himself! Who was Vidocq? The son of a baker from Arras. Born in 1775, he is first mentioned at the age of 16, at the time of his first theft. As atonement, he enters the army, deserts, is arrested, escapes from the penal colony at Brest, is recaptured and finishes up in the ranks of the police... denouncing all his former activities!

In 1811, he's granted a special brigade made of ex-convicts. He quits the police in 1827, a questionable fortune made. He is recalled in 1832 but, embroiled in the anti-republican represseion of June, 1832, he is asked to resign. He then founds a private detective agency. The writers of the period, seeking unconventional characters for inspiration, found in Vidocq an ideal model... hoodlum, thief, convict and policeman! He became the "associate" of Balzac, Hugo, Lamartine, Dumas, and Sue, in spite of two new arrests in 1837 and 1843... He died in 1857, after having written his memoirs in 1828, "The Thieves" in 1836, and "The True Mysteries of Paris" inn 1844.

Stamp design: Serge Hochain - - - Printing: heliogravure
Stamp production: Jean-Paul Cousin - - - Envelope illustration: Serge Hochain

Six Storybook Destinies


Claudine
"Claudine" novels, Colette [1873-1954]

The Count of Monte Cristo
Alexandre Dumas [1802-1870]

Esmeralda
"The Hunchback of Notre Dame", Victor Hugo [1802-1885]

Gavroche
"Les Misérables", Victor Hugo [1802-1885]

Nana
Emile Zola [1840-1902]

Vidocq [1775-1857]
(Honoré de Balzac [1799-1850])


More about Vidocq:

Vidocq: Convict Turned Detective Magnifique by Joseph Geringer
The Great Detectives: Vidocq by Mike Ashley
Walking through Walls by Graham Robb


Vidocq - 2001 French film starring Gérard Depardieu, directed by Pitof.