What is the definition of a stamp plate proof? I’m often fascinated to see how many different items are considered collectibles in the philatelic world. Not just postage stamps, but souvenir sheets, booklets, first day covers and plate blocks too. Then there’s all the philatelic material that hasn’t necessarily been used for actual mail service: Cinderellas, labels, and SPECIMENs and die proofs. Add to that list plate proofs.
WHAT IS A PROOF?
A “proof” is a common term in printing circles. Whenever something is printed, whether it be a stamp, a magazine, a flyer or brochure, the printer has to check it first. In other words, before the official OK is given for that important final printing, multiple trial printings have to take place. This is to make sure that everything is going to look good on the finished page. The printers have to check for color, spacing and sharpness of images. In the printing world, these test runs of a final design are called “proofs.’ Often, there are proofs made for every step of the design process for purposes of quality control.
WHAT IS THE DEFINITION OF A STAMP PLATE PROOF?
So what is a ‘plate proof’? Well, first you have to understand how they printed early stamps, because collectible plate proofs are from the first, very early years of stamp making. In the past, an artist designed the stamp, an engraver then engraved that design onto a ‘die’ (a small metal square). Then, once the printer approved the die, he duplicated it multiple times onto a metal plate. Then, from that metal plate, the printer printed a sheet of stamps.
However, BEFORE the official printing could begin, the printing plate had to be tested. The printers had to make sure the final sheet of stamps would be perfect. Trial printings made from a master metal plate are called plate proofs. Therefore, the definition of a stamp plate proof is as follows:
Plate proof—a trial printing of a full sheet of stamps made from a completed printing plate (master).
WHAT MAKES A STAMP PLATE PROOF SPECIAL?
Printers usually printed plate proofs on cardboard or India paper. According to ‘The Stamp Collector’s Encyclopedia’, pg. 149, India paper is ‘a very thin, tough, but opaque paper … made of bamboo fibre. Its principal use in stamp production is for proofing purposes as its nature and texture are eminently suitable for obtaining clear impressions of fine and delicate engraving.’ An interesting fact about India paper: it actually originated in China!!
Stamp collectors often find that the colors and detail of the stamps from a plate proof are more vibrant than the actual stamps released for postal usage. That is because the ink shows up more on India paper. Plate proofs are usually imperforate; since they are just practice printings that won’t be used for the mail, there’s no point in perforating them. The printed stamps on a plate proof sheet are alike in every detail to the stamps that are finally issued (as opposed to a stamp essay—but that’s a whole other article!!).
WHERE CAN I GET A STAMP PLATE PROOF?
During the early days of stamp making, once the plate proofs weren’t needed anymore, printers often sold or gave them away to collectors! Today, as far as I know, modern proofs never make it into the hands of collectors; they are destroyed at the print shop once they have served their purpose. If you know differently, please leave me a message in our ‘comments’ section.
As already explained, plate proofs are printings of the entire sheet of stamps. However, sometimes people cut out individual stamps from a plate proof sheet and sell them. So, you can buy individual stamps, pairs, blocks etc… BUT, they are all considered plate proofs. Obviously, if a collector purchases an entire plate proof sheet it will cost more because we’re talking about a stamp sheet containing anywhere from fifty to hundreds of stamps.
Today, those early plate proofs can sometimes be worth a lot of money. Collectors appreciate them for their historic value, as well as their superior clarity of image. But collecting proofs doesn’t always have to be expensive. You just have to shop around. They can even be a more affordable way of getting a beautiful copy of an old stamp for your collection for a lot less than the cost of the actual postage stamp.