Installed since 1970 in Boulazac, in the suburbs of Périgueux, this vast factory of ordinary appearance has the monopoly of the printing of stamps used in France. But it manufactures just over a billion a year today, three times less than ten years ago.
Star production: the Marianne of ordinary stamps. It is always printed in intaglio, the most noble process using a mild steel plate – the punch – engraved in hollow and upside down using a chisel, through a microscope.
It was the turn of the red stamps – for mail theoretically distributed the next day – to come out when AFP visited the workshop. The respectable printer of the 1960s produces 3,500 sheets of 100 stamps per hour, regularly fed with a brush of homemade ink with the delicious appearance of strawberry coulis.
“It’s still the flagship product,” says Olivier Zuzlewski, the director of the establishment.
Less chic but undoubtedly more spectacular: heliogravure, in the studio next door. A huge machine allows stamp booklets to be printed quickly, on both sides. The strips of sticker paper are gently perforated along the way, just enough so that the stamps can detach from the background without it ending up in pieces.
“It takes an hour to make this reel”, describes the master printer Damien Lavaud, after having checked that the stamps of the day, a series on famous paintings which will be marketed in September, are in conformity. “It’s 4 km long, there are almost a million stamps!”
Whatever the printing technique, phosphorescent bands invisible to the naked eye allow sorting centers to authenticate stamps and identify prices.
– Digital stamp –
A little everywhere, reels and stacks of stamps, inspected every week by a bailiff. Everything is monitored and secure. And the visitor is asked not to be too curious, in case his eye wanders on a series intended to be released on the other side of the world in six months.
Because the Périgord printing works also manufactures stamps intended for around twenty countries, such as Monaco, Japan or Morocco.
“We offer our know-how internationally,” explains Gilles Livchitz, director of Philaposte, the department that oversees philatelic activities.
“You have to win tenders,” he says. “We have to fight!”
Fortunately, the strategic market for collectible stamps, which are much more profitable, “is holding up”.
“With a stamp sold for 1.16 euros which remains on an envelope and makes it travel, there is a very small margin left for the La Poste group”, explains Mr. Livchitz. “With a stamp from the philatelic program, there remains a good margin for the La Poste group if it is put in an album and is kept.”
“Philately remains the number one collecting hobby in France”, even if enthusiasts are aging, adds Mr. Zuzlewski.
Year in and year out, the Périgord printing press produces around a billion stamps for France, including 50 to 60 million for philately, and 200 million for foreign countries, he says.
Philaposte makes it a point of honor to maintain the various printing techniques and pass on know-how, underlines the director of the establishment. But to maintain activity despite the drop in the number of stamps — and keep the 400 employees — the company is diversifying into the printing of secure documents: passport pages, checks, automobile vignettes and even bottle labels for great vintages.
“The method for making the stamps has advantages”, remarks Mr. Zuzlewski: “On the first page of the passport, there is intaglio.”
“We have taken a nice turn! The site is certified, secure. We give our customers confidence,” says Gilles Livchitz, who refuses to talk about money.
It must be said that La Poste soaps the stamp board itself. It will launch next year a digital model which will replace them: it will be necessary to retrieve an eight-character alphanumeric code online, which it will suffice to copy on the card or envelope.