Stamp Tongs - Perforation Gauge - Millimeter Rule

Stamp tongs

Stamp tongs require little instruction in use. Each of us will instinctively hold the tongs as they feel most comfortable. They are used to pick up and hold a stamp either for identification or to mount in the album. Tongs are used in place of fingers because with them it is much easier to pick up and handle a stamp and because they are far less likely to damage a stamp than would be the case when using fingers. At first the use of tongs may seem awkward but in almost no time at all you will find your stamp tongs the most necessary of all tools. Secure a pair that does not have too great a tension in the spring handle and use them on all occasions. Your stamp dealer will have an assortment from which you may chose a pair that feels right to you. A satisfactory pair should cost no more than twenty-five to fifty cents.
Stamp tongs.

The perforation gauge and millimeter rule

This is a little gadget, often printed on paper or cardboard and sometimes on metal or plastic, that makes it possible for you to tell at a glance the gauge of the perforation of a stamp or to measure in millimeters the size of the stamp. There are many types available, all of which are satisfactory. The most common type is the kind that provides a series of dots or points within a given space; below each such line of dots or points the gauge of the perforation is indicated. Use the perforationgauge part of this instrument by sliding the stamp from one row of dots or points to the other until all of the teeth, or holes of the perforations, on the stamp coincide exactly with the dots or points on the gauge (see illustration). Use the millimeter part of the instrument as an ordinary ruler; only measure in millimeters instead of inches.
Perforation gauge. The stamp measured has a vertical perforation of 101/2.

The perforation gauge provides a means of identification of the various perforations used in the manufacture of postage stamps. These perforations range from tiny pin holes, sometimes actually made by a sewing machine, to quite large round holes. But, contrary to popular belief, the diameter of the hole does not determine the gauge of the perforation. All perforations are measured against the same standard throughout the world. This standard is a distance of 20 millimeters, and the number of holes provided within a distance of 20 millimeters is the "count" or, as we say, the "gauge" of the perforation. Hence, if there be 10 large holes spaced closely together within a distance of 20 millimeters, the gauge would be "10." And if there were 10 very small holes within the 20-millimeter distance - spaced far apart from each other - the gauge would still be "10."

Because many stamps of identical design on identical paper have been manufactured with different gauges of perforation and because such differences are often of great importance in determining the value of a given stamp, the perforation gauge is a very important instrument. However, it is unnecessary to know or to determine the gauge of perforation of every stamp in your collection. You will find use for the gauge only when identical stamps are separated from each other - in your album or in the catalogue - because of different perforations. This happens frequently with United States stamps in the early twentieth-century issues when the Bureau of Printing and Engraving (where all United States adhesive postage stamps are now printed) was experimenting with various methods of perforation.

Most all current United States postage stamps are now produced by machines that provide the standard "Perf. 11 x 10 1/2." (The horizontal top side of the stamp is always given first, followed by the right side, and then, if necessary, the bottom, when indicating compound perforations.) For all but the specialist the trend is to ignore perforations on stamps as a means of differentiating them from each other but the practice still is strongly entrenched for United States issues. But, whatever the trend may be, the beginning collector should learn the use of the perforation gauge for it is often a useful means of distinguishing a spurious stamp from a genuine, it is an internationally accepted standard of measurement, and it is part and parcel of stamp lore. In another chapter we discuss the various kinds of perforations and how they are made.