• plate
  • rotary press
  • plate
  • rotary press
  • with 3 colors (T.D. 3)
  • with 6 colors (T.D. 6)
  • high efficiency rotary press (R.G.R.)

On the sheets of Rotary Recess printed stamps one may find, depending on the period of printing and the type of press; six marks or numbers printed on the sheet margins:

  1. Printing reference number
  2. Printing date
  3. Press number, with operator's identity reference
  4. A special mark for each of the three sheets of stamps produced at each revolution of the printing cylinder
  5. An electronic mark
  6. Engine-turned pattern.

The printing reference number has always existed since the beginning of the use of the rotary recess machines.

The printing date has also existed from the start, except that, after a time, it was not used for charity or commemorative issues.

The four other numbers or marks quoted above have undergone many variations over the years:

1st period 1929-33

The first printing on rotary recess machines was made on 22.3.29, the stamp being the 10f La Rochelle (all stamps referred to are issues of France unless otherwise stated). The sheets only bore two identifying marks, the printing reference number and the printing date. All the stamps were printed on "three colour machines" (machines which are able to produce stamps with up to three different colours, by a process of depositing different coloured inks on different parts of the printing plate).

2nd period 1933-64

A new reference number was added to the sheet markings, taking the form of "I C 2"; the letter "I" was always used, possible standing for "indicatif"; "C" referred to the press operator, and "2" the number of" the press. This reference number was printed in large fat figures and the first sheets of stamps to bear it were those for Andorra printed on 29.4.33, and for France of 20.6.33 (2f Arc de Triomphe). The reference number is known to have been used until 8.1.64.

3rd period 1941

No additional sheet markings but omission of printing dates for charity and commemorative issues. Last known date 17.7.41 for the 1f plus 1f France d'Outremer. This system remains unchanged to date.

4th period 1945

No changes except the appearance of additional distinguishing marks for each of the three sheets produced by one printing cylinder revolution ... 1, 2 or 3 dots ( ). The first sheets of stamps so marked were the 6f Andorre la Vieille of Andorra (19.7.45) and the 10f Marianne de Gandon of France (13.2.46). The system of dots continued in use until 1948.

5th period February 1948

The dot markings were replaced by a system of lines; 2 lines for sheet 1 ( || ), 1 line for sheet 2 ( | ), and no lines for sheet three (   ). This system was first seen on the 200f Airmail of France printed on 10.2.48, and continues to this day.

6th period December 1948

Markings unchanged but additional fancy "engine-turned pattern" printed on the previously blank stamp sized labels which appeared at the top and bottom, or sides, of the sheet according to the stamp format. This pattern was introduced to prevent stamps being forged on these blank, gummed, perforated stamp sized pieces of paper. The press number, and the operators identity reference is printed on top of one of these patterns, the sheet marking line(s) appearing alongside one of the patterns.

7th period 1960.

Markings unchanged. Introduction of new six colour machines; these presses bear reference numbers which follow on from the numbers of the three colour machines. From the time of their introduction an electronic mark was incorporated on one of each three sheets, and remains so today. The first stamps printed on these machines were the set of French bird stamps, without printing dates (coins-datés), of November 1960. The first dated stamp was the French "Marianne de Cocteau" (7.2.61).

8th period January 1964

Press number now in thin characters taking the form of "I D 4", "I" = indicatif: "D" = 4th letter of alphabet, therefore 4th press: and also "4" = 4th press. No longer any indication of operators identity. This new system started on 9.1.64 (1f Le Touquet) and only lasted until July 1964.

9th period July 1964

Press number now indicates type of press.

This system started on 1.7.64 for both types of machine, and continues today.

10th period 1975

Appearance of new mark "RGR" - "Presse rotative à grand rendement" = High output rotary press. First seen on 25.7.75 for the 80c red Marianne de Bequet definitive issue of France. This system in current use.

Present state of affairs

As you will see the present position is that all sheets have the following marks:

  1. Printing reference number
  2. Printing date (except for charity and commemorative issues)
  3. Press reference number, either TD 3, TD 6 or RGR
  4. A mark for each of the three sheets produced by the revolution of the printing cylinder (except for sheet three, which has no mark)
  5. An electronic mark, on one sheet in three produced on the six colour machines
  6. Engine-turned pattern on the otherwise blank labels for stamps printed on the three coloured machines. Also seen on six colour printed stamps where blank labels would otherwise occur and, for the same reason, on sheets of stamps printed by photogravure.

PHOTO-ENGRAVING (HELIOGRAVURE or PHOTOGRAVURE): this proceeding has been used later for the print; in the past, the Photo-Engraving stamps have been commissioned to the private industry.
The oldest is the 1931 stamp for the Colonial Exposure n° 274, commissioned to the Typography Vaugirard.
Many post-cards have been printed with this method, also commissioned to the private industry.
The first stamp issued by the Government Printing House (Atelier) is the 0,20 Fr. n° 1503 (1966), although the first cylinders have been prepared for the private industry.

The stamp "Olympic Plays of Grenoble" n° 1520 it is the first one in Photo-Engraving entirely conceived by the Government Printing House in 1967.
The Photo-Engraving print start by a drawing without passing from a die (plate).
There is not an engraver artist for stamps printed with this method.

In the Photo-Engraving print, like in the Recess Printing, the furrows (hollows) prints and the reliefs gives the whites, but the color tonalities or the white ones are obtained beginning from very complicated photomechanical procedures and this multiply the error possibilities and therefore the probabilities to create varieties.

The Photo-Engraving print is easy to be recognized with the magnifying glass; the lines are formed by a crowd of minuscule united points but that, at a glance, gives the impression of a uniform line (for juxtaposition).
The print is a rotary one, with metallic cylinders. Each color requires the manufacture of a metallic cylinder that will place this color entirely.
The sheets are from 25 to 100 stamps, but they can also be printed roulettes and carnets.

For technical reasons the Photo-Engraving print requires white paper, bright, (plate paper), that allows to recognize the stamps printed in Photo-Engraving print with the simple look and the touch.
The print machine set to work in the Government Printing House in 1966 (Hél. 1) was conceived for printing in 5 colors; a sixth cylinder had been added in 1961.

A second 6 colors printing press (Hél. 2) has been put in operation in the December 1969.
A third press (Hél. 3) has started to print in 1984.

A special thanks to A.P.S.C (Andorran Philatelic Study Circle) for the furnished informations.
© Giorgio Leccese