For each issue, the French Postal Administration contracts an artist to prepare an original drawing (maquette). These beautiful works of art are usually made in pencil or watercolors. Once the original design for a stamp issue has been selected, the artist makes a detailed drawing using colour wash, pen and ink, etc. This is usually six times larger than the final image on the stamp; for example, for a design 22 x 36 mm, the artwork would measure 132 x 216 mm.

Such artwork is very rarely seen on the philatelic market, and since about 1960 all of it has been retained by the Postal Authorities. The detailed drawing is then photographed and reduced to the appropriate stamp size. These photographs are sometimes used for pre-issue pubblicity and may differ slightly from the actual stamp (fig. B10).

Before the engraving can begin, a piece of mild steel, usually measuring approximately 70 x 80 mm, is coated with a thin layer of copper. It is then covered with a thin film of sensitizing agent (for example silver bromide) which enables a stamp-sized photographic image of the design, in reverse, to be made upon it. Using this image for guidance, the engraver can now begin his exacting task, requiring many hours of concentrated work, aided by a binocular microscope or a magnifying glass and a burin (tool used for engraving).

During the course of his work, the engraver needs to check on the progress that has been made and, therefore, produces Progress Die Proofs for this purpose.

The drawing, that French call maquette, is therefore the true point of departure of this long route that will bring forth the birth of our stamp and therefore it seems to me appropriate to devote great attention to this maquette. Not all the drawings produced by artists will give rise to an issued stamp: in many cases, in fact, the drawing will remain such and there will not be any further development.

This lack of further development can basically happen for two reasons:

In the first case the drawing will exist only and we will not have all the various types of Proofs that normally follow a drawing.In the second case, to the contrary, we will find one or more Proofs of the same subject but there is an interruption in a following phase, thus terminating the process.
Really things are not always simple in the sense that in some cases the drawing will suffer a series of variations and changes that will result in a definitive version of the issued stamp that differs substantially from the initial drawing.

In other cases the drawing will remain essentially unchanged and become the definitive version of the issued stamp. In any case, the drawings are found with difficulty on the philatelic market since they may be unique (even if on the philatelic market we can observe many forged drawings), because there are only a few philatelists that collect them, or because of their price.

Moreover, the few available drawings are for the years prior to 1960 with rare exceptions (see fig. B5), because after 1960 the Postal Administration rigorously controlled the entire production of the drawings, generally preserving them in the Postal Museum.

In conclusion, we can divide the drawings into three different categories:

Changes introduced to the value of a stamp are not considered actual variations, because often, when the artist begins to create the drawing, it may still not be known what rate will be applied to the stamp, or the rate is already known but in the progress of the work  it will be modified for different reasons.
Therefore the rate can be verified with a certain degree of certainty and, in some cases in which the rate has not yet been decided by the Postal Authorities, the artist can prefer to use the inscription 0,0 or 0,00 as shown in the illustration of fig. B3.
Also, the photos can be used as a starting point for the engraving of the die (figg. B11, B11a, B12, B12a).

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