DIE PROOFS, ARTIST'S DIE PROOFS, ENGRAVER'S DIE PROOFS
Engraver's Die Proofs are Proofs of thefinished die as submitted by the engraver. Like Progress Die Proofs(Stage Die Proofs), Engraver's Die Proofsshow the impression of the steel die measuring 70 x 80 mm. Although most issues of France and Colonies are printed using the Engraving processor the Photogravure process, Typography is used mostly for small stamps printed in large quantities.Engraver's Die Proofs are also prepared for issues using the Typographic process. They are not sunken, which is their main difference from Engraver's Die Proofs of engraved issues.
An attentive observer (better with a magnifying glass)
will see a minuscule rectangle without colour (figg.E6, E7) in which the artist's surname
will be printed. If there is only one small rectangle, then the drawing
designer and the engraver are the same person, as often happens.
When two different small rectangles are in the same vignette (figg. E8, E9), the engraver and the drawing designer are two different persons and sometimes both signatures are on the Proof.
Indeed, most Engraver's Die Proofs (especially after 1959) are missing the engraved name of the artist; as it will be added before printing the stamp.
Generally, Engraver's Die Proofs are signed in pencil (seldom in pen) by the engraver.
We can distinguish two different types of Proofs:
In the first case (Type A Engraver's Die Proofs), the Proofs have one signature only, belonging to the single artist, below and on the right side in respect of the vignette, but inside theimpression of the steel die(fig. E64); although sometimes theartist's signatureis outside of the impression of steel die, most frequently in case of vertical large vignettes(fig. E65).
In the second case (Type B Engraver's Die Proofs), if there is only one signature below and on the right side (even if there are two artists), then this is the engraver's signature.
Seldom will we see both signatures, both in pencil (fig. E51) or one in pencil and one in pen (fig. E52). Only exceptionally the two signatures are below theimpression of the steel die, especially when there is a small and horizontal vignette(fig. E53).
When two signatures appear, the designer's is placed below and on the
left side, whereas the engraver's is placed below and on the right side.
Exceptionally, the two signatures are overlaid below the vignette(fig. E54).
However, between Type B Engraver's Die Proofs, those with both the artist's signatures are much more scarce and therefore more in demand by collectors.
The quantity produced is limited to about 18 to 28 copies.
In most cases, obtaining Engraver's Die Proofs
is quite difficult because very few are produced and because the Proofs are
securely kept either by the printer (before 1959) or by the Postal Administration
of the issuing government (after 1959).
The numbers printed are, once again, a matter of conjecture; it is possible that certain values, in certain colours, or particular combinations are unique.
Prior to 1959-1961, when controls were introduced, a figure of 20
is sometimes suggested, but this cannot be relied upon.
Exact issue numbers vary from stamp to stamp and from country to country.
Since 1961, Andorra typically issued 18, Monaco 19, France about 23 (21-23), French Antarctic, Wallis et Futuna, French Polinesia, New Caledonia, St. Pierre et Miquelon, Somaly Coast, Laos and Cambodia 26, Afars et Issas, Benin, Cameroon and other African countries 28 (about 25-29).
At present, the ITVF (Imprimerie des Timbres-Poste et Valeurs Fiduciaires), that is located in Périgueux, prints 23 Engraver's Die Proofs for France: 2 are given to the drawing designer and 6 to the engraver of the die (if the designer and the engraver are the same person, the Engraver's Die Proofs are printed in 21 units and not 23, and 8 Proofs are given to the engraver).
Exact printing numbers were never disclosed by Government Authorities, however, and some Engraver's Die Proofs may have printing totals as low as eight, whereas others have 29 or more examples, all with embossed control seal.
Because these Proofs were made from unhardened plates, however, it is virtually impossible to make more than about 30 copies without some damage to the plate (die), so that provides an approximate upper limit to production.
Nevertheless, it is much more difficult to establish exact printing numbers for the pre-government control period when artists were allowed to make prints for their own use, sometimes after the hardening of dies.
From 1959 onward, all such Proofs had to be turned over to the Government Printing Office along with the unhardened dies.
Usually Engraver's Die Proofs bear the artist's signature in pencil.
For the same stamp, several colors are usually tried (although sometimes
only one colour exist), but only solid inks are used.
Finding all the different colors used can be the real challenge.
Proofs with black vignettes are the most common that we can find for the simple reason that black ink is tried for practically every Proof.
The other colors can vary substantially, because each Proof often
exists in more colors. For most cases there are 5 colors that are tried,
so there are up to 6 different colorations that can be found.
A hypothetical example of distribution of the approximately 23 Engraver's Die Proofs printed for one stamp is:
5 black, 3 orange, 4 red, 6 blue, 5 violet (total 23 Engraver's Die Proofs printed).
In the Monochromatic Engraver's Die Proofs,
only one ink is affixed on the engraved surface of the primitive die and, once penetrated in all the furrows
made by the burin, it will be released on the
cardboard through the high pressure produced from the hand press (fig. A25).
This high pressure is absolutely essential because the "release" of the solid ink happens from the engraving furrows (gravure) and, at the same time, it determines the appearance of the characteristic impression of the primitive die on the cardboard, like a "frame" around the vignette (the size of the impression is identical to that of the primitive die and that is 80 x 70 mm).
We can observe this presence of 5 different colors of the same Proof in the 1sttype Engraver's Die Proofs (fig. E55), for the 2nd type Engraver's Die Proofs (fig. E56) and for the 3rd type Engraver's Die Proofs (fig. E57).
Seldom, we can observe Proofs with more colors on the same vignette (Polychrome Engraver's Die Proofs or Multicoloured Engraver's Die Proofs); these are much more scarce.
The inking operation of the engraved surface of the steel die by the artist is, between the other things,
particularly hard-working; in fact, the solid inks of different colors
must be smeared on different zones of the engraving and must pierce into
It's understandable that to work with more inks of different colors on the same vignette may cause many difficulties; bacause the overlaps between the different colors must be avoided since such would make a defective print.
It is not known why Multicoloured Engraver's Die Proofs were produced in the past, but very likely it was due to the desire of the artist-engraver to get a chromatic effect to give an approximate idea of how it would appear on the definitive stamp.
In fact the actual Proofs (3rd type Engraver's Die Proofs) are all Monochromatic ones, while the polychromy was a practice of the years until 1963 (1st type Engraver's Die Proofs and 2nd type Engraver's Die Proofs).
Seldom are Engraver's Die Proofs Polychrome (Multicolored):
Some engravers hand-colored Die
Proofs by applying watercolors or liquid inks to a black
Die Proof to illustrate how the stamp would
look in full color (fig. E50), (figg. E97, E97a).
A few engravers created these renditions (Gandon, Mazelin, Cottet, Combet, Betemps, Durrens, Pheulpin) and all are very scarce.
Sometimes, below the vignette of Polychrome Engraver's Die Proofs, there's a pencil annotation: "1/1", which indicates that it is a single example) (fig. E62).
A few Engraver's Die Proofs have additional pencil annotations on the lower part of the cardboard (fig. E43, E44).
In 1964, a newly designed control seal
was introduced in a 2,9 cm circle (2nd type control seal) (figg. E30, E31). Therefore, we have a 3rd type of Engraver's Die Proofs.
Each Engraver's Die Proofs bears the official control seal inscribed "IMPRIMERIE DES TIMBRES-POSTE- CONTROLE".
Engraver's Die Proofs for France have two additional hardly visible control seals, a "Marianne head" in a 1,7 cm circle (fig. E38) on the top (left or right) of the cardboard, and a longitudinal seal (IMPRIMERIE DES TIMBRES-POSTE – FRANCE) below (fig. E39).
Another example is the 1949 Proof of France produced by Gabriel-Antoine Barlangue to commemorated Emile Baudot
(the inventor of the rapid telegraph) (Engraver's
Die Proof of Unissued stamp) (figg.
E77, E77a), (figg. E90, E90a). The
stamp showed an error in the Baudot's birth date (1848, while the correct
date is 1845) (figg. M5, M5a). The Postal
Administration realized the error and immediately withdrew the stamps with
the error and replaced them with the new ones (of slightly darker clear
Some Engraver's Die Proofs of these Unissued stamps with the date error were therefore also printed.
Another example is a 1949 Proof of France prepared by E. Vares that represented friendship between France and United States of America (Unadopted Engraver's Die Proof) (figg. E78, E78a, E78b). In this case, the subject represented in the Proof has never been seen light because it is Unadopted, having been replaced by a totally different subject.
Also in 1949 we can observe the 500 Fr. air mail Proof (designed and engraved by Albert Decaris) that shows a plane over the "Notre Dame" cathedral in Paris (figg. E91, E91a). This value was indeed issued in the 1949 set "Views of the big cities of France" (figg. E92, E92a, E92b, E92c), but with a different subject (the 500 Fr. referred to the city of Marsiglia).
Also in 1949 and for the same set of France air mail, the same Albert Decaris proposed to the Postal Administration an high value (1000 Fr.) that represented a different aerial view of the "Notre Dame" cathedral in Paris (figg. E87, E87a, E88, E88a).
Also in the following years, the examples of Unadopted Engraver's Die Proofs are continued. For example, the case of the 1954 France air mail Proof (airplanes prototypes) (drawn by P. Lengellé and engraved by Pierre Gandon), shows a 500 Fr. value (figg. M3, M4) (fig. E85). For unknown reasons, the subject of the Proof was not considered (Morane-Saulnier Fleuret). Instead, the definitive issued stamp (always with facial value of 500 Fr.) had for its subject the Fouga Magister (figg. E86, E86a).
In 1955 the Postal Authorities did not accept the subject that Charles-Paul Dufresne had dedicated for 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Rotary International (figg. E96, E96a, E96b), preferring the very similar drawing of Raoul Serres.
In a more recent period, we can cite an example of Unadopted Engraver's Die Proofs for political reasons.
On the occasion of the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, it Proof for Wallis et
Futuna had been proposed that represented a phase of the volley game (figg. E79, E79a).
This Proof never became a stamp because several Countries (around 60, including Wallis et Futuna), decided to boycott the Olympiads to protest the Soviet invasion of Afganistan.
Another example is furnished by Artist's Die
Proofs printed with a different value than the definitive issued
stamp. This is the case for the 1955 Proof produced by Jean Pheulpin (figg.
E81, E81a, E81b) that presents a value of 70 Fr., while the definitive
issued stamp was 6 Fr.
On the Proof, Pheulpin writes in pencil "unissued to 70 Fr.".
Finally it is also necessary to cite Unadopted Artist's Die Proofs produced by private Printing Houses like "Institut de Gravure". This is the case of the French Proof devoted to the famous composer and musician Chopin, produced in 1956 by Joseph Hecht (figg. E80, E80a, E80b). Probably because of the obvious hooked nose with which Chopin had been represented (in profile), this Proof was not adopted and it was replaced by another one that resulted in the definitive stamp that was issued, in which the pianist was represented with an almost frontal view.
In the case of some issues, there are overlapping colors and thus two separate engraved dies (and thus Artist's Die Proofs) are required for printing, one for the foreground and another for the background designs (figg. E48, E49).
After the introduction of the six-color printing process (taille
douce 6 or T.D. 6), Engraver's Die Proofs
for some of the stamps printed on these presses, exist as Twin Engraver's Die Proofs, giving either "positive"
or "negative" impressions.
Two separate dies are needed, and two separate Proofs exist, because the six-colour press prints three colors directly from the printing plate onto the paper, and three more colors by offset that requires an intermediate roller.
The first die, for the main part of the design, is thus engraved "in reverse" to print a normal positive impression.
The second die, for the background, is
engraved "positively" and thus produces a negative impression that subsequently
becomes positive when transferred to the paper via the intermediate roller.
It follows, therefore, that only those stamps printed on the T.D. 6 presses and using the offset facility, will require two dies and thus provide Twin Engraver's Die Proofs; while those printed without using the offset procedure will need only one die.
In particular, the large size "painting" stamps of French, Monaco and Andorra were issued in pairs (one "positive" and one "negative"), even if we can observe Twin Engraver's Die Proofs for French Antarctic, St. Pierre et Miquelon and other countries.
For definitives since 1960 some French issues, mostly the large size
Art stamps, have been printed in up to six colors.
Two dies are prepared by the engraver: one for direct-recess and one for offset-recess.
Therefore two Engraver's Die Proofs are prepared, one for each die.
The Twin Engraver's Die Proofs are found for all the large size stamps (particularly for those of France) that represent pictorial or artistic images (figg. E71, E71a, E71b), (figg. E73, E73a, E73b).
Generally the two Proofs ("positive" and "negative") are printed in the same color (figg. E72, E72a, E72b), but they can be found in chromatic discordances (figg. E71, E71a, E71b), (figg. E73. E73a, E73b).
In the majority of the cases, on the "negative" printed Proof (that is engraved in "positive"), the facial figures are missing and the same thing for the inscriptions along the vignette outlines (figg. E73, E73a, E73b), (figg. E72, E72a, E72b).
On the contrary, these are present on the "positive" printed Proof (that is engraved in "negative"). As always happens, to this general rule there always exist the exceptions (figg. E71, E71a, E71b).
They are Proofs that generally show two, three or four vignettes on
the same cardboard, all of the same set in equal or different colors (black
is used most often).
Generally the impression of the dies is smaller (70 x 40 or 48 x 38 mm) in comparison to the typical 80 x 70 mm. For this reason, we can conclude that probably it concerns dies expressly made for this purpose.
The general opinion is that thay are secondary
dies (while the normal Engraver's Die Proofs
are printed by a primitive die).
The Multiple Engraver's Die Proofs are not to be confused with the similar Compound Deluxe Sheets (Collective Deluxe Proofs). Unlike these, Collective Engraver's Die Proofs do not show the control perforation (control punch) but they can show a pencil annotation of the Government Printing House (Atelier).
It is very likely that the Collective Engraver's
Die Proofs have been created for the Collective
Deluxe Proofs (Collective Deluxe Sheets).
This would seem to be demonstrated from the frequent presence in the lower
part of the cardboard, of some pencil signs
that reproduce the control perforation and,
on the right side, the inscription of the same Atelier
(this last is produced only by a sketch using a uniform pencil stripe) (fig. E93).
After all, the general configuration of these Collective Engraver's Die Proofs often results in that which is identical to that of the corresponding Collective Deluxe Proofs (figg. E68, E69).
The vignettes, can be produced superposed or flanked as shown below:
|O O||(horizontal pair) (fig. E63)|
|(vertical pair) (fig. E27)|
|O O O||(horizontal triple) (fig. E66)|
|(vertical triple) (fig. E67)|
|(vertical quadruple) (fig. E68)|
After all, it is necessary to remember that Collective Engraver's Die Proofs don't exist only for chalcographic printed stamps (taille douce) but also for those obtained by typography (fig. E70).
Therefore, they must be considered like souvenir (that is material
realized in order to satisfy the desires of the numerous stamps collectors),
as happens for Deluxe Proofs (or Deluxe Sheets), rather than necessary material for
the production of the stamp.
These Large Size Engraver's Die Proofs are generally produced in limited numbers (900-950 unities), however many more in comparison to the typical Engraver's Die Proofs (18-28 units). The illustrated sample (fig. E82) is n° 835 of 950 printed units.
Large Size Engraver's Die Proofs exist also for the stamps printed with 6 colors presses (T.D. 6), that is Large Size Twin Engraver's Die Proofs (figg. E83, E83a), (figg. E84, E84a). These are more similar to the normal Twin Engraver's Die Proofs, but on one of the two cardboards (what brings the "positive" print) the cancelled definitive stamp is present with the 1st day postmark. In this case, the Large Size Twin Engraver's Die Proofs have a different origin: Georges Bétemps persuaded the Government to allow him to produce these special Die Proofs (that do not have the official embossed control seal of the French printing-house) which he did on the first day of issue, but he was not allowed to sell or give them away to anyone. So far, this privilege was granted only to Bétemps. After his death, though, his widow sold some of these Proofs.
Exceptionally Engraver's Die Proofs can also be observed that are produced for stamps printed in héliogravure (photogravure) (figg. E75, E75a).
To this end, it is necessary to mention the engraving Proofs made
by Private Printing Houses in the years '30 and '40 (like Institut de Gravure) that don't follows the rules
They are Proofs (fig. E76) that show the impression of the steel die that measures 69 x 47 mm, a small size in comparison to those present on the Engraver's Die Proofs made by the Government Printing House (Atelier) (80 x 70 mm).
In fact, the sizes of the respective primitive dies are different, even if they follows the same procedure in both cases.