Impression taken from the development stages of an incomplete die are called Progress Die Proofs (Stage Die Proofs). During the course of an engraver's laborious work (from 1 to 3 months!) (intaglio process), the engraver needs to check on the progress he has made and, therefore, prepares Progress Die Proofs for this purpose. Once the die is complete, it is given to the Government Printing Works (Atelier) at which time the die is hardened. Produced until 1959, these Progress Die Proofs are pulls from the incomplete die and are lacking in some details such as lettering or shading lines; the figures of value may be in outline only or completely absent.

After 1959, the Progress Die Proofs exist only for Monaco stamps and not for France, Andorra and other French Area Countries.
The engraver prints Progress Die Proofs on thick or thin cardstock, which may be rough-cut, straight cut or deckle edged in sepia or, more often, in black and seldom in other colors.

Progress Die Proofs show the impression of the steel diemeasuring 70 x 80 mm.

Usually all the Progress Die Proofsare printed directly by the engraver on his own personal hand press, included those which show a vignette almost completed and that are marked with pencil in the left lower part as "Etat".
In fact, we can observe the constant absence of the embossed control seal (either 1st type and 2 nd type).
After the original die is finished, the engraver gave it to the Atelier that become at that point the owner and then can print the "official" Artist's Die Proofs with the embossed control seal.

Therefore also between the most recent Proofs (printed after 1959), there is a number of "non official" Proofs, all characterized by the constant absence of the embossed control seal. These "non official" Proofs are almost the totality of the Progress Die Proofs, as before mentioned but are also some Artist's Die Proofs, Proofs that are printed after the original die has been completed and that can be signed or not by the engraver; they all are constantly without embossed control seal.

On rare occasions, a watermark or partial watermark can be found in the paper. Watermarks of three paper manufacturers have been noted on French Area Proofs; the most commonly seen watermark is BFK RIVES in double-lined capitals. BFK indicates BLANCHET FRERES ET KLeBER, and RIVES is a town northwest of Grenoble.

Another watermark noted is that of ARCHES in large script lettering (this is the name of a town known for paper making situated on the Moselle river).
The third manufacturer incorporates the word MARAIS in the watermark and there are at least three different versions (fig. E1).

Progress Die Proofs are also divisible into two categories:

Progress Die Proofs from the original die are usually signed in pencil by the engraver below and on the right side (like Artist's Die Proofs or Engraver's Die Proofs) and occur with additional annotations such as "1er Etat" (1st Stage), "1er Etat avant chiffre" (1st Stage before value), "2eme Etat" (2nd Stage) or simply "Etat" (always in pencil but below and on the left side). Generally, only 5 Progress Die Proofs "1er Etat" are printed.

As with all Proofs taken from the unhardened die, they are produced in only very limited numbers, perhaps as few as one or two, perhaps as many as 10 examples.
No one is certain of the quantity but, in view of the irreparable damage that could be caused to the die by over-use at this stage, it can only be very few.

Progress Die Proofs of the second category arises from the production of secondary die for additional values, as for the 1944 Andorran issue.
As mentioned above, these are made using the transfer roller to produce an intermediate die from which the original value is erased. Subsequent hardening and further transfers produce new unhardened dies without figures of values.

Progress Die Proofs are then made for the engraver to check on his engraving of the new figures of value. Following these transfers, Progress Die Proofs are then made for the engraver to check on his engraving of the new values. These Progress Die Proofs are not usually signed, as a staff engraver at the Government Printing Works normally adds the new value.

Once the die is complete, it is handed to the Printing Works who, after satisfying themselves that there are no imperfections, harden the die. No further alteration can now be made to the die.

The next step is to impress this die onto another piece of mild steel known as the transfer roller; this transfer roller is then hardened and will serve to produce as many secondary dies as required, in addition to being used to make the final printing plate.

When the original die is un-denominated (or without value), as for the 1932 Andorran definitives, a new secondary die is engraved for each value.

When the original die is engraved denominated (or with value), as for the 1944 Andorran definitives, this value has to be removed from the secondary die at an intermediate stage before new values can be engraved.

Separate secondary dies are also produced to print Color Die Proofs (Epreuves de Couleur) and Deluxe Sheets (Epreuves de Luxe).
The personal technique used by each artist-engraver to dig the furrows with his burin on the smooth surface of the primitive die can be determined and understood by a careful observation of the Stage Die Proofs.

In fact, we can observe engravers that prefer to complete the whole sketch of the vignette leaving for last the engraving of the facial value or of the inscriptions that generally are on the outline of the same vignette; for example, Georges Betemps (figg. C2, C2a, C2b), (figg. C3, C3a, C3b), (figg. C4, C4a, C4b), (figg. C5, C5a, C5b), Raoul Serres (figg. C6, C6a, C6b) and Claude Haley (figg. C7, C7a, C7b).

In other cases, the artist-engraver proceeds first to define the contours of the figures and the inscriptions along the vignette outlines, leaving for last the completion of the figures to theirs inside: this is the case forPierre Gandon (figg. C1, C1a, C1b), Charles-Paul Dufresne (figg. C8, C8a, C8b), Jean Pheulpin (figg. C9, C9a, C9b), Pierre Béquet (figg. C10, C10a, C10b), and Henry Cheffer (figg.C15, C15a, C15b).

In other cases, rather than working in a centripetal manner, the artist begins to engrave by starting from the center of the vignette and finishing with the peripheral areas, like in this Stage Die Proof by Claude Haley (figg. C11, C11a, C11b).

Or, the artist can engrave the principal figures first and then the inscriptions, leaving for last the engraving of the background, like in this Progress Die Proof by Claude Jumelet (figg. C12, C12a, C12b).

Finally, the artist can complete the whole vignette sketch, including the inscriptions and the value along the outlines, preferring however first to trace the "light" furrows with the burin and, then in a second pass, to deepen the engravings into the steel, like Albert Decaris has done on this Progress Die Proof (figg. C13, C13a, C13b).

These observations are also useful in determining two different evolutional stages of the same Progress Die Proof (figg. C14, C14a).

Finally, it is necessary to remember that the Progress Die Proofs, like all the other Proofs that we will subsequently analyze, can be printed but without giving origin then to a stamp regularly issued: these are the Unadopted Progress Die Proofs, like this 1938 Proof of France (figg. C16, C16a) designed by Roger Chapelain-Midy and engraved by Emile Feltesse that represents the Carcassonne strengthened town. In this Proof the facial value of 90 cent. and the inscriptions along the left and inferior vignette outlines are totally absent. We can observe both better in the corresponding Engraver's Die Proof (figg. E89, E89a, E89b).
The stamp that will be indeed issued (see fig. E89b), designed and engraved by Jules Piel, show the same subject but from one different view, and a different facial value (5 Fr).

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