Valira Torrent - bulletin of the Andorran Philatelic Study Circle. Issue 6, pp3-6 (Nov 1977).

Copyright notice

The great "rarities" of the French Post in Andorra

By Jean Bacquer

Unravelling the mystery of a 'star' - The 20c Bridge of St. Antoni in ultramarine.

How many times, when someone has learnt that I specialise in the collection of the stamps of Andorra, have I been asked "Have you got Yvert 30A?"

Suppressing a smile, I have always replied "Yes, it is slightly defective due to creasing but it is quite worthy of a place in a collection which I endeavour to maintain complete. However, it is not by far the best gem in the Collection."

Now, you will ask me "Why this reservation?"

Of this stamp, which is highly priced in most of the catalogues although I am pretty well convinced that the editors have never set eyes on a single copy of it, there are reputed to exist only 25 examples, just one sheet, and at a recent auction it realised an amount such as one dreams of.

Its ultramarine colour is very much akin to that of its neighbour in the same design, Yvert 33, with regard to the very light shade, and it differs from the latter only by reason of the figure shown in the value-tablet.

A '2' instead of a '4', and its worth is set at 1200 time as much!

Close examination of this very rare item shows that it is definitely a genuine product of the Atelier de Fabrication du Timbre Poste Francais; same paper, same gum, same comb perforation 13, which is usual on the engraved large format stamps. I have seen neither the dated corner nor the sheet number, but I am convinced that if the former were to be shown to me it would bear the date 4.5.32, the date of the printing of Yvert 30, the 20c lilac rose.

But still, you ask me "Why this reservation?"

We know that the engraved stamps printed on rotary machines at our stamp printing works although issued in sheets of 25, are printed three sheets at a time, which corresponds to one turn of the cylinder. If, therefore, the stamps was produced in the normal manner, why are there not 75 examples of it?

But that is not conclusive because it could have happened that one sheet from a rejected and destroyed printing was withheld from the usually strictly controlled incineration and fraudulently taken out from our printing works, ending up, as if by chance, with a famous Parisian dealer - the publisher of a prestigious catalogue - who "launched the discovery" in the manner of an impresario launching an artiste into the world of fame.

An Andorran friend, in Paris on business in 1946, saw displayed for sale fifteen copies, all singles, offered at the price of 60,000 old francs each. He declined the offer - and rues it to this day!

But the plan was under way; each year, firstly in one catalogue and then in all the catalogues, the star continued her steady climb towards the pinnacle of her fame.

And, as with all great things, she became acquainted with imitators and mimics, all more or less successful ones, but which further assured her own success.

She has now reached the zenith of her fame. Let us try, then, to get to know her better, curiosity being the price one has to pay for being a celebrity.

1. Comparison with the overprinted set of 16th June 1931.

It was on the 16th June, 1932 exactly one year to the day after the opening of the counters of the French Post in Andorra, that the engraved definitive set appeared, in replacement of the issue of overprinted French stamps which had been used in the interim. It is to be observed that each value, or almost so, of the engraved set of 1932 repeats the colour of the provisional issue of 1931, and the fact is not surprising, the postal tariffs not having been changed in the meantime.

In particular, the 20c remains rose-lilac and the 40c remains ultramarine.

Why they should there have been any occasion for interchanging the colours and making that of the 20c change to that of the 40c, even for an essay? And, the latter value remaining ultramarine, why should they have had in the set two stamps showing the same subject and having the same colour, risking confusion when selling at the counter and in their postal use?

It is as well, sometimes, to analyse the logic of things!

2.Existence of essays on small sheets.

We know, moreover, that the engraved set of 1932 was the object of a printing on individual small sheets, this being as much for the purpose of selecting the subjects as for the choice of colours. These sheets show the stamps singly, with no value indicated, in numerous colours, and shades.

It is after examination of those proofs that the responsible postal authority made the choice, for each value issued, as to the subject and the colour of the stamp.

Why, then, did they not print essays in normal sized sheets, as is done today for recess printed French stamps?

We shall see later on what one should think of such a theory and also why such essays in sheets would not have been perforated.

3. Comparison with the engraved stamps of France of the same period.

In the study of the printing of French stamps of the corresponding era, and for the period extending from 2nd May, 1928 to 15th June, 1936, we point out, with regard to known "errors of colour" of engraved stamps, the following anomalies:-

1. No 252 The 1f50 - 8f50 "Sinking Fund" exists in blue-green. (For blue)
2. No 261 The l0f "La Rochelle" exists in red-brown (colour of the 20f Pont du Gard) and blackish brown. (Instead of ultramarine)
3. No 300 The lf50 "SS Normandie" exists in blue-green. (Instead of light blue)
4. No 301 The 2f "Breton River" exists in slate. (Instead of yellow green)

Let us add to these the existence of No 337, the 30c Jean Mermoz in yellow-green instead of dark green, and No 354, the 30c Samethrace red instead of green, and the fact that all these "stamps" are normally perforated and gummed, and we shall see that our 20c Pont de St. Antoni in ultramarine is not a soloist but, rather, just a plain performer in the symphony choir.

Of course, like that one, all these comparative values are highly priced and unknown in used condition, being described as "unissued".

But, you will now ask me, "What happened, then?"

Discovery of the existence of gummed and perforated essays.

Despite what precedes, I was always reduced to theorising when chance - the policeman's guardian angel - put me on the track. A Catalan friend, a collector and, like us, very fond of Andorran stamps which he tracked down with conviction and competence, brought me two stamps which he had discovered and of which he was unable to determine either the origin or their worth.

The first was a magnificent .... ultramarine Pont de St. Antoni, of a hue strictly comparable to my 20c but without any figure of value in the value-tablet. Perforated and gummed. A close examination showed that it had not undergone any alteration!

The second, likewise in the same type, perforated and gummed and without figures of value was of a blue-green shade, identical to the 50 francs of the same series issued in March 1943!

I was dumbfounded by this strange discovery, which truly opened up some horizons and which, in any case, brought irrefutable proof of the existence of sheets of essays and of the fact that these had been perforated normally, these sheets of essays being in the Pont de St. Antoni type.

Editor's Note: see "French Bureau - Proofs, Essays and Imperforates (Part 2)" re these essays.

Explanation of the facts.

In 1932 the Minister of Posts, who leaves a name famous in the history of the Third Republic, used to choose himself the subjects and the colours of the stamps to be issued by the French Posts.

The choice could only be successfully made if some proofs of the stamps were put before him and by the comparisons which he was then able to make from them.

In order to provide him with a very precise idea in making his choice, his Administration was not content with providing him with proofs on small sheets, imperforate, ungummed, and without figures of value in the cartouche, but ordered the printing - as essays - of sheets in the form in which they would be on sale.

The choice having been made, these sheets would have been destroyed, and this is what must have happened to the majority of them, but with a few exceptions.

Our Minister having died during the 1939/45 War, and his effects thus being brought to light, it was from 1945 that these "unissued stamps" were discovered, which were to be found at one or more dealers' in Paris.

It is thus possible to deduce, almost with certainty, that certain proofs were conserved in sheets by the authority who had decided on the issuance of the stamp, without doubt as a souvenir because the party concerned was not, to my knowledge, a collector.

It is likewise possible to state that this person did not in any case have any idea as to the value which these items would attain, because, until after his death, nobody had ever heard of them.

Comparison with the later essay-stamps of Andorra.

We know that starting with the set issued for Andorra in new francs, in 1961, and for the recess printed values, such colour trials exist and are to be found quite easily on the specialised market.

True, these colour trials are in imperforate condition, and in all sorts of colours.

Wouldn't it only require the perforating comb of our stamp producers to complete this "work" to place us among a whole multitude of "stars" and to cause a cacophony to replace that remarkable solo which was the 20c Pont de St. Antoni?

Such an extravaganza only hangs on the "flick of a comb".....!

But there is yet more, and perhaps you may not know about it?

On 16th June, 1956 to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the installation of the French Post in Andorra, a special illustrated postmark (the first) was put into use. The Ministry of Posts had done justice to a request which had been put to them by myself and an Andorran friend who is also a member of the U.P.L.

We would, of course, have preferred a stamp, but there was no question of having one at the time in view of the policy then followed by the French Post in Andorra; it was not until 1962, following agreement with the General Council and the Co-Princes, that the commemorative stamp era commenced for Andorra, with the 0.60 Telstar. But the officials, mulling over the difficulty, decided on a special imperforate issue in various colours, including the original ones, of the airmail stamps then in use ** (100frs and 200frs St. Jean de Caselles).

Although rare, these "not issueds" are nonetheless well known.

But there again, by fate arranging things, a reversal of colours produced the 200frs green (in place of red), this green being slightly lighter than that of the 100frs.

And again, due to fate arranging things, a single sheet of this 200fr green was perforated by the machinery of the stamp printing works.

The harmony was complete, and the graceful chapel of St. Joan de Caselles took its place alongside the romanesque bridge of St. Antoni in the temple of the gods of Andorran philately.

This latter stamp, entirely as rare as the former and an airmail to boot, its edition being likewise 25 copies, is ignored by most catalogues and generally not priced.

Why are you no longer asking me "Why this reservation?"

No doubt you have understood that your love of Andorra and of philately ought not to lead you into mistaking green cheeses for the moon.

It is well, sometimes, to strip the stars of their mystery, when our screens get too cluttered with them.

Let's get away, my friends, from all the din made by the advertising of commercial and self-interested parties, and go across our Andorran mountains to gather some spring-time "grandalles".

The true stars, believe me, you will perhaps find one day if you have the luck to discover the double overprints No 2a (lc Blanc), 100 copies; and No 146a (20c/50c St. Miguel) which Mr. Thiaude found in a lot of 100 sheets which he chanced to buy.

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* The colours and designs had obviously been selected prior to May 1932 as printings of some of the stamps, including the 40c ultramarine, were made in April. If - as is later suggested - this (and similar items of France) were prepared to assist the Minister of Posts to decide on the colours and designs to be issued, there would be no point in printing the 20c in ultramarine in May 1932. The fact that no coin-daté has been seen may be significant, as a coin-date prior to 4.5.32 would automatically indicate that this rarity is a colour proof and not an error of colour.

** There was also a special imperforate issue of the then unissued 500frs in the same design, and there exists also some artists proofs for a commemorative sheet ("bloc feuillet") which was not issued. - Ed.

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