Essays and Proofs
Advanced collectors seek essays, proofs and legitimate errors. Essays and proofs were prepared by the printer for examination and approval by various officials prior to the actual stamps being printed. An essay is a submitted design that differs from the final issued product (see Figure 20). A proof is a submitted design that is identical to the fished product. There are many different types of proofs; the most prevalent being large die, small die and plate.
Die proofs are pulled from the engraved singular image of the stamp on a metal plate. Large die proofs are printed on paper with large margins closer to the size of the block to which the engraved plate is affixed. The paper is often India which is thin and soft and has sometimes been described as “tissue-like”. The large die proofs are then usually mounted on a large card. The back is often numbered and or bears the signatures of officials. The source for the majority of large die proofs to the philatelic market is via the engraver or his family once deceased. The reason for this that the engraver was allowed to retain one large die proof, ostensibly as a memento. Prior to leaving the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the large die proofs were punched, often with a “C”, to prevent them from being used to produce stamps. (see Figures 21, 22 and 23).
On occasion, unusual types of proofs enter the collector market that do not seem to fit cleanly into a particular classification. The proof below was given to me by an official with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. It appears very much like a traditional large die proof – except that it was not made from an engraved metal plate (see Figure 24).
Small die proofs have smaller margins, not exceeding 5-6mm and are most often found unmounted. The small die proofs lack punch marks and are known for their sharp impressions and vivid color. For these reasons, they are favored by collectors (see Figures 2 and 24).
Plate proofs have even smaller margins as they have been separated from essentially imperforate sheets made from the final printing plate of multiple subjects. On the final printing plates, the die has been multiplied and spaced close together with just enough room between subjects to allow for perforating or rouletting (see Figure 25 and 26).