The Story about the Terms SPIFS and PERFIN

Stamps Perforated by Initials of Firms and Society's

PERForated INitials

By Toke Nørby

Copyright 1996-2013 by Toke Nørby.
This article must not be published without permission from the author
- but you are welcome to take a printout for your personal use ;-)


In the spring of 1996 I wrote a general article on this subject which was posted on the Internet STAMPS List and in the news groups rec.collecting.postal-history and rec.collecting.stamps. The article you see here only covers the story of the terms SPIFS and PERFIN, apart from a short introduction of the very beginning of the PERFIN story. If you would like to see the complete version of my general article, you can find it on my SPIFS/PERFINs Introduction Page together with my story of the Danish PERFINs.

I am indebted to Mr David Hill, treasurer of the British Perfin Society, who has made information from their library available to me. I am also indebted to Mr Maurice Harp for letting me quote his story about Sir Henry Bessemer from The Perfin Society Bulletin.

As far as this article is concerned, a special thanks is due to Mr Richard L Mewhinney (b. 10. July 1924 - † 23 Nov. 2009), USA, who found the source where the abbreviation PERFIN was first mentioned. Also a special thanks is due to Mr Michael Baadke, (, Editor of Scott Stamp Monthly, who found the 1943 issues of "Linn's Weekly Stamp News" for me. (Believe me or not: Michael told me that one of his cats is named PERFIN because of her talent for perforating Michael's skin when she is annoyed with him :-).

Miss Perfin

Again, I would like to thank Bob Track ( for his valuable help in proof reading the text and our deep discussions about the subject - I guess that Bob now collects Perfins from Worcester, Mass. - Don't you, Bob? :-)


The Very Beginning
A few years ago I read an article in the stamp exhibition catalogue for "Arbejdernes Frimærke Klub" who celebrated their 50 year anniversary with an exhibition, ARNØPHIL 76 (1). In this catalogue Mr Henrik Suhr-Jensen wrote: "The term originated from the American "PERForated INitials", while the term in England is "SPIFS" (Stamps Perforated with Initials of Firms and Societies)".

Sloper's AutographNot many collectors of PERFINs doubt that it was Mr Joseph Sloper from England who invented a perforating machine which could be used for perforating initials etc. on postage stamps and other papers of any value. Actually it seems that the first person who thought about perforating "stamps" to prevent fraud not was Mr Sloper but was:

Sir Henry Bessemer
In "The Perfin Society Bulletin" No 274 (2) from February 1995, Mr Maurice Harp describes the "real inventor" of the PERFIN machine as Sir Henry Bessemer. Maurice Harp found in the library of the Perfin Society a newspaper cutting from The Sunday Express:

"7 January 1945 Ripley (World Copyright) Sir Henry Bessemer, 1813-1898, of Charlton, whose process for making steel revolutionised the commercial history of the world, invented - when only 20 years old - a machine to perforate stamps, thereby saving the Government UK£ 100,000 a year from fraud."

Maurice Harp told us that:
"Bessemer, in 1832 suggested a possible solution for preventing stamp fraud. Earlier revenue stamps were embossed to show payment of these, and Bessemer suggested that the stamps should be perforated instead of being embossed. Because of this suggestion Bessemer was offered the job of supervising the implementation of his plan. But when he told his fiancee about his news she came up with a suggestion of her own. Her suggestion was that the embossed stamp should incorporate the date directly with remoable date plugs. When Bessemer told this to his future employers they decided to adopt the idea. Unfortunately they also decided that they did not need Bessemers assistance anymore and Bessemer received nothing for his ideas. His gift of this invention to the Government was to have been recognised by a permanent official appointment, but the promise was not kept. Therefore, instead of PERFINs being born on revenue stamps in the 1830's, we had to wait for 35 years for Joseph Sloper to use a similar idea on postage stamps".

Later, the story of him being wronged by the Board of Stamps came to the notice of Benjamin Disraeli, Prime Minister of Great Britain, and, as a result, Bessemer received a knighthood as some recompense for the injustice. As far as I know Bessemer's "invention" never saw the light of the day and probably no machine was ever made by him, but in spite of this, IF Bessemer had the opportunity to work with his idea, he would have been the real inventor of the perforating machine as sure as Leonardo da Vinci was the inventor of the helicopter!

Mr Joseph Sloper
Instead of seeing the first perforated "stamps" in 1833, we had to wait until Mr Joseph Sloper, who was born in 1813, "reinvented" and patented a perforating machine in 1858 (English Patent No 1985/58). The machine was intended to be used for cheque protection. By means of a roller with different projecting points it was possible to make different perforations in the cheques. In 1868 Sloper patented a perforating machine for railway tickets (English Patent No 2741/68) and further, his patent No 643/69 from 1869 described an advanced machine "for perforating paper, etc. employing a stripper and embodying interchangeable heads, allowing choice of design" - e.g., for dating railway tickets. (Below you see a "Sloper Date Perforating Machine").

A Sloper Date Perforating Machine The Date Wheels
23 March 1943!
(My Birthday!)

Charles Jennings (3) wrote:
"The first idea of using Sloper's invention for postage stamps seems to have originated with firms who were already using his machines for their cheques. Certainly, the first to apply to the Post Office for permission to have stamps perforated was Messrs. Copestake, Moore, Crampton and Co., who, in a letter of 23 October 1867, asked the GPO a permission to underprint stamps on the back and asked for permission to perforate stamps. After some correspondence between Sloper and the GPO, Sloper finally received:

General Post Office 13th March 1868
Sir, The Postmaster General has had under consideration your letter of the 27th ultimo, and His Grace desires me to inform you that, under the circumstances, he will not object to the perforation of postage stamps in the manner described by you, with a view to protect merchants and others, as far as possible, from the theft of the stamps used by them.
I am, Sir, Your obedient servant,
(The Chief Clerk)

F Hugh Vallancey (4) wrote:
"The above formed the basis of the official permit by the GPO and the following is an extract from "General Instructions to Postmasters by the Postmaster General":

March 1st, 1869
In consequence of representations made to the Post Office by various firms that their Postage Stamps are purloined by persons in their employ, the Department has recommended that the Name or Initials of Firms, etc., be perforated through the Stamps, so, that, inasmuch as the Sale of such Stamps would be thereby rendered difficult, the temptation to steal them might be lessened or altogether removed. Postmasters will take care not to purchase any Postage Stamps thus marked which may be offered to them for Sale.


"The Man who Coined the Term PERFIN"
When I wrote this heading I thought about the good old film "The Man who Shot Liberty Valance" but actually this article has no connection at all to the film, although Lee Marvin's "equalizer" could make holes too :-)

Since "Part 7 - Epilogue - The Never Ending Story" of my SPIFS/PERFIN story on the STAMPS List and in the news groups rec.collecting.postal-history and rec.collecting.stamps was posted to you on 19 May 1996, I have been in contact with the former president of "The Perfins Club" in the US, Mr Richard L Mewhinney, who has been so kind by spending a lot of time digging out the information I needed to fill the last holes in my series about SPIFS - PERFINs. Thanks to Richard I am now able to post you the

"thrilling conclusion of this exciting mystery story -- Who named these holey stamps PERFINS? What was his/her name? The answer may lie in one of the early issues of the Perfins Club newsletter."

as my late friend Bob de Violini wrote me in May 1996!

From Richard's papers (5) we can see the most important part of the PERFIN story relates to the terms used. Let me give you a retrospective view and quote some articles from philatelic magazines and other sources:

A clipping from the "American Boy Magazine" (6), February 1909:
"We have noted the issue of stamps privately perforated with initials as a protection against thievery by employes (sic). By a recent order this practice has been authorized and the collecting of these stamps will form an interesting "side line". It is, of course, readily appreciated that they have no pecuniary value but the excitement and pleasure of quest will be appreciated. We illustrate a few current "perforations"." (The illustrations are omitted here. Authors remark).

Notice: "no pecuniary value" :-)

Further, the "order" noted above was issued 8 May 1908 by The Postmaster General of the United States (Section 562, Paragraph 5):
"United States Postage stamps, to be acceptable, must be absolutely without defacement, provided that for the purpose of identification only and not for advertising, it shall be permissible to puncture or perforate letters, numerals or other marks or devices in the United States Postage and Special Delivery Stamps. The punctures or perforations shall not exceed one thirty-second of an inch in diameter, and the whole space occupied by the identifying marks shall not exceed one-half inch square. The puncturing or perforating must be done in such a manner as to leave the stamp easily recognizable as genuine and not previously used. The use of ink or other coloring matter in connection with such puncturing or perforating is prohibited."

The Early 1930's
It seems that we can not find anything in the philatelic press until the early 1930's where an undated (But what year and which magazine?) note (5) said:

"Pin-Perforated U.S. Stamps
In answer to the many requests from the readers of my article in this magazine on pin perfs on November 7, I submit the following list of recently identified devices .........
Peter E. Hafner

22 July 1933
In the English magazine "Stamp Collecting" (7), Mr F Hugh Vallancey wrote an article "British Stamps Perforated with Firms' Initials". This article was published serially in the magazine from July/August 1933. This article was reprinted as a little pamphlet the same year. At that time, the term "SPIFS" was not yet coined.

November 1933
In the Danish magazine "Nordisk Filatelistisk Tidsskrift" (8), the head clerk in the Danish GPO, Mr Olaf Bøgh wrote about "perforated" stamps used by different authorities in Denmark.

13 June 1936
Mr George Harnden, in the "Weekly Philatelic Gossip" (an American magazine) wrote an article named "Perforated Initials" (9) in which he wrote:
"The name, "Perforated Initials", is applied by stamp collectors to stamps through which small holes have been punched for private identification purposes before being postally used. They are generally discarded from specialized and advanced collections as being imperfect. The name, which is prevalent among philatelists, is really a misnomer because numerals, geometrical designs, trade marks, etc., are also perforated in stamps, as well as initials or letters. The proper name, I believe, and the one which I have coined for this little known side-line of philately, is "Private Identification Markings Applied to Postage Stamps". For the sake of brevity throughout this article they will be referred to merely as "Private Markings"."

Of course he had the opportunity to coin the abbreviation "PIMAPS" :-) but as we know he did not.

Harnden also mentioned the first countries to adopt PERFINs:
"Foreign governments recognized this bad situation many years ago as evidenced by the dates on which their postal laws were amended to allow the perforation of stamps for identification purposes. England granted permission to perforate stamps in 1868, only 28 years after the issue of her first postage stamp; Belgium, in 1872; Germany, France, Denmark and Switzerland in 1876; Austria-Hungary in 1877; Italy in 1890; Japan in 1902, and the Netherlands in 1903".

December 1943 - The Term PERFIN was coined
It seems that the year before the term SPIFS was coined in England, the term PERFIN was coined in USA. It was actually coined by the stamp collector Mr Hallock Card, of New York, who was the editor of the "Homestead Hobbyist" (10) in which we in No 3 from February-March 1944 can read:

"Join the "Perfins"
A society for collectors of perforate initial stamps. Send stamps and envelopes for membership card. No dues, no other costs. The "HOBBYIST" will come to you each issue for one year. Your name listed, kinds you collect, number in collection, and if you wish to exchange, keep me informed of changes of address. Any member can secure a list of members by sending a 3c stamp. Address: Homestead Hobbyist, Otselic, N.Y."

In his "A History of The Perfins Club - a Research Project" (11) from June 1970, Mr Richard L Mewhinney wrote:

"The Perfins Club
An organization of philatelists, devoted to the collection and study of Perforated Initials and Insignia in postage stamps. Founded 1943".

Notice that Mewhinney also use the term "Insignia" - This is, as far as I know, the earliest known use of the term in connection to PERFINs - Further, when The Perfins Club was founded it was the first time the term PERFIN was used!!

Mewhinney continues:
Sometime in the early part of 1943, a gentleman by the name of Hallock Card of Otselic, N. Y. noted an advertisement in "LINN'S" about perfins. The advertiser, one Warren Travell. This is our beginning. But for these two men, this work may never have been written, or at least would have been a different story. Mr. Card, a printer, was at this time sending out a monthly advertising pamphlet called the "HOMESTEAD HOBBYIST" to some 700 subscribers. Mr. Card answered Mr. Travell's advertisement and a correspondence developed. Warren Travell urged Hallock Card to start a club using the "HOMESTEAD HOBBYIST" as a media of spreading information. Travell had found several mentions of perfins in various periodicals and insisted that many collectors were saving perfins but had no way of contacting each other. Hallock Card did use his little advertising pamphlet to spread the word and an organization was formed and members were accepted into the group. All available information indicates this founding date to be December, 1943. Dues, forms of that period, and letters written by Hallock Card at later dates list this month and year."

In "Linn's Weekly Stamp News" (12) we can see one classified advertisement from Warren Travell that appeared in three consecutive issues of "Linn's Weekly Stamp News". The first appearance was 13 May 1943, followed by 20 May and 27 May, but nothing after that. In each of the issues, the advertisement appeared under the heading "Wanted," and on Page 6 each time. This is the text of the advertisement:

     forated initials. State amount and price
     or swap wants. Warren Travell, San
     Bernardino, Cal.

"Official Records 1945
The first official publication of the Perfins Club was the first issue of "PERFINS" that came out in April, 1945. A membership list at this time shows a total of 28 members. The club had three officers:
#1- Hallock Card was our Editor-Secretary-Treasurer
#3- Charles Metzs was named as our first Vice President in June 1945.
#4- Warren Travell was our President.

As you see it was Mr Hallock Card who coined the term PERFIN, probably in agreement with Mr Warren Travell.

1944 - The Term SPIFS Was Coined
In Charles Jenning's book (3) from 1968, "The History of British Security Stamps (Overprinted and Underprinted)", published by the "Security Endorsement & Perfin Society of Great Britain" we can read that it was Charles Bein, who, in the "West End Philatelist", between July 1944 and February 1947, published a series of articles entitled "SPIFS". Charles Jennings wrote: "This was the first official use of the name "SPIFS", which Bein coined from the initial letters of the phrase "Stamps Perforated with Initials of Firms and Societie's."

In "The American Philatelist", January 1960 (13), Mr Victor J Van Lint wrote:

"Perfins, Spifs or Punchies
or why they punched holes in stamps?

The oldest known reference to perfins in philatelic literature, as far as is know today, is in 1933. At that time the British writer Hugh Vallancey publishes a little pamphlet with the results of several years of careful study and research in this matter. It was around 1930, also, that the late Warren Travell started his large collection of perfins. He was one of the charter members of the Perfin club in this country, which is the official society of perfin colletors."

I only quoted Mr Van Lint because he used the term "Punchies" which I never had heard before :-)

Epilogue - (Don't ask me: "Is that for sure?" ;-)
Now you have all the information I have found about the perforated stamps. I was happy to dig all this out and I am happy that I know quite a bit more, thanks to all the kind people who had helped me with the story of SPIFS - PERFINs.

Thank you for your attention!
Toke Nørby



  1. "Firma-Perforeringer/PERFINs" by Henrik Suhr-Jensen. Stamp Exhibition Catalogue for ARNØPHIL 76, 13-14 March 1976, Copenhagen, Denmark, pp 49-53.
  2. "Sir Henry Bessemer - Inventor of PERFINs!" by Maurice Harp. The Perfin Society Bulletin No 274, February 1995, pp 6-7.
  3. "History of British Security Stamps (Overprinted and Underprinted)" by Charles Jennings. 1968. See also (14) and (15).
  4. "British Stamps Perforated with Firms' Initials" by F Hugh Vallancey. Stamp Collectors' Handbook, No. 1. 1948.
  5. Files of Mr Richard L Mewhinney (b. 10. July 1924 - † 23 Nov. 2009).
  6. American Boy Magazine, February 1909.
  7. "British Stamps Perforated with Firms' Initials" by F Hugh Vallancey. Stamp Collecting, 22 July 1933, pp 425-426. 29 July 1933, pp 445-446. 5 August 1933, pp 469-470 and 478.
  8. "Nuværende Danske Tjenestemærker" by Olaf Bøgh. Nordisk Filatelistisk Tidsskrift, Vol 12, 15 December 1933, pp 253-254.
  9. "Perforated Initials" by George H Harnden, the "Weekly Philatelic Gossip", 13 June, 1946, p 453.
  10. Homestead Hobbyist, No 3, February/March 1944. Publisher: Mr Hallock Card.
  11. "A History of The Perfins Club - a Research Project" by Richard L Mewhinney. Juny 1970.
  12. Linn's Weekly Stamp News: 13 May 1943, Vol XVI, No 8, Whole Number 758.
    20 May 1943, Vol XVI, No 9, Whole Number 759.
    27 May 1943, Vol XVI, No 10, Whole Number 760.
  13. "Perfins, Spifs or Punchies" by Victor J Van Lint. The American Philatelist, January 1960, Vol 73, No 4, p 257.

Two other recommendable books:

  1. John S Nelson - Handbook of British Perfins. 1967.
  2. A History of J Sloper & Co's Stamp Security Service Through Five Reigns. By Sloper & Co. 1939.


Search the American Philatelist Research Library for books on PERFINs:

See also Wikipedia - the free encyclopedia: PERFINs:


If you have any suggestions for improvements, please let me know:
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Last modified 2009.03.23