Charles Aleveque (known in Korea as An Ryebaek, -晏禮百) made and distributed the first photographic postcards in Korea, published a French-Korean dictionary, and represented the Korean Government at the 1900 Paris Exposition. As a representative for a French trading company, he worked for trade between Korea and France, importing modern materials for the government of the Tae Han Empire.
NOTE: If the three Chinese characters used for Aleveque’s Korean name are read together, their collective sound is ‘Allyebaek’ which close to the pronunciation of his French surname.
Aleveque came to Korea in October 1897, and travelled between Korea and Shanghai in March 1899 to import rifles for the Korean Government. He was sent also to France as a Government representative to obtain a loan from France. In July, 1901 he travelled to Rondon and to Tongking for the purpose of the importation of rice. He was a French teacher for the language institute in Chŏng-dong, Seoul. In 1901 he published a French-Korean dictionary entitled ‘Petit Dictionnaire Français-Coréen’ which was dedicated to the French Ambassador Collin de Plancy, writing ‘ À Monsieur Collin de Plancy Ministre de France à Séoul’. For Korean philatelists, Aleveque is most notable for the photographic postcards known as the ‘Aleveque postcards’.
Aleveque’s Photographic Postcards
In 1899, E. Clemencent, the foreign adviser to the Korean postal service, proposed to the Korean Government that the marketing of photographic postcards would be a good source of income. The Government then requested Charles Aleveque to make postcards using photographs which he had taken at the royal palace as well as of public scenes. These postcards commissioned by the Government are the ‘Aleveque postcards’ known to us.
As the forty-eight postcards show scenes of life in the Tae Han Empire, they are valuable not just for the postal history of Korea, but also as a photographic record of that period of modern Korean history. Aleveque took the photographs to France where they were reproduced on postcards and sold them at the 1900 Paris Exposition. When he returned to Korea, Aleveque brought some of these postcard with him for sale and affixed the ‘Eagle’ stamps on them. Of particular interest among the postcards are the ones depicting the funeral of the last Empress Myŏngsŏng (明成皇后, 1851-1895).
In a column on the right-hand side of the cards, Aleveque has written (in Korean) ‘ Aleveque, teacher of the French academy, Séoul, TaeHan’. In the upper-left corner is the French phrase ‘Séoul (Corée)’. At the bottom of the postcards is a number designating its individual place in the series, and an explanation in French of the subject of the photograph.