Valira Torrent - bulletin of the Andorran Philatelic Study Circle. Issue 2, pp9-11 (Nov 1975)

Copyright notice

Artists Proofs of the Issues of the French Post Offices in Andorra

By D. C. Lamb

Each one of us who collects Andorra has, I suspect, some particular item or items with a special claim upon his interest or affections. Although as we all know, the philatelic history of Andorra is relatively modest, the scope is surprisingly broad. The first love of many, no doubt, is the 1928 overprinted issue of the Spanish P.O. with its very many possibilities and problems. Other fields likely to engage the attention of the Andorran specialist are as diverse as maximum cards, forgeries, the different printings of the wartime French P.O. issues, and so on. One of my special interests is artists proofs and although I am aware of the occasional frowns they evoke, I hope to show that they can contain interesting information, as well as affording considerable aesthetic pleasure to the beholder.

It may be helpful to begin by giving a brief description of artists proofs, which exist for most issues of France and Colonies and other associated states whose issues are printed in France. The proofs are printed on soft card from the original unhardened die, singly on hand presses and usually measure round about 5" x 4". They are quite often printed in black or sepia but may also appear in a variety of other colours. They may show the completed design, or they may be incomplete progressive proofs. They frequently carry the engraver's pencilled autograph below the design and occasionally some other mention such as 1er état" etc. I have, however, never seen an Andorran proof in any other than the issued design. Prior to l96l there was no restriction on the numbers produced by the engraver, other than it would appear, the limits of his own industry, and the durability of the unhardened die. The late-lamented M. Achille Ouvré, engraver of the l944 series, seems to have been unusually energetic in this respect as proofs of this issue seem to exist in greater numbers than those of previous or subsequent issues. Following the new regulations of l961, however, the number printed of each proof was fixed at 18, each one bearing an albino impression of the seal of the State Printing works where they are now produced. It is worth mentioning here that they should never be confused with the more common de luxe proofs which are always identical to the issued stamps, both as regards design and colour. De luxe proofs can also be readily distinguished by the Printing Office control Punch which they bear, as well as the legend "Atelier de Fabrication des Timbres Poste" etc. Although they do not lack visual appeal, they have little to tell us but are widely collected in France and elsewhere and are of course listed and priced in all the French catalogues. Artists proofs, on the other hand, are much more uncommon and are not listed in any catalogue. The collector of them thus has the added fascination of never being quite sure what he will find next. So much for the definition and general background of artists proofs - now for the informative aspect.

For some time I have nurtured certain ideas regarding the production of several values in a set from a single original die and I have on occasions mentioned it to my Andorran philatelic friends. I except from my remarks the French P.O. Issue of l932 but presume them to apply to subsequent definitive issues; I refer in particular, and base my case upon, the issue of l944.

If we consider the St. Jean de Caselles design an examination with a good glass will show beyond doubt that they are produced from the same original die.

The dates of issue of each value are as follows:-

lfr. 1f20, lf50, 2fr. 6.11.44

I have seen proofs of the 1f. and 4f. and three proofs of the 1f50 value and it is my belief that all six values are derived from the 1f50 (one of the original values) in a curious way. Proof No. 1 of the lf50 inscribed "1er état" shows "ANDORRE" in outline only, the shading unfinished and the name "OUVRÉ" missing from the top right-hand corner: proof No. 2 is complete but for the name "OUVRÉ": proof No. 3 is quite complete.

I have also seen a proof which is complete in all respects except that it has a blank area where the figures of value normally appear. This suggests to me that it can only be derived from the original 1f50 from which the figures of value have been removed. The 4f proof shows a similar blank area, except that the new value has been engraved, although the shading lines have not yet been completed. The existence, therefore, of an incomplete lf50 die and a complete blank die, leads me to the conclusion that each value is derived from the original lf50 die. I believe it applies to the remaining values in this set and to subsequent issues although I have not yet come across any more "blank value" dies. The existence of proofs in the values of 1, 2, 6, l5, 30 and 100 fr. only for the l955 issue and 25c, 60c and 5fr. only for the 1961 issue point to the same conclusion. The reasons for this apparently cumbersome process are not clear to me and I wouid welcome any observations from other members on the subject.

In conclusion I will just mention two further interesting points to be learned from artists proofs, the existence of the preparation of dies for unissued values and the amendments that artists occasionally make to designs. In l947 the French postal rates underwent several changes and from March of that year 1f30 became the printed paper rate and 3f50 the postcard rate; in July these rates were amended to 2f and 5f respectively. A 1f30 die was prepared in the St. Jean de Caselles type and a 3f50 die in the "Maison des VaLlees" type but, being overtaken by events, no stamps were ever issued on these values or, so far as I am aware, ever printed. The artists proofs that exist for these values are, therefore, unique evidence of their intended production.

An instance of design alteration occurs in the l965 "Maison d'Andorre" issue where, on the issued stamps a heavily shaded jagged pattern can just be seen in the sky over the building. On the proof the jagged pattern is virtually unshaded and consequently resembles a particularly savage flash of lightening.

I hope members will derive some pleasure and interest from these brief notes and I look forward to hearing their opinions in future issues of our bulletin.

N.B. Mr Lamb is compiling a check list of all known artists proofs and would like to receive details i.e. type, colour, state and size, from members who have such items in their collections. It is hoped to publish this check list in a future issue of the bulletin.

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Andorran Philatelic Study Circle / Hon. Librarian: E. J. Jewell / /
Updated 4 Apr 1998