Stamp Perforations - Part 1

The world's first postage stamps, issued by Great Britain in 1840, were without means of self-separation. They are called "imperforate" or, abbreviated, "imperf." Such stamps had to be cut apart with scissors or some other means. Hence it is unusual to find "imperf." stamps with nice margins on all four sides. Shortly after the first stamps were issued, the idea of separating each stamp from the other by means of rows of small holes between the rows of stamps was introduced. The story, probably apocryphal, is told that a ne'er-dowell had purchased some of England's first stamps and, under the influence of drink, sat on the curb where he produced a pin and began to poke pin holes between his stamps so that he could tear them apart. The idea worked so well that he took his stamps back to the Post Office and pointed out his great discovery. Later, it is related, the British Government provided this gentleman with a substantial sum of money for his invention. There seems to be some evidence that something of this nature actually took place. But, whether or no, the fact remains that after the first few issues of postage stamps had made their appearance without perforations, the rows of holes became almost universally accepted as a necessary part of a postage stamp.

There is, of course, a very apparent difference between a stamp without perforations - "imperf." - and one with perforations - "perf." - and one can readily understand why early collectors made such an important point of that difference. However, in this day of collecting it is somewhat difficult to understand why so much emphasis is placed on the different gauges of perforation {see page 71). The fact remains that for United States stamps, which have been perforated by machines producing various gauges of perforations, there is often an enormous difference in value running from a few cents to as much as several hundred dollars for what, to all intents and purposes, is the identical stamp except for the gauge of the perforation. The same situation applies to most foreign issues but until the advent of "The New World-Wide Postage Stamp Catalog" few collectors in the United States were aware of this fact. "The New World-Wide Postage Stamp Catalog" lists and gives values for practically all perforation varieties of all stamps of the world. In this, as well as in many other respects, "The New World-Wide Postage Stamp Catalog" has greatly advanced our knowledge of foreign stamps.

Likewise the printed albums - those which provide spaces in which to place each stamp - seldom bother with perforation varieties even for the stamps of the United States. The matter is important, however, and especially so as one becomes advanced in his or her collecting interests. We have already seen in Chapter 8 how perforations are identified or measured. Now let us take into consideration the various kinds of perforations and the methods by which they are applied to stamps. The original perforating machine, one that is still in common use for the stamps of some countries, is the "comb" perforator. As the name implies, this is an instrument shaped like a comb. The pins that do the perforating are arranged in a long row to fit the width of the sheet of stamps and the extensions of shorter rows of prongs are arranged so as to fall between each stamp, like this:

Comb perforation
Comb perforation.