Monaco’s Prince Rainier III is best remembered around the world as the monarch who married the beautiful film star Grace Kelly. But

A keen collector himself, Rainier once called stamps ‘the best ambassador of a country’, and as soon he became the Sovereign      Prince of Monaco he began promoting its philately.

In the year of his accession, 1950, he founded the Monaco Postal Museum and filled it with the collections of his predecessors, Prince Albert I and Prince Louis II. It now also houses the Crown’s collection.

To help make the many philatelic gems tucked away in the collections of the rich and famous more accessible to the general public, he also founded the Club de Monte-Carlo, at the instigation of the eminent collector Alexander Kroo, in the late 1990s. Every two years, it hosts an international exhibition showcasing rare material.

Rainier was keen to put his mark on the everyday stamps of the principality, too. Thanks to his love of recess-printing, Monaco’s stamps escaped the fate which befell many other countries’ issues, remaining idiosyncratically artistic rather than reliant on photographic imagery.

The prince was heavily involved with every stamp issue, from the choice of a subject matter through the design and production stages.

Five different definitive series were issued bearing Rainier’s portrait, but it was the second, the 1955 set, which proved the longest running and the most popular. It had a very simple yet stylish design, with the prince’s head in an oval frame topped by a crown and surrounded by olive branches.

Designed and engraved by the renowned French artist Henri Cheffer, and recess-printed of course, all the stamps were initially printed in two colours, although some of the new values added subsequently were monochrome.

By 1959, the series had grown to a total of 11 values ranging from 6f to 50f, fairly straightforward to collect as there were no major varieties – a testament to the thoroughness with which stamp production in Monaco was executed.

But then came the twist. The longevity of the series meant that a whole new set of values had to be issued on June 1, 1960, to reflect the revaluation of the Principality’s currency. The ‘new franc’ series would eventually comprise 15 different stamps (including several changes of colour), ranging from 25c to 2f 30c.

Again only several values were printed in monochrome, and it is among these that the only major shade variety can be found: the 30c in bright violet, as opposed to the usual deep violet.

The ‘new franc’ series remained in use until 1974, when it was finally replaced by a new portrait definitive designed and engraved by Czeslaw Slania.

Its popularity was reiterated when it was chosen to represent the reign of Prince Rainier on a 1985 miniature sheet marking the centenary of Monaco stamps.