12 Elements Of A Postage Stamp Made Simple – V

Illustrative Image Perforations - Elements of A Postage Stamp


Dear Readers,

I sincerely hope that you liked my last blog post. My passion for philately keeps flaming up. In this article, we will uncover an important aspect of postage stamps viz. “Separation” and the methods by which it is achieved. Most followed is “Perforations”. Continuing from where we left I hope that you will also enjoy this episode explaining different elements of a postage stamp. Shall we begin? !!

Brief Explanation: – 

A perforation is a small hole in the printing paper incorporated in an organized and continued manner using a machine. The holes are punched to allow easy separation of two sections of the paper. We can see these perforations commonly in Cheque Book leaves, Notebooks, and Legal Pads. The common methods of creating perforations are “Pins and Needles”, “Die and Punch”, “Laser”.

Early History: –

From the days of first Penny Black 1840 to 1850 all the stamps printed were without any separations or in other words “Imperforate”. Penny Black is a classic example.

Illustrative Example Imper - Elements Of A Postage Stamp

These stamps were to be separated from the sheet using Scissors or Knife. This method was time-consuming and error-prone resulting in mangled and wasted stamps. In 1847 an Irish man Henry Archer built two machines called the “Archer Roulette” for separation of stamps. The machine had lancet-shaped blades working on a fly-press principle and piercing the paper with a series of cuts. The project did not fructify as both the machines failed.

Archer changed the approach and abandoned the design and patented another machine based on the “Stroke” principle to create perforations using small round pins. 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 new machine proved the viability of the approach. The trial conducted in 1849 and 1850 were successful with stamps printed using this method and issued towards the end of 1850. But this machine wasn’t inducted officially for continued printing. The Patent number of the machine (no. 12,340 of 1848, dated May 23, 1849) was acquired for an amount of £4,000 in June 1853.

A company called David Napier and Son Ltd. engineered new machines based on the idea of Archer. The new machines printed revenue stamps in early October 1853 and regular postage stamps from 1854.

The Bemrose Machine: –

Two British printers and publishers William Bemrose and Henry Howe Bemrose patented “Rotary Process” in 1854 and came up with a Bemrose machine. It was later discontinued as it did not give the desired results. However, in 1856 a carpenter George C. Howard of Toppan Carpenter, stamp printers for the American Government successfully converted the Bemrose machine into a perforating one.

Common Forms of Perforated Stamps: –

Next in the Elements of A Postage Stamp, we are going to learn about different types of perforated stamps.

Errors and Oddities

Philatelic errors due to the Stamp separation process occur when the holes are not completely punched out. These are also called as Blind perforations. There could be errors where the off-center perfs overlay into the design of the stamp. Another variation is where a stamp has different perforations on opposite sides. Such philatelic error pieces are also termed as “Misperfs”.

KGV Perf Error Illustration

Perfins – 

In Philatelic parlance perfins are stamps which have been perforated with initials or names across the stamp to avoid theft. The word is an acronym for “Perforated Initials” or “Perforated Insignia”. They are also sometimes called SPIFS (Stamps Perforated with Initials of Firms and Societies)

Illustrative Example Perfin - Elements of A Postage Stamp

Perfins came into existence in Great Britain at the beginning of 1868. The practice spread quickly to Belgium (1872); Denmark, France, Germany, and Switzerland (1876); and Austria (1877); the U.S. finally allowed perfins in 1908.

There was a practice in the UK that the unused stamps were traded at the post office for cash. With the permission of the postal authorities, companies could punch their initials on the stamps being used for official delivery. They became the official owner of the stamp. Thus stolen perfins couldn’t be sold by unauthorized bearers of the stamp.



Coil Stamps

are sold in continuation strips of one stamp. These strips are like an adhesive tape roll. Coil stamps can be horizontal or vertical. These stamps first appeared at the start of the 20th century.  When these stamps were introduced, collectors did not show interest or considered them viable for collection. Today some of the coil stamps are considered rare and expensive from a collection perspective.

Illustrative Image for a Coil Stamp - Elements of A Postage Stamp

Measuring Perforations: – 

The benchmark is to measure the number of Perfs (Teeth or Holes) in an area span of 2 centimeters. The finest gauge ever used is 18 on stamps of Malay state. Modern stamp perforations tend to range from 11 to 14.

Illustrative image of measuring stamp perforations.

As shown in the picture above to measure the perforation we need to lay the stamp on the gauge scale so that the center of the tooth coincides with the edge of the black band. Now count the number of perforations on the other edge of the band. By doing so you will get a number which will be the gauge of that perforation. If the center of the perf tooth matches the gauge then it is an even one, otherwise, it is a half one. Based on the measurements the stamps can be categorized as

  1. Fine – have designs that are quite off-center, with the perforations on one or two sides very close to the design but not quite touching it. There is white space between the perforations and the design that is minimal but evident to the unaided eye.
  2. Fine-Very Fine – are stamps which will be slightly off-center on either one side or two sides. The perfs are well clear of the design. However, early issues printed have the design very close to the edges. In such cases, the perforations may cut in the design to a small extent.
  3. Very Fine – stamps are the ones which will be just slightly off-center on one or two sides, but the design will be well clear from the edge. The stamp will have a nice and balanced appearance. These particular stamps have been used to establish Scott Catalogue values.
  4. Extremely Fine – These are stamps that are perfectly centered.

Other Separation Methods: –

We now move on to the next section of Elements Of A Postage Stamp where we are going to have an understanding of the prominent separation tactics.


This process derives its name from the French word Roulette like the rowel of a spur wheel which when passed over the paper makes little slits in the paper in between the stamps rendering alternate spaces being uncut. Since the shape of the wheel, points are not straight-line cuts which will correspond to their shape so this results in various roulette types and their names have been adopted in French only. Below is a brief description

1.Perce en lignes – rouletted in lines. The paper receives short, straight cuts in lines. This is the most common type of rouletting. Example –  Mexico Scott 500.

Illustrative Example of Mexico Scott # 500
Mexico Scott # 500

2.Perce en points – pin-rouletted or pin-perfed. This differs from a small perforation because no paper is removed, although round, equidistant holes are pricked through the paper. Example Mexico Scott 242-256.

3.Perce en arc and perce en scie – pierced in an arc or saw-toothed designs, forming half circles or small triangles. Example – Hanover (German States) Scott 25-29.

4.Perce en serpentin – serpentine roulettes. The cuts form a serpentine or wavy line. Example –  Brunswick (German States) Scott 13-18. 

No paper is removed by these processes, leaving the stamps easily separated, but closely attached.


It is the general process used in the manufacturing industries to separate or shape material using a press. These are customized to create the end items. This method of the stamp, separation is mostly used for self-adhesive stamps meaning that the stamps themselves are cut entirely apart, held together only by the backing paper. The machine Die-Cuts the sides of the stamps. Sometimes the stamps produced in this manner are cut to look like traditional perforations. This is known as “Serpentine” die-cut. Example – US Scott 1551


We now come to an end to this edition of Elements of A Postage Stamp. I am thankful to all those who dedicate their time in going through my posts and looking forward to connecting next week with another informative piece regarding the different Elements of A Postage Stamp. Till then Adios!!

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Rohit Mittal

Self Taught Techie, Father to a budding philatelist son and a Global Business Professional Having Traveled across four continents. I have helped European and Indian Businesses to turn around and realize business objectives in 180 to 270 days. Reading & Writing is my second nature. I rekindled my childhood passion for stamps after forty years and love to collect European Pre 1960s MNH OG stamps majorly from France, Germany, and Italy.
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