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Valira Torrent:   Contents | Subject index

Perforation image from Serif Art Gallery. © Serif Inc, 1996

Valira Torrent - bulletin of the Andorran Philatelic Study Circle. Issue 35, pp4-10 (March 1992).

Copyright notice

French Bureau
Proofs, Essays and Imperforates (Part 1)

by David Lamb & Alec Jacques

During the last two or three years, several members have asked for more information on these fascinating subjects. This series of articles will aim to give more background information, as well as to help distinguish between the various sorts of proofs, and to explain their significance. Full details of all recorded items will also be given. In Bulletin No 6 (VT6/10) David Lamb wrote a short article on this topic and the accompanying lists of proofs remains largely unaltered, although updated by Alec Jacques in his 1985 Supplement to "Andorra Andorre". A further article in Bulletin No 22 (VT22/4) gave details of colour proofs and colour trials.


First, an outline of the steps taken from the design stage through to the printing of the stamps. Once the design for a stamp issue has been selected, the artist makes a detailed drawing using colour wash, pen and ink, gouache etc. This is usually six times larger than the final image on the stamp - i.e. for a design 22 x 36mm the artwork would measure 132 x 216mm. 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 drawing is then photographed and reduced to the appropiate stamp size. These photographs are sometimes used for preissue publicity and may differ slightly from the actual stamp. Before the engraving can begin, a piece of mild steel, usually measuring approximately 700 x 800mm, is coated with a thin layer of copper. It is then covered with a thin film of sensitizing agent (silver bromide for example) 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 and a burin (tool used for engraving).

During the course of his work the engraver needs to check on the progress he has made and, therefore, takes "progress proofs" for this purpose. 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 it.

The next step is to impress this die onto another piece of mild steel known as the "transfer roller". This transfer 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 "undenominated" or without value (as for the 1932 definitives), a new secondary die is engraved for each value. When the original die is engraved "denominated", or with value (as for the l944 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 "colour proofs" épreuves de couleur) and "épreuves de luxe".


There are two main types of proof taken from either the original die or from a secondary die.

a) Progress proofs (épreuves d'état)

b) Engraver's proofs (épreuves d'artiste)

a) Progress proofs

These are all "pulls" from the incomplete die and are lacking in some detail such as shading lines, lettering, and the figures of value may be in outline only or completely absent. They are made by the engraver on a small hand press, printed in black or another colour on thin or thick card, which may be rough cut, straight cut or deckel edged. They all show the impression of the steel die measuring 700 x 800mm.

On rare occasions, a watermark or partial watermark can be found in the paper. The watermarks of three paper manafacturers have been noted on Andorran 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, between Epinal and Remiremont and situated on the Moselle river. The third manafacturer incorporates the word MARAIS in the watermark, and there are at least three different versions, one of which only a partial impression is known at the moment. The MARAIS watermarks are to be found on paper made by the firm PAPETERIE ARJOMARI PRIOUX of 3, rue du Pont de Lodi, Paris.

(The watermarks above are reduced in size except for the partial "AIS")

Progress proofs are also divisible into two categories (i) those from the original die and (ii) those from a secondary die.

(i) Those from the original die are usually signed in pencil by the engraver, and occur with additional annotations such as "1er êtat" or "1er êtat avant chiffre". 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 ten 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 minute.

(ii) The second category of progress proof arises from the production of secondary dies for additional values (as for the l944 issue). As mentioned above, these are made using the transfer roller to produce an intermediate die from which the original value is erased. By subsequent hardening and further transfers, new unhardened dies without figures of value are produced. Progress proofs are then made for the engraver to check on his engraving of the new figures of value. This aspect will be examined in more detail when the l944 definitives are dealt with in a later article. These progress proofs are not usually signed, as the new value is normally added by a staff engraver at the Printing Works.

b) Engraver's proofs

These are proofs of the finished die as submitted by the engraver. The name(s) of the designer/engraver may be included in the design (as they are on the issued stamp) or they may be absent - to be added later at the Printing Works. For undenominated dies (the 1932 issue for example) the proof will have no value expressed, and for other issues the proof will be complete with value. They are often signed by the engraver in pencil, and they may be printed in one, two or more colours.

Andorra la Vella in slate violet
("Andorra la Vella" in slate-violet by A.Mignon)

Normally, only one design or value is featured on an engraver's proof, although there are exceptions to this, including multiple proofs with an albino impression included. These, however, are not typical, and are confined to the 1944 definitives and the 1955 Airmails. These points will also be dealt with in a later article.

With the exception of the multiple proofs (épreuves collectives), engravers proofs conform to the descriptions given for the progress proofs, as far as their size, paper and watermarks are concerned. 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 1961, when controls were introduced, a figure of twenty is sometimes suggested, but this cannot be relied upon. Since 1961 only eighteen are produced, and each one is impressed with the official seal of the Printing Works.

It is, perhaps, worth mentioning here a type of proof not so far found for Andorran issues, namely the "Acceptance proof" or "Épreuve de l'Atelier". Although it is the practice of the Printing Works to print a few proofs from the die, when received from the engraver, in order to remove any imperfections before hardening, none are known for Andorra, although they exist for France and other Territories. They may be distinguished from any other proofs by the following - 1) showing the finished die; 2) having the 700 x 800mm indentation of the original die and 3) the control punch . They are typically printed in sepia, black or blue, and up to five copies are said to be produced. Since none have so far been seen for Andorra, it is probable that they have all been retained in the official archives.


Colour proofs (épreuves de couleur) are singular proofs and always have the Printing Works control punch . They are produced from a secondary die, and show an indentation of only 550 x 680 or 480 x 320mm. Unlike épreuves de luxe they do not have the imprint of the Printing Works - Atelier de Fabrication des Timbres-Poste etc.

These proofs, with or without denomination, are shown to the Minister of Postes and/or his advisors when they meet to decide the colours of stamps soon to be printed. Proofs are frequently found with manuscript annotations i.e. "1709 Lor", "1510 Lx", "1705 Lc", or with just a number The letters are abbreviations for the names of manafacturers of ink - Lx or Lor = Lorilleux, and Lc = Lefranc. The numbers refer to designated ink shades of these manafacturers :-

1100's- shades of blue
1200's- shades of orange
1300's- shades of green
1400's- shades of red
1500's- shades of purple & violet
1600's- various including black
1700's- shades of brown
Colour proof of Meritxell Chapel in mauve
(Colour proof of Meritxell Chapel in mauve)

Colour proofs are not found with signatures, and paper watermarks are not recorded. The overall size of the proofs is more constant than the engravers proofs, and usually measure in the 13.5 x 10.5 to 14.0 x 11.0cm range. Numbers printed are not known, but are unlikely to exceed ten examples of any colour.


These are stamps issued in sheet form and are printed by the same plates as used for the issued stamps. Colour trials (essais de couleur) superseded the Colour proofs and were first used for Andorra in the 1961 "new franc" definitves and airmails. The "trials" are gummed and imperforate. They are usually printed in up to three different colours or shades, plus combinations of same. Similar to the Colour Proofs, manuscript colour references are sometimes to be found noted in the sheet margin against the single colour trials. Prior to 1965, the numbers relate to the ranges previously described for the Colour Proofs. On printings of 1965 and later, a new system was adopted using two letters followed by a number of one or two digits. In this system the abbreviations are :- BL = Blues; BR = Browns; JO = Yellow-Oranges; NO = Blacks & Greys; RO = Red-Oranges; VE = Greens and VT = Violets & Purples. For example - VT 5; BR 9 and RO 8. The numbers of colour trials printed is not known, but are generally regarded as being produced in greater quantities than practical purposes dictate.

Colour trials
(Colour trials showing the two types of colour references)

Examples of colour trials are known where the printing date of the trial is only fifteen days prior to the issue of the stamp. This tends to support the theory that additional copies are produced for distribution on a "grace and favour" basis. Although a printing in excess of one thousand is thought possible, they are less freely available on the philatelic market than the ordinary imperforates. The production of colour trials ceased in 1983.


Despite being the most commonly encountered proof, they are often the only proof available of many stamps. They are printed from secondary dies, especially made for their production, and show the indentation of the die measuring 550 x 48O or 480 x 320 mm. However, épreuves de luxe of postage dues printed by rotary typo and all issues from 1961 do not show this indentation.

The de luxe proof (épreuve de luxe) is instantly recognisable by the fact that it shows a printed inscription at the bottom of the proof. These inscriptions are always printed in one of the colours to be found on the stamp and are as follows:-

Atelier de Fabrication des Timbres-Poste. PARIS

De Luxe Proof
(De Luxe Proof)

Proofs issued up to 1966 all have the familiar control punch . From 1967, the control punch was dropped, but with one exception - the Automatic Telephone stamp - released in 1967. This stamp was scheduled for issue in 1966 and was printed in that year as was the de luxe proof. However, the release was postponed for a year and the stamps and proofs had to be overprinted 1967.

The proofs are always in the colours of the issued stamp, and exist on thin or thick paper or card, and are without watermark. The majority of the earlier proofs, showing a single stamp, measure overall about 15.75 x 12.75cm, and have a semi-transparent protective overlay. This overlay was discontinued for the issues of 1949 and, in 1950, the proof size was reduced to approximately 13 x 10cm.

De luxe proofs are usually of single stamps, but multiple proofs do exist, especially of topical issues such as the Europa theme. Single proofs of both values and a multiple proof containing both values exist for many of these issues. Multiple proofs also exist for the original 1932 issue, some postage dues and modern definitives - full details of same will be given in later articles.

Numbers printed are strictly controlled, and where known these details will also appear under the relevant sections of this study. Until recent years, the de luxe proofs of Andorra were listed and priced in the Yvert et Tellier catalogue. However, this particular catalogue no longer lists them, and they can only be found in the Cérès and Abad catalogues.


These notes refer to imperforate stamps which are deliberately issued by the Postal Authorities, and are not accidental errors of perforation. Imperforate stamps (non-dentelés) for Andorra first appeared with the release of the l944 definitives, being the normal sheets of fifty or twenty-five stamps but imperforate. The following 1955/8 series was neglected, except for the airmails, but they appeared again for the 1961 "new franc" definitives and airmails, although not for the revalued postage dues. All stamps issued since then exist imperforate, with the exception of booklet stamps.

Definitives continued to be issued imperforate in normal sheet format of twenty-five stamps, but from 1966 the majority of commemoratives are printed in sheets of sixteen. These sheets are made up of four blocks of four stamps; the blocks of four being separated by a stamp-sized gutter containing nine albino impressions of the stamp.

Layout of imperforate sheets

These large sheets are cut up into four blocks of four for distribution. Therefore it is always possible to designate any particular block of four to its original position in the large sheet, as the blocks are guillotined to show portions of the albino prints on two sides of the block. However, stamps not produced by the recess printing method do not have the albino impressions. This curious method of production seems to exist for Andorran imperforates only, and is not used to produce imperforates for France or other Territories.

The distribution of both the imperforates and de luxe proofs is still something of a mystery, but apparently they are given to officials of the Ministry of Posts, various other high-ranking people including those in Governmental departments. The immediate journey to the philatelic market is both quick and expensive - especially for collectors!

The imperforates are listed and priced by the Yvert et Tellier, Cérès and Abad catalogues. Where the numbers printed are known, the details will be given in the relevant sections of future parts of this study.


Fundamentals of Philately - by LN & M.Williams
A key to the Ink-Colour Numbers on "French Proofs" by Robert G.Stone
"Marianne" Spécialisé catalogue of France by Storch, Françon & Brun
Article in "Philatélie Française" (6/7 1990) by Bernard Jimenez
Article in "L'Écho de la Timbrologie" (11/1987) by Storch & Françon
Article in "L'Écho de la Timbrologie" (7/8 1989) by Pierre Wertheimer
Various articles by Joseph Burka
Andorra Andorre & Supplement by Alec Jacques
"Valira Torrent" Bulletin Numbers 6 and 22 Articles by David Lamb

Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

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Andorran Philatelic Study Circle / Hon. Librarian: E. J. Jewell / apsc@free.fr /
Updated 31st August 1998