The wide variety of French Proofs has long been a source of fascination, yet puzzlement, to most philatelists. Amount the reasons for their desirability are their aesthetic beauty and their scarcity. The purpose of this exhibit is to present the variety of modern Proofs of the French Area; that is, those issued after 1938, explain their characteristics and show the differences between them.

Due to the method of distribution of French Proofs, a smaller number than actually produced will appear on the philatelic market. The printing of these Proofs is very limited, ranging from only 2-3 up to 30 copies per type of Proof.

The most common printing processes used for stamps of France and its Former Colonies are: Photo-Engraving (Héliogravure, Photogravure) and Engraving process (Recess Printing, Intaglio process, Calcography, Taille Douce). For each issue, the French Postal Administration contracts an artist to prepare an original drawing or painting (maquette).

For Photo-Engraving issues, the printing plate is produced by a photographic process from this drawing. The Engraving process (Intaglio process), on the other hand, requires the talents of the engraver (figg. A1 e A2), often the same artist who created the drawing, to reproduce the original design (maquette) on a small block of special, soft steel called a die (fig. E28) by making use of tools called burins (fig. A3). Among the engravers, surely the most famous engraver is Czeslaw Slania (figg. A1 and A2), (figg. A20, A21), (fig. A22), (figg. A23, A24), that in 2000 celebrated his thousandth philatelic engraving.

When the die is completed, it is then hardened (fig. E29) and will be used to produce the printing plate. The original die, referred to as the primary die (primitive die or master die), may be produced without value, an un-denominated die (figg. A4, A5, A6, A7), or it may be produced with value, a denominated die. From the primary die (fig. A25), Progress Die Proofs, Sepia Printer's Die Proofs, Artist's Die Proofs (fig. A19), and Acceptance Die Proofs are printed by using a hand press.

The finished hardened primary die, by means of high pressure, is then used to produce other dies; the secondary dies (figg. A8, A9, A10, A11, A12, A13, A14, A15, A16, A17).
These dies are used successively to print Trial Colour Die Proofs and Deluxe Sheets (Deluxe Proofs).
The various type of dies differ according to size and thickness (fig. A18).

The Government Printing House, Atelier or Imprimerie, preserves practically all of the steel dies that are produced and they are not released for any reason. In fact, it is generally impossible to find these steel dies on the philatelic market.
Private Printing Houses, for example Institut de Gravure, on the other hand, did not have such restrictive policies for securing the dies that they produced.
This was especially so during the years 1930 and 1940, when several philatelic issues for France and its Former Colonies were produced by Institut de Gravure.

The steel dies produced by the Private Printing Houses are different from those of Atelier especially with respect to their size - rather than measuring 80 x 70 mm, these primitive dies measure 69 x 47 mm (figg. A4, A5, A6, A7) or 98 x 70 mm, and the secondary dies, used for example for Deluxe Proofs, will measure 79 x 79 mm.
These dies, either primitive or secondary produced by Institut de Gravure, can be found on the philatelic market, even if in very limited quantities.

A special thanks to Mr. Kenneth R. Thompson for his assistance in the english translation.
© Giorgio Leccese