A commemorative for Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the sculptor who created the best-known symbol of freedom in the world, the Statue of Liberty, is finally -- after several earlier issue dates went awry -- being issued this Thursday in New York City.

Unlike other great American monuments, such as the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, the statue stands for an idea -- freedom. The Frenchmen who conceived of presenting it to America wanted to honor that idea, and the statue's full title is "Liberty Enlightening the World."

The stamp was orginally intended to honor the sculptor in 1984 on the 100th anniversary of his birth. In addition to paying tribute to Bartholdi, the stamp is intended to call attention to the campaign of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation for the renovation of the statue in time for its centennial in 1986. This observance will occasion another commemorative.

The statue stands on Liberty Island -- formerly Bedloe's Island -- and has been a dominant presence in the New York harbor for a century. The sight and the site had instant appeal for Bartholdi when he made his first visit to the United States in 1871 to find a place for his statue.

"I had formed some conception of a plan of a monument, but I can say that at the view of the harbor of New York the definite plan was clear to my eyes," he said. "The picture that it presented to the view when one arrives at New York is marvelous. It is, indeed, the New World, which appears in its majestic expanse with the ardor of its glowing life."

The stamp shows Bartholdi at the left, looking about him, and in the background part of the scene he saw, including the little island now bearing his statue.

Bartholdi was born of Italian ancestry in 1834 in Colmar, in the heart of the French province of Alsace, which was lost to the Germans in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. He was an officer in that war, which may have influenced his later penchant for creating war memorials. He was an ardent supporter of the Third Republic that came into being after the collapse of the Second Empire of Napoleon III and part of the circle of French intellectuals headed by Edouard de Laboulaye seeking to strengthen constitutional democracy in France.

In his career, Bartholdi went from architecture to painting and finally to sculpture, at a time when governments and organizations were putting up statue after statue and colossal monuments were regarded as an artistic ideal. He built up a reputation for glorifying heroic personalities and events, among them a larger-than-life statue of Lafayette in New York's Union Square for the American centennial and a 38-foot Lion of Belfort to honor the 1871 defenders of the town that is considered his masterpiece.

Bartholdi was able to combine his art and his politics when Laboulaye, in a move to strengthen republicanism in France, conceived the idea of an enduring symbol of French and American democracy, a massive monument built by joint efforts.

It took Bartholdi more than 10 years to complete the statue following an agreement in 1874 that the French would provide funds for building it and Americans would pay for the pedestal for it to stand on.

Bartholdi began with a plaster model just over 4 feet high. This was enlarged to a model one-fourth of the ultimate size he had envisioned. Then, by a highly complex process of precise measurements, four plaster sections were completed to the actual height of 152 feet. The sections were transformed into molds against which 300 copper sheets, each 3/32 of an inch thin, were hammered into shape and held by 300,000 copper rivets.

The new multicolored horizontal in the standard commemorative size has been produced in yellow, magenta, cyan and black on the combination offset/intaglio press of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. The selvage of each post office pane of 50 stamps has one group of four plate numbers for the offset inks and on the selvage of an adjacent stamp a single plate number for the intaglio ink used for the commemorative text in a white panel across the bottom. The portrait of Bartholdi was taken from a painting by Jose Frappa hanging in the Muse'e Colmar in France. The background scene is from a watercolor by James Dean of Annandale done for the issue.

Collectors of first-day-of-issue cancellations have the customary 30-day grace period from the day of issue for ordering -- orders must be postmarked no later than Aug. 18 -- and alternative ways to order.

Collectors acquiring stamps and affixing them on envelopes, which must bear addresses, should send the first-day covers to Customer-Affixed Envelopes, Postmaster, New York, N.Y. 10001-9991. No remittance is required.

Collectors preferring complete processing by the Postal Service should send their covers to Frederic Bartholdi Stamp, Postmaster, New York, N.Y. 10001-9992. The cost is 22 cents per stamp affixed on an envelope, which must be addressed. Personal checks are accepted; cash is not welcomed and payment by postage stamps is refused.