The French ‘Vieille Garde‘, which is “Old Guard”, were the elite veteran element of Napoleon’s Imperial Guard. The Emperor handpicked these soldiers personally based on their physical attributes and the experience and success of their combat record – these guys were imposing and proven in battle. 

The Vieille Garde were active between 1804 and 1815, they were the most celebrated and feared military formation of its time and called ‘the Immortals’ by French soldiers. These were the men Napoleon trusted with his crown jewels, and more importantly, his life.

Nine years after the formation of Napoleon’s Immortals, Charles Viner (1812 – 1906) a British Philatelist was born. Viner who was a founding member of the Royal Philatelic Society London, and who was actually present at the initial meeting of the society on 10 April 1869, served as its Secretary from 1871 to 1874.

Viner went on to collect and contribute to the development of philately in the UK. Credited to him, as well as his service to the Royal, were editing Stamp Collector’s Magazine between 1863 and 1867, where he ingeniously incorporated supplements of the Mount Brown Stamp Catalogue – which at the time was only the second ever stamp catalogue to be publish in the English language. Not only that but he actually assisted Mount Brown in the compiling of what was then a groundbreaking piece of work, and the supplements published in the magazine he edited included numerous contributions by Viner himself.

Viner translated and published J.B. Moen’s Postage Stamps Illustrate, which was a ‘General Nomenclature of Every Postage Stamp and Facsimiles of All Types’ issued up to the present time in the Different Countries of the World 1840-1864. In 1865 Viner became compiler of Edward Oppen’s Postage Stamp Album and Catalogue and produced 24 editions up to 1891. He was also the Editor of The Philatelist between 1866 and 1876.

In short Viner was a Soldier. Much of what he did wasn’t glamorous but it was needed and the truth of this man’s tenure in this wonderful world of philately was that he picked up the pieces many others didn’t want to touch. He went into battle for the good of the cause and he might not have come up with the strategic plan or the tactical outline, but if ever there was a man that you could depend upon and trust in the heat of battle, any time and anywhere, Viner was your man.

Fast forward to 1921, fifteen years after Viner’s death and over a 100 years after the last Vieille Garde took a stand, Charles Viner was entered on to the Roll of Distinguished Philatelists as one of the founding Fathers of Philately. 

Doesn’t get much better than that, and in a way our Soldier Viner is immortal because he’s left a legacy which people in the stamp collecting world will look at and say, this was a man we entrusted with our jewels, he stood tall and imposing in his time in the Philatelic realm, and his record ensures he was worthy to be called the ‘vieille garde of philately’, which was exactly what those who knew him referred to him as, having been actively collecting, writing and protecting stamps since 1860.

I’m pretty sure if Napoleon was a philatelist today and he met with Charles Viner, he would say; “Soldier! Come join my Elite Guard!

So here’s to our very own Soldier, Charles Viner, one of ‘the Immortals’ of the Philatelic army. 

Next Legendary Collector we meet is Oscar Berger-Levrault, who may or may not have been the first philatelist to develop a catalogue. Find out what we think in our following Digest.

You can also catch-up on the previous six Legendary Collectors here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6