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December 29, 2013, Perforations on Stamps – is there a difference?

Perforations on stamps – a big difference in value!

People sometimes wonder why stamps have these perforations, or teeth, and do they really matter in the value of the stamps…the short answer is YES! Allow me to give you a brief history of perforations that I paraphrased from various sources. And why you need to have a perforation gauge in your arsenal of stamp tools and stamp accessories.

Until about 1850 all stamps were issued imperforate, and had to be cut from the sheet with scissors or a knife. This was time-consuming and error-prone (as mangled stamps of the era attest). Since then, a perforation machine, based on Henry Archer's original design worked on a "stroke" principle. The arrangement of the pins enabled the top and sides of each stamp across the row to be perforated in a single operation, and this became known as "comb" perforation.

The standard for describing perforation is the number of holes (or the "teeth" or "perfs" of an individual stamp) in a 2-centimeter span. The finest gauge ever used is 18 on stamps of the Malay States in the early 1950s, and the coarsest is 2, seen on the 1891 stamps of Bhopal. Modern stamp perforations tend to range from 11 to 14.

Stamps that are perforated on one pair of opposite sides and imperforate on the other have most often been produced in coils instead of sheets, but they can sometimes come from booklet panes. Booklet panes can be associated with any combination of one, two or three imperforate sides. Sheet edges can produce any one imperforate side or two adjacent imperforate sides when the stamp comes from the corner of the sheet.

Variations include syncopated perforations which are uneven, either skipping a hole or by making some holes larger. In the 1990s, Great Britain began adding large elliptical holes to the perforations on each side, as an anti-counterfeiting measure.

For the stamp collector, perforations matter, not only as a way to distinguish different stamps (a perf 10 may be rarer and more valuable than a perf 11 of the same design), but also as part of the condition of stamps. Short or "nibbed" perfs are undesirable and reduce value, as are bent or creased perfs. Although the collector could count the number of holes using a ruler, the usual practice is to use a simple perforation gauge shown above, which has pre-printed patterns of holes in a selection of common perforations, requiring one merely to line up the stamp's perforations with the closest match.

Then, after many hours of stamp collectors eyes going blurry due to trying to align these little holes, the R&D team at SAFE designed the electronic Perfotronic. The PERFOtronic automatically measures by rounding up or down to the next 1/4 perforation as shown in stamp catalogs. The processor of the unit is even able to calculate around missing perforations or perforation errors.

So anyway you look at it, yes perforations are important to stamp collectors, so make sure you always have a perforation gauge with you at all times. You never know – you might run into a great opportunity to buy a stamp that has a lot higher value than you think.