The Story of Monsieur Charles Aleveque

Old Korea

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.

A Selection of the Aleveque Photographic Postcards

Fig. 1: Charles Alévêque with his French language school students in Korea, 1900.

Fig. 2: Until recently this photograph appeared in Korean school textbooks as a photograph of the Empress Myŏngsung . The title in French on the postcard only identifies the person as ‘Dame du palais’, and that her clothing is a ceremonial costume.
Fig. 3: This photograph shows the official Kim Hongnyuk in formal court costume. He subsequently was involved in an attempt to poison King Kojong and was executed in 1898.
Fig. 4: Photograph number 1 of the funeral cortege (palanquin) for the Empress Myŏngsung.
Fig. 5: Photograph number 2 of the funeral cortege (palanquin) for the Empress Myŏngsung.
Fig. 6: Photograph of Yi Yongik (李容翊, 1854-1907) who, at the time of the photograph was Minister of Finance. He sent Aleveque to France to negotiate a loan, and to attend the Paris Exposition of 1900.
Fig. 7: People being carried in a chige, a carrier used by farmers to convey goods and items on their back.
Fig. 8: The imperial throne in the throne hall of a palace, possibly the Changduk Palace.
Fig. 9: Scene of a funeral in a home. Note: All of the photographs mentioned above are taken from샤를%20알레베크.
Fig. 10: Photo of a woman in a farm (?) house. The French description indicates that the garments may be the woman’s underclothes. Note: This photograph was taken from

Items from the Collection of the Author

Fig. 11: Eagle 1 Chŏn stamp with a ‘SEOUL ? DEC 04 COREE’ cancellation.
Fig. 12: Photograph of the Minister of Finance Yi Yongik.
Fig. 13: Eagle 1 Chŏn stamp with a ‘SEOUL 28 NOV 00 COREE’ cancellation.
Fig. 14: The picture shows the members of the Cabinet attending the funeral ceremony for the Empress Myŏngsung.
Fig. 15: Eagle 4 Chŏn stamp with a ‘SEOUL 8 MAI 05 COREE’ cancellation. Addressed to Mademoiselle Grenet. Insletulion, St. Agnes. Lucern (Suisse). There is a cancellation via ‘SHANG-HAI 11 MAI 05 CHINA’ and arrival ‘LUCERNE 15 VI 05’.
Fig. 16: The picture shows two women ‘ironing’ clothing by beating them with rollers on a stone ‘table’.

(My other collections can be seen at:

Dr. Joel Lee
Born in Korea, Vietnam war participation as ROK marine, Dr. of Ministry, Retired Presbyterian Pastor. 40 years collected for Korea stamps 1884-1905.

6 thoughts on “The Story of Monsieur Charles Aleveque

  1. Thank you for your comment!

    The 13 tall series with French “POSTES IMPELIALES DE COREE” stamps, that you mentioned, issued October 1, 1903 in Korea named as “Eagle Series”. But the out side world called them “Falcon”. I don’t know why. The world must honor the origin county’s description.
    Mr. V. E. Clemencet, the French, who had been hired by the Choson (Korea) government as a Postal advisor, persuaded the government to have those, ordered these series to France July 26, 1900, and after 3 years they had been issued.

    1. This is a very interesting debate. Both classic experts Korean Jae-Seung Kim and Japanese Mizuhara called this series the “Falcon Issues”. A.M. Tracey Woodward did not give a name to the series in his book published in 1928. Since they were designed by the Mr. V.E. Clemencet, and being French, the bird definitely looks like the images of the French Imperial Eagle.
      So why are they called the “Falcon Issues”, indeed? When they were first issued, does anyone have an announcement around that time in 1903 from the Korean Post Office or anywhere in a philatelic article? Maybe the Koreans didn’t want it to be called an eagle? It may be that they were called the Falcons from the very beginning? It would be great if otherr members knew additional information about this issue. Robert

  2. According to the master’s thesis ‘The Study on Postage Stamp Designs of the Korean Enlightenment period'(2007) by Lee, Gyoung Ok of Ehwa Womans University, the 1903 issued stamps should be called as a ‘hawk’ not an ‘eagle’. “Thus, the hawk stamp (published in 1903) designed a hawk clutching a sword and a globe in either claw is unconventional in Korea’s history of designs. The stamp community regards the bird design as an eagle, but this thesis ascertained that the bird was not an eagle but a hawk, having reviewed the decoration system of Great Han Empire which was implemented prior to the publication of this stamp, as well as the influence of Japanese stamps on Korean stamps.”(from the English abstract)
    The thesis itself is open-access and can viewed from the following link.

  3. All the official Korean publications and stamp catalogs are indicating those are “독수리=Eagle”. (Even though, it is confusing, some are written in Korean “독수리” but in English “Falcon”.) Are they all are wrong and must change their name as “hawk” or “Falcon”? It is very ridiculous. As I mentioned earlier, if the origin country named it so, all other countries must accept it as it is or if they named it wrong, they must change it. Otherwise it is the manipulation or infringement of a nation’s sovereignty. It has been clearly written “독수리=Eagle” but why it needs to read as “Falcon”? Is it not ridiculous? In earlier world the “Eagle” means the sovereign power or regal royal authority of a nation. If there was someone, who did not want to acknowledge of Korea’s sovereignty, that one was that who wanted to downgrade the Korea’s sovereignty.

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