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Definitions of the Terms Proof and Essay as they Relate to the Large Hermes Heads

by Louis Basel


(This articles will be published in a forthcoming issue of Philotelia.)

My friends Louis Fanchini and Michael Tseriotis have both written about the definitions of the terms proof and essay as they are applied to the large Hermes head stamps. Both agree that it would be useful to establish standard precise definitions for these terms, but they disagree on how they should be used. Louis published his article on this subject in Philotelia (No. 644) and Michael published his comments in Issue No. 648 of the same journal.

Fanchini’s recommendations were based on the terms defined by the Philatelic Academy of France and the European Academy of Philatelic and Postal Studies. I have supported his definitions because they are clear and precise. Basically, he proposes that the term proof be applied to single proofs on a large piece of paper printed by a die and the term essay be used to define single or multiples cut from a full sheet printed from the printing plate. Thus Fanchini’s proposals follow precisely the manufacturing process for the stamps: the engraver produces the die proofs and the printer produces the essays (plate proofs).

A photograph of the title page of the Dictionnaire Philatélique & Postal which was the source of Fanchini’s definitions is presented below. It was published under the auspices of both the Académie de Philatélie of France and the Académie Européenne d’Etudes Philatéliques et Postales in Paris in 1999.

The French terms are translated as follows: Epreuve = Proof, Essai = Essay, Epreuve d’Etat = Progressive Proof and Epreuve Finale = Final Proof. Realizing that the proofs and essays as well as the first Greek stamps were printed in Paris and that Greece is in Europe, shouldn’t the French and European terms be preferred?

I do not believe that the objection of both Michael Tseriotis and Nicholas Asimakopulos is valid regarding Fanchini’s term Final Proof as applied to the proofs with two blank spaces in the lower cartouche. Fanchini did not use the term Final Die Proof but only Final Proof. There were only three proofs of the large Hermes head, as far as I know: the two Progressive Die Proofs (one by relief printing and the other by recess printing) and the proof with the two blank spaces. The Progressive Proofs are obviously the first proofs and the proof with the blank spaces is the last or Final Proof.

I believe that Tseriotis confused these two terms because, although the heading for that paragraph is b. Final Proofs, he writes, in the text immediately following, “Essentially, they are not final die proofs because …” (emphasis added.) However, Fanchini did not write that they were final die proofs but proposed the term final proofs, as stated above.

Asimakopulos named these proofs with the two blank spaces Hulot Proofs because one of these proofs bears the inscription in French “Essais du timbre grec. Hulot.” However, the Hulot signature has been shown to be a fake and the term Hulot Proof cannot be used for this proof. (Note: Evidence of this fake signature of Hulot will be presented in a forthcoming article.)

Tseriotis’ recommendations are based on the definitions of the Essay-Proof Society and the book Fundamentals of Philately by L. N. Williams. However, he does not follow these definitions exactly because he uses the term Progressive Die Proof for the proof with the unfinished design whereas the Williams definition specifically states that the term essay includes “unfinished or incomplete designs that may form part of a finally approved design”. Thus, the correct term, according to these sources, should be Progressive Die Essay, a term that deviates from the recommended terminology of both Tseriotis and Fanchini.

For single or multiple proofs printed from the printing plate, Tseriotis proposes the term Plate Proofs which I believe is also appropriate, but why not follow the accepted usage of the French and European philatelic authorities, especially since Greece is part of the European Union. If the terms essay in English and essai in French are accepted, the term δοκίμιο πλάκας could be used, in view of the fact that there is only one word δοκίμιο for both essay and proof in Greek.

Europe has standardized on use of the metric system for measuring lengths, distances, weights and volumes. Even the U.S. is slowly moving towards the adoption of the metric system. So, why should Greece not follow Europe’s lead in use of a common system for philatelic terminology?

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