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Why were stamps perforated ?

For many years, postage stamps could be used for payment of small bills and could be cashed on presenting them at a Post Office. This naturally led to the risk of the stamps being stolen.

However, the Post Office would not accept stamps that had been perforated, thus reducing their value if stolen. In addition, unlike previous security methods such as underprinting, the original owner of the stamp could still be identified even if the stamp were used as postage.

Who Invented the Perfin ?

The invention of the perfin is credited to the British inventor Joseph Sloper who, after much effort, finally persuaded The Post Office to allow the perforation of British postage stamps. The official authorisation was given on 13th March 1868.
Letter of 13th March 1868 to Sloper from the GPO

Official authorisation to perfin Foreign Bill and Inland Revenue stamps was given on 27th June 1870.
Letter of 27th June 1870 to Sloper from the Inland Revenue

His case was no doubt strengthened by a well publicised incident involving a provisions shop keeper charged with receiving some 7,000 "stolen" postage stamps which had been accepted in payment for bread and cheese, the stamps coming from errand-boys and junior clerks.

The firm that he founded - J. Sloper & Co. - established a sizeable perforating business which none of their competitors could overtake. The firm was taken over in the 1990s.
Click here to see a photograph of Sloper's offices in the City of London

However the original idea had been suggested by Sir Henry Bessemer in 1832. At the time, the world's first postage stamps were still 8 years away and hence the application was for the protection of the revenue stamps of the time.

Did anyone else manufacture perfin machinery ?

A number of other concerns were also involved in applying perfins to postage stamps. An on-going task within the Perfin Society is to try and assign particular perfin dies to particular concerns by looking at characteristics of perfins. The example opposite has the 'o' of 'Co' within the 'C', a characteristic of a number of other dies all of which tend to have Glasgow postmarks, hinting that the dies were made by the same local firm.

Illustration of O within CO

What is the earliest perfin ?

The Post Office finally accepted the postal use of perfins on the 13th March 1868. However the earliest known cancellation on a perfin is currently November 1868, with the earliest cover being dated 5th January 1869. Indeed dated copies from the late 1860's are not common.

A characteristic of the earliest perfin dies is the arrangement of the letters, which are arranged so as to avoid puncturing The Queen's profile.
An Early Cancellation on GWR perfin
(Illustration courtesy of Joe Coulbourne)

How many Perfins are there ?

24,653 different perfin designs had been catalogued on British postage stamps by the end of 2017, more than for any other country, and new dies are being regularly discovered. It is thought that around 25,000 different dies may exist. Over 1,300 different perfins can be found on the 1d Red, which illustrates just how quickly the perfin became a popular method of protecting stocks of stamps (the 1d red being withdrawn in 1880, 12 years after perfins were introduced).

Approximately half of perfin dies have had their user identified. More perfin users are still being identified, these new identities being published in the society's Bulletin.

What's the most common Perfin ?

The Great Western Railway were once prolific users of perfins and hence their perfins are quite common on the early issues.

Common perfins on earlier issues [8K]
Common perfin on earlier issues
On later stamp issues, first place must go to the PAC design used by the Prudential Insurance Co., while second place is probably a tie between IL/EA (Inner London Education Authority) and GLC (Greater London Council). These account for the majority of perfins to be found on the decimal Machin issues.

Most common modern perfins [11K]
Most common modern perfins

Can all G.B. stamps be found perforated ?

Almost all stamps in use between 1868 and the late 1950's can be found with perfin. However, from 1960, with the Post Office regularly producing commemorative issues, combined with the decline in perfin use in later years, it should come as no surprise that many of the later issues are not recorded perfinned.

List of GB definitive issues not known perfinned.

Were only postage stamps perfinned ?

Revenue and telegraph stamps were equally open to theft and hence such issues also turn up perfinned. Although the primary focus of the Perfin Society is the study of perfins on postage stamps, these other issues are popular with many members of the society.

The official authorisation to perfin Foreign Bill and Inland Revenue stamps was given on 27th June 1870.
Click here to see the letter of 27th June 1870 to Sloper

These stamps frequently appear in our auctions and Society member Jeff Turnbull has published catalogues of perfins on Foreign Bill and Contract Note stamps.

Click here to view the perfin revenue stamps catalogues

Telegraph Stamp [4K] Contract Note Stamp [7K] Inland Revenue Stamp [6K]
Telegraph, Contract Note and Inland Revenue stamps

What is the biggest perfin ?

In terms of the number of pins, the title must go to to the design used by Humber & Co. Ltd which consists of over 130 pins.

Perfin design with the most pins [9K]
Humber & Co. Ltd

What is the smallest perfin ?

The smallest perfins known are simply 3 holes in a row. An example of a Rothmans perfin is illustrated.

Perfin design with the fewest pins
Rothmans Ltd

Are perfins still used ?

In later years, many firms switched to using franking machines. In addition current postage rates are worth only a fraction of their 1860's values in real terms. The need to use perfins has thus greatly diminished. However, a few perfin users still remain, the majority being used by local councils.

In recent years, philatelic perfins have appeared that don't serve a real security purpose, used by philatelic organisations and individual perfin collectors.

How much are they worth ?

As a general rule, a perforated stamp is a damaged stamp and as such a figure of 10% - 20% of catalogue value. However to a perfin collector it is the perfin die itself that tends to be the main interest, so high value stamps may drop to a lower percentage than the more common stamps. A good illustration of this can be found with the 1d red issues, where the value of a perfin on a common plate is higher than without the perfin, yet little more is paid for the scarcer plates.

Perfinned stamps on cover are worth more when the cover identifies the user of the perfin. A perfin on a cover with no user identity is of less interest, although such covers can still provide useful information such as the place and date of use and the addressee may provide clues as to the user's trade.

There are of course particular dies that are worth a premium, some due to true scarcity or others being more desirable such as elaborate designs. There is no publication that can be used to value individual dies as such a task would be next to impossible. However a good guide is to follow the results of the Perfin Society's auction.

I have a perfin that is reversed. Is it worth more ?

Reversed perfins come about naturally so are not worth more. Often a sheet of stamps would be folded prior to perforation, as a result of which various orientations are encountered. This is illustrated in the strip shown on the right.
This item also illustrates a potential problem of folding prior to perforation, in that the stamps towards the bottom of the folded sheet are often not fully punctured (right hand stamp in above illustration). Stamps where the perfin has such "blind" holes generally command lower prices than stamps with clear perfins.

Similarly, horizontal folding would result in perfins that are both inverted and reversed.

Example of folding prior to perforation [18K]
Example of folding prior to perforation

How do I learn more about the Perfin Society ?

Click here for our history (pdf file)

How do I join the Perfin Society ?

Click here for joining information