|In May 1996 and in October 1996 I wrote this general article on the subject which was posted in eight parts on the Internet STAMPS List and in the news groups rec.collecting.postal-history and rec.collecting.stamps. Please enjoy all eight parts here.
This page was released on 1996.12.04
Last updated on 2010.02.10
Permission is granted to
all Internet/Usenet users to download this article, Foreword and
Part 1 to Part 8 and to make a copy
for personal use. For all other uses, please contact me as I do not have copyright to the quotations from the publications of
The British Perfin Society, only permission to quote from their
Foreword - Posted on 1996.05.04
Let me say this at the very beginning: I need YOUR help, please!
I plan to make this article about Security Marks, or SPIFS/PERFINS, a
Page on the World Wide Web linked to my Homepage, so I need YOUR help
with information, criticism and to fill any holes you may find when
reading this article. I would appreciated it very much if you would
post ANY comments about this article to me personally, to the STAMPS
LIST, to rec.collecting.postal-history or to rec.collecting.stamps,
as I will post this article to all those philatelic sites.
Some of you already have helped me with information about
SPIFS/PERFINS and, of course, I will be pleased to acknowledge
anyone who has helped or will help me with the answers to the
many questions I will put forward in this article.
Acknowledgements to date:
I would like to thank Mr David Hill, treasurer of
The British Perfin Society,
West End, Marazion,
Cornwall, TR17 0EH,
who has been very, very helpful with literature about Perfins and has
permitted me to quote from the Society's publications. Thanks are also due to my friend Bob Track <email@example.com>, USA, who had the task of proof reading this article :-)
Why am I curious about SPIFS/PERFINS?
A few years ago I read an article in the stamp exhibition catalogue
for "Arbejdernes Frimærke Klub" which celebrated their 50-year
anniversary with an exhibition, ARNOEPHIL 76, during the 13th-14th
March 1976 in Copenhagen, Denmark. The article was
"Firmaperforeringer - Perfins" by Henrik Suhr-Jensen, who wrote: "The term originated from the American term "PERforated INitials",
while the term in England is "SPIFs" (Stamps Perforated with
Initials of Firms)".
From this I realized that I knew very little about Perfins. So, on
27 November 1995, I posted a question about the origin of the term
SPIFS on the Usenet group rec.collecting.postal-history. Several
fine responses were given to me, including a few with references to
some literature, where I could find the answer to some of my
The litterature I have consulted is:
- The British Perfin Society Bulletin No 274, February 1995.
I also note that there was a posting from 28 March 1995 where "On a
foul day, you can complain forever" (Choy Heng-Wah) on the STAMPS List
<firstname.lastname@example.org> (This is the old address as
the STAMPS list moved on 25 March 1996 to email@example.com), wrote:
"Peter Giffen of Australia published a monograph "Perfins of British
Cited biblio in the monograph:
Furthermore, I have also consulted:
- F.H. Vallencey - British Stamps Perforated With Firms' Initials. 1948.
- John S. Nelson - Handbook of British Perfins. 1967.
- Charles Jennings - History of British Security Stamps (Overprinted and Underprinted). 1968.
- A History of J. Sloper & Co's Stamp Security Service Through Five Reigns. By Sloper & Co. 1939.
- Katalog Over Danske Firmaperforeringer. By Dansk Perfin Samlerklub. 1991.
I highly recommend these books to all who are interested in the
story of Perfins. The last book listed above is the Danish
Catalogue on Danish Perfins. When I refer to one of these books in
the text, I use the numerical reference, such as "(2)"
which means F.H. Vallancey's book from 1948.
These books represent some of the literature sources I have
consulted while working with this article. Therefore this article
does not provide a great deal of new information about the origin of
Perfins, as most of what you may read here has actually been written
before. My first intention is to summarize the information I have
gathered about Perfins and post it for you, the readers of
rec.collecting.stamps, rec.collecting.postal-history and the STAMPS
LIST. I also intend to tell you the story of the Danish Perfin, which
probably is unknown to you.
I do not, in general, collect Perfins myself although I do have a
few Perfins from my own country, Denmark, as special items in my
collection. I was just curious about how the idea of Perfins began
and I am now able to give you a retrospective view about them, if you
have forgotten what you earlier have read about the subject of
Perfins or to enlighten you if you have never read about Perfins
Part 1 - Introduction - Posted on 1996.05.04
The Stamp Perforating Machine
In many books about the history of stamps, it is noted that around
1840, the printers, Perkins Bacon & Petch, who did some letter
engraving for the world's first stamp, the English One Penny Black,
had a small perforating machine used to perforate cheque-book
counterfoils. They DID think about perforating panes of stamps
horizontally and vertically, as we usually think about perforations
today, but they concluded that the stamps were printed too close to
each other so as to make the punching of perforations between them
As you also may know, it was the Irish railway clerk, Henry Archer,
who, on 1 October 1847, submitted a proposal about perforating panes
of stamps to the English Postmaster General. His proposal was
accepted and two different perforating machines were constructed.
Unfortunately the machines did not work properly and new machines
were constructed by David Napier & Sons. On 28 January 1854 the
first normally-perforated stamp was officially introduced - the
English One Penny Red.
Part 2. The PERFIN Perforating Machine - Posted on 1996.05.05
Quite another story is the use of the perforating machine to avoid fraudulent use of stamps. Most collectors of Perfins are in agreement that it was Mr Joseph Sloper from England who invented the perforating machine that was used for perforating figures or designs into the bodies of postage stamps and other papers of any value. Actually it seems that the first person who THOUGHT about perforating "stamps" to prevent fraud probably was Sir Henry Bessemer.
In the Perfin Society Bulletin No 274, (1) from February 1995, Mr Maurice Harp describes the "real inventor" of the IDEA of the PERFIN perforator as Sir Henry Bessemer. Maurice Harp found, in the library of The Perfin Society, a newspaper cutting from The Sunday Express saying:
"7 January 1945
Ripley (World Copyright)
Sir Henry Bessemer, 1813-1898, of Charlton, near Hitchin Herts, whose process for making steel revolutioned the commercial history of the world, invented - when only 20 years old - a machine to perforate stamps, thereby saving the Government £100,000 a year from fraud."
and a cutting from The Sunday Express from 14 January 1945:
"Sir Henry Bessemer. Ripley states that Sir Henry Bessemer, born in 1813,
at the age of 20 "invented a machine to perforate stamps, thereby saving
the Government £100,000 a year". As the first postage stamp was not issued until
May 6, 1840, and the Governments trial to use perforations did not take place until
1853 (vide Stanley Gibbon's "Stamps of the British Empire"), how does
Ripley account for the Period 1833-1853?
A. Cecil Fenn.
Little Aston Park, Sutton Coldfield.
Note: The Dictionary of National Biography states: "In 1833 frauds on
the Government (involving a loss of the revenue of £100,000 a year) were perpetrated
by the repeated use of stamps affixed to deeds, etc. These frauds Bessemer rendered
impossible by the invention of perforated dies, so that a date could be indelibly
impressed on every stamp. His gift of this invention to the Government was to have
been recognised by a permanent official appointment, but the promise was not kept,
although it was recognised years later by the tardy bestowal of a knighthood."
In his article in "The Perfin Bulletin", Maurice Harp explained why we did not get the perforated stamps in 1833:
"Bessemer, in 1832 suggested a possible solution
for preventing stamp fraud. As revenue stamps were embossed to show payment of
these, Bessemer suggested that the stamps should be perforated instead of being
embossed. Bessemer was offered the job of supervising the implementation of his
suggestion. Further, Bessemer's fiancee suggested that the embossed stamp should
incorporate the date directly with removable date plugs to make forgery even harder.
The Board of Stamps who were responsible for revenue production, adopted the idea,
but unfortunately they also decided that they did not need Bessemer's assistance
and neither Bessemer nor his fiancee received anything for their ideas.
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 Disraeli (Benjamin Disraeli, Prime Minister of Britain) and as a
result Bessemer received a knighthood as some recompense for the injustice".
As far as I know a "Bessemer Perforator" was never made by him, but in spite of this, IF Bessemer has had the opportunity to work with his idea, he would have been the real inventor of the perforating machine (as well as Leonardo da Vinci was the inventor of the helicopter!).
Instead of seeing Mr Henry Bessemer's "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 - See (4)). This machine was intended to be used for cheque protection. Later, in 1868, Sloper got a permission to perforate stamps with initials (but more about that in Part 4 of this article).
Part 3. "Holy Toledo, Those Stamps have Holes" - Posted on 1996.05.07
And What Shall We Call These Holes?
The quoted phrase was posted 3 February 1995 by David T Tilton to the members of the STAMPS list. This
phrase caught my eyes and I kept his posting in which David told us
about "his first meeting" with "The Holes". Although David wrote a little about the story of "The Holes", he called them "PERFINS". But when was this term "born"?
As I wrote in Part 1, I had read about the names of "The Holes" for
the first time in an article in a Danish stamp exhibition catalogue
for ARNØPHIL 76, where Henrik Suhr-Jensen wrote:
"The term originated from the American term "PERforated INitials",
while the term in England is "SPIFs" (Stamps Perforated with
Initials of Firms)".
The First Name: "SPIFS"
In Charles Jennings' book, "The History of British Security Stamps
(Overprinted and Underprinted) (4), 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 Societies'."
As late as 1944? Was this really the first year where "The Holes"
got a specific name? As "The Holes" first saw the light of the day
in 1853, it is relevant to see what the files say. Here Hugh Vallancey's
books (2) and the Sloper & Co book (5) probably are the
most relevant sources we can consult. Vallancey's because of his
study of the Sloper files at the Sloper Company and the Sloper & Co
book because it was issued by "The Firm" itself.
Vallancey writes in his foreword to the second edition of his book:
"The first edition of this booklet was published in 1933 but, mainly
owing to the remaining copies having been destroyed by enemy action
in May 1941, copies are very seldom to be found and the demand has
certainly increased. Mr. Charles Bein coined the abbreviation
S.P.I.F.S for these perforated stamps which is now used. .....
1st June 1948. F.H.V.".
Vallancey also wrote:
".. the S.P.I.F. should be mounted ..."
"... how to collect S.P.I.F.S....".
This is peculiar as he used the last "S" (which should stand for
"Societies") to show the plural form of the term. Maybe it was
difficult to say "a SPIFS" or "SPIFSes" :-)
Sloper, in their book, do not use any abbreviations but only refer
to "a machine for perforating the initials of Commercial Firms",
but they also used the term "Perforated Stamps" in the meaning
Charles Jennings wrote in his book (4):
"From time to time the various philatelic journals carried articles
on the perforated official stamps but articles on the more despised
"SPIFS" were rare. In 1953 there appeared a short note in "Stamp
Collecting" concerning a "Perfin Club". This appears to be the
earliest use of this designation which hailed from America and is
derived from "PERforated INitials"."
Charles Jennings continues:
"Later in 1953, Charles Bein wrote a letter to "Stamp Collecting"
about "Crowns" in unofficial punctures. In early 1954 W.G.
Stitt-Dibden wrote "How to Display Punctured Stamps" also in "Stamp
Collecting" and R G Sutton wrote in "Stamp Magazine", in 1954, an
We can see, then, in the early fifties, collectors had not yet
adapted the term PERFIN which is now used in most countries, even
non-English speaking countries.
On 3 December Ken Lawrence wrote in
"Careful stamp scholars usually note that Perfin is the acronym of
Perforated Insignia, since initials are not the only permissible
Of course this may be correct, although "insignia" normally were
used in connection with "marks of honour" (as my dictionary says:
mark of the head, especially mark of power or dignity, same as "Rega
lia"), but the questions is: is the term PERFIN coined from
"PERforated INitials" or "PERforated INsignia"?
And here I need YOUR help! Can anyone tell who it was in America
who coined this term "PERFIN" and when it was officially used for
the first time? If you have any source that shows the first use of
the term PERFIN in USA (Philatelic/Official
Literature/Magazine/Vol/No/Date), I would appreciate a reference and
a copy of the text where the "inventor" of the term PERFIN explained
why he or she us ed this term instead of "SPIFS"!
And have you any (early) reference material showing the phrase
"PERforated INsignia"? Please let me know. Any information will be
Ken Lawrence sent me 5 May 1996 a copy of his
splendid article "Perforated Insignia" from July 1995 American
Philatelist where he described the very first PERFINs from the
United States. I can highly recommend this article and I hope that
Ken will post it "here" too! In this article Ken also quote the
first order from the U.S. General Postmaster allowing punctured
stamps. More about this order in Part 4.
On 7 December 1995 Michael D Dixon commented on my "PERFINs/SPIFs - a question" in the newsgroup rec.collecting.postal-history:
"While the acronym SPIFS is not nowadays commonly used for perfins,
it is a term one occasionally comes across in the UK. In providing
an explanation for the "term", the Hodder Stamp Dictionary refers to
it as a British nickname for perfins!"
A nickname! :-) I wonder: Should not "PERFIN" be the nickname?
Perhaps the editor(s) of the Hodder Stamps Dictionary did not know
the "true" story of "The Holes".
Part 4. The Authorizations to Perforate Stamps - Posted on 1996.05.08
The very first authorization to perforate stamps with initials was,
of course, given in England, but not without any troubles.
Bessemer, who developed the IDEA of the "perforated stamp" probably
never obtained what we can call an authorization. Instead of seeing
Mr Henry Bessemer's "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 -
See (4)). This machine was intended to be used for cheque
protection. By employing 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". That is, for dating railway tickets.
Charles Jennings (4) writes:
"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 Of fice
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.
At the same time they besought the Postmaster General to get a
permission, in addition of the underprint on the back, to perforate
stamps with "S.C." (Sampson Copestake) with Sloper's perforating
machine. Two days later they were given permission to UNDERPRINT
in a reply from the GPO, but the request for permission to perforate
was not answered."
Because during the next monthes the GPO still refused to give a
permission to perforate stamps with initials, Sloper, who had made
the "S.C." perforation for Copestake, wrote to the GPO:
"Walbrook House Walbrook 27 Feby 1868
Pardon me for again intruding on your time in reference to the
marking of Postage Stamps, but I learned at my interview with Mr.
Parkhurst on the 24 Inst. that I had not obtained your sanction for
In itialling Postage Stamps, so fully as I featured myself to have
done, and as I reported to the Messrs. Copestakes.
I am anxious not to appear to act without your concurrence, which
will be fully justified by the single fact of the assistance it
affords in preventing the reissue of stamps when once obliterated -
My system renders abortive all attempts at effacing the obliterating
stamp with a view to its reissue, as the ink would be rubbed into
It is also conceded by the leading Firms, and Public Companies, in
London, that it is the only effectual method of protecting them from
robbery of stamps by their employees. I shall feel particularly
obliged if you would honour me with a reply, however brief at your
earliest convenience, in order that I might assure my numerous
clients that this system meets with no opposition from the Post
Office Authorities. I beg to recommend the enclosed reference to
I have the honour to be, Sirs,
Your most obedient humble servant.
Charles Jennings (4) wrote:
"The "enclosed reference" was a cutting from The Manchester Examiner
of 21 February 1868 reporting the case of John Howarth, provision
dealer, Cross Street, charged with receiving from errand boys and
junior clerks in various Manchester offices 7,820 stamps value
£35.19.2 in payment for bread and cheese, well knowing the
stamps to have been stolen."
"An internal inquiry was put in hand by the Postmaster General's
Second Secretary, Mr. Frank Ives Scudamore who, on 11th March
recommended to the Duke of Montrose, then the Postmaster General,
that "Mr. Sloper be informed that Your Grace will not object to the
adoption of the plan". The following letter, which represents the
authority under which the perforation of postage stamps with
initials came to be officially introduced was then addressed to
Sloper by the Chief Clerk."
"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,
And from Vallencey's (2) booklet:
"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."
This official permission made it possible for Joseph Sloper to
extend the marketing of his perforation machine. (His patent rights
from 1858 expired 31 August 1872).
After the expiry of his patent, Sloper still tried still to fight
for his monopoly but with no luck. Various firms now manufactured
small machines for perforating stamps and other countries produced
their own machines. Sloper died 18 June 1890 as a rather poor man,
but his firm was continued by his two sons. In the referenced books,
you can follow in detail Slopers fight for his patent after it had
expired in 1872.
Part 5. The Authorizations to Perforate Stamps - Denmark - Posted on 1996.05.09
What About PERFINs in Denmark?
In "Tidsskrift for Postvæsen" (The Post Magazine), Vol 7, August
1877, we, for the first time in Denmark, can read about the PERFIN
"Gjennemhulning af Frimærker.
Efterat man i den engelske Forretningsverden længe havde gransket
over, ved hvilke Kontrolforholdsregler ......."
"Punching of Stamps
For several years English business people had been thinking of a
method to prevent the fraudulent use of stamps by subordinate
employees. A Mr Joseph Sloper from London invented a punching
machine which marked stamps with the initials of the concerned firms,
and with which, without damaging the stamps nor destroying their
validity or changing their form, one could punch holes through the
postage stamps, thus making it difficult for unauthorized people to
use the stamps.
The English Postmaster General permitted the use of such punching
machines as long as the postage stamps could be recognized as genuine
and not previously used.
In June 1876 the German and the Belgian Postmaster General permitted
the use of this stamp punching machine in the mentioned way. From
the beginning of this year the French Postmaster General permitted
the use in France and the Austrian-Hungarian Postmaster General gave
similar permission in this spring.
In Denmark our Postmaster General permitted the use last year (1876)
and this year a couple of firms in Copenhagen received permission to
use a stamp punching machine. The holes punched show the initials of
the firms which can easily be seen and make the postage stamps
recognizable from other Postage Stamps".
The first firm mentioned, according to a handwritten note in the
Danish Postal Museum in Copenhagen: "Firmaer, der benytter
gjennemprikkede Frimærker" (Firms using punched stamps), was Mr S
Friedlander, a paper wholesaler who received a permission to use a
perforation mark "S.F." on 6 February 1876 (General Postmaster
Circular No 4259). Although Friedlander had permission in 1876 the earliest recorded
stamp with these initials dates from October 1890.
A few days later, on 12 February 1876 permission was given to the
wholesaler S Seidelin to use "S.S.". This PERFIN is recorded from
The Postal Law From 4 December 1913
As mentioned, the Danish GPO gave the earliest permission to use
PERFINs to a few firms in 1876 but no public announcements were made
until the above mentioned article in "Tidsskrift for Postvæsen"
As late as 4 December 1913 our GPO made a regulation which, in
Section 31, Subsection D, stated: "The General Postmaster can permit
the use of postage stamps with special perforated marks". Notice
that the regulation did not limit these "special marks" to initials
as they did at first in England.
In the period 1876 - 1913 the permission to use PERFINs was given
administratively and our GPO found no reason to make this known to
the public nor did they publish it in their "Official Announcements
From The Danish GPO" (in Denmark called the "OM"). Furthermore,
there were no announcements on PERFINs in the many small adjustments
to the Danish Postal Laws in the period 1876 - 1913.
From the files in the Danish Postal Museum we can see that 199
Danish firms, in the period 1876 - 4 December 1913, asked for
permission to use PERFINs, but of these 199 firms, 36 are recorded
as having used their PERFINs before they actually received
permission to do so. During the same period, 102 other firms are
recorded using "punched stamps" without any permission.
The use of Danish PERFINs was decontrolled as of 1 August 1917. Not
much discussion about PERFINs can be found in the papers from that
time, but a change in the previously-mentioned Postal Regulation ,
Section 3, Subsection D, was made on 25 July 1917, and became valid
on 1 August 1917 (Annex to "OM" No 68/1917). This Postal Regulation
"It is allowed to use postage stamp with a perforated mark when this
perforation is made in a way so the stamps can be recognized as
being genuine and unused".
In the period from 4 December 1913 to 1 August 1917 we find that
only 25 firms did ask permission to perforate their stamps with
initials. Collectors also have recorded that 35 firms, probably
without permission from the GPO, did use stamps with perforated
marks in this period. Whoever was to decide whether a perforation
mark did or did not fulfil the Regulation from 25 July 1917 was
never recorded. However, there has never been any doubt of the
validity of the Danish postage stamps perforated with special marks.
The scarcity ratings of some stamps with perforated marks are listed
in various catalogues. Collectors should, though, bear in mind that
PERFIN perforating machines were manufactured and sold by private
firms, which means that it IS possible for private individuals to
obtain such perforating machines quite legally. I have, at a flea
market here in Denmark, bought a Danish perforating machine which
punches the initials "H&I" for Harts & Jøns, a firm that was located
in Copenhagen. (In old days the Danish letter "I" very often was used
as a "J" in abbreviations). Harts & Jøns was permitted to use perforated stamps in December
1908 (Danish GPO Letter No 16450, December 1908).
Part 6. What About PERFINs in Other Countries - Posted on 1996.05.12
United States of America
In the American Philatelist (Magazine of The American Philatelist
Society), July 1995, Ken Lawrence (who kindly
permitted me to quote from his article) wrote:
On May 4, 1908, Postmaster General George von L. Meyer issued an
order that relaxed the rule on defacement of U.S. postage stamps.
The new rule read as follows:
"United States postage stamps, to be acceptable for postage, 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 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
device shall not exceed one-half inch square. The puncturing or
perforating must be done in such 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."
Ken furthermore mention that the earliest recorded U.S. PERFIN, "BFC
CO", was found on cover in 1989. The cover was of the B.B. Cummins
Company of Chicago and was postmarked on 26 May 1908.
I will take a little side leap here:
I have discussed the phrase "Perforated Insignia" versus "Perforated
Initials" with Ken. He use "Perforated Insignia" where I would never
use this in connection to PERFINs. Ken informed me:
"American Heritage Dictionary: insignia -- A badge of office, rank,
membership, or nationality; emblem; a distinguishing sign.
Thus every military unit has its insignia; corporate logotypes are
insignia; school symbols are insignia, and so forth".
We, in Denmark, would not use the term "insignia" in connection to
PERFINs as the comprehensive Danish Dictionary of The Danish
"Insigne: "Mark of honour, visible characteristics of a high-ranking
person. Nowadays insignia (pl.) is most used in connection to the
attributes a high-ranking person (Prince, King, Queen etc.) is wearing on special occasions".
Therefore, Danish Postal Historians only use "insignia" in
connection to the "mark of honour etc." (special markings) on old
letters from the king, government etc.
The Webster's New Universal Dictionary of The English Language.
Unabridged. Webster's Universal Press. New York 1977:
"Latin insigne, pl. insignia, a sign, decoration, badge of honor,
neut. of insignis, distinguished by a mark, striking, eminent; _in_,
in, and _signum_, a mark, sign.
- badges, emblems, or other distinguishing marks of office or honor;
as, the _insignia_ of an order of knighthood.
- marks, signs, or visible impressions by which anything is know or
I think that this may be an example of the different interpretation
of a "term" in different countries. In American English insignia has
no such exalted meaning as it has in Danish. Here it just means
emblem, Ken told me. As far as I can see both Ken and I are right in
our use of "insignia", but we still do not know when and who in
America who coined the term "PERFIN"????
Art Mongan "I think I remember the term
"PERFIN" from around 1940 but can't find a reference. Some dealer
price lists (1942 to 1944 period) included "Perf. Initials" for some
high denomination US postage stamps."
And then back to the authorizations to use PERFINs.
The following is written by Hans Karman who
kindly have informed me about the authorizations in the Australian area.
Hans recommended a book published in Canberra by John Mathews (firstname.lastname@example.org) and
John Grant, a very comprehensive catalogue of the perfins of
Australia, with all known ones illustrated. This book will be
mentioned in "Part 7. PERFIN Society's to My Knowledge".
Hans Karman writes:
Colony of Victoria
"The first legislation was in 3 Nov 1883, in the Colony of Victoria,
Act 47 VIC No.781 - An Act to consolidate and amend the Law relating
to the Post Office and for other purposes. Date of effect 1 Jan 1884.
Section 16 reads:
"Any company firm or person with the permission in writing of the
Postmaster-General may perforate stamps with such letters figures or
design as are prescribed in such writing, and stamps so perforated
shall not be considered to be defaced within the meaning of this Act
and shall be received in payment of any postage fees or dues and
telegraph fees, but no stamps so perforated shall be purchased upon
commission or exchanged by any postmaster or officer or servant of
the Post Office or accepted for a Savings Bank deposit."
New South Wales
(Extract from "Commercial Perfins of Australia", John Grant
& John Mathews, Canberra 1992):
Post Office Guide issued in Jan 1891, page 107:
"Arrangements have been made by which firms, &c., may print their
names on the back of postage stamps, or perforate their initials in
each stamp by means of any machine submitted to and approved of by
the Postmaster-General. Postage stamps so marked must not be
purchased by any postmaster or other person, as the object of
placing a private mark thereon is to prevent stamps from being
stolen or sold."
"The wording is odd, since it suggests that the actual perforating
machines had to be submitted for approval. There is no evidence that
applicants did so. However, it would seem that applicants were
required to furnish samples of the perforation before final approval
Supplement to the Queensland Gazette of Monday 11 Jan 1892.
"Regulations made by the Governor in Council under the provisions of
"The Post and Telegraph Act of 1891" (55 Vic No.15), relating to the
postal and Money Order Branches of the Department. Also, Departmental
Rules, Regulations, and Instructions for the Conduct and Guidance of
Postmasters and Others in the Transaction of Postal and Money Order
Business. (In lieu of all former Regulations on the same subject,
which are Cancelled.)"
Regulations. Postage Stamps.
2. Any company, firm, or person, with the permission in writing
of the Postmaster-General, may perforate stamps or postcards with
letters, figures, or designs approved in such writing, and stamps so
perforated shall not be considered to be defaced, and may be used for
postage on letters, packets, and newspapers; but the public are
cautioned against purchasing perforated stamps."
The South Australian Gazette of 23 June 1892: His Excellency the
Governor in Council has been pleased to approve the following postal
rates and regulations, to take effect from this 1st of July, 1892.
III. Postage Stamps and Newspaper Wrappers.
Arrangements have been made by which firms, &c., may print their
names on the back of postage stamps, or perforate their initials on
each stamp by means of any machine submitted to and approved of by
the Postmaster-General. Postage stamps so marked must not be
purchased by any postmaster or other person, as the object of
placing a private mark thereon is to prevent stamps being stolen and
(Extract from "Commercial Perfins of Australia", John Grant &
John Mathews, Canberra 1992):The Tasmania Postal Guide No 20, published July 1900, notes the
following arrangements for perfins at page 46:
POSTAGE AND REVENUE STAMPS
Authority may be given for the perforation of postage stamps with the
initials of firms and others using stamps to a large amount, but the
designs must be approved of.
There was no reference to a prohibition on the redemption of
perforated stamps at the Post Office, as this was precluded by a
separate provision relating to repurchase arrangements.
It is not known whether earlier Postal Guides carried a similar
reference, or whether the reference in the Postal Guide was
supported by regulation."
(Extract from "Commercial Perfins of Australia", John
Grant & John Mathews, Canberra 1992): Section IX/7 of the Postal Guide for Western Australia, issued in November 1900, stated:
"To prevent the purloining of postage stamps by employees of
business firms etc., such stamps may be perforated with the initials
of the firm, etc., so as to render their improper sale a matter of
difficulty. Similar perforation of the stamps on Post Cards will
also be allowed; but in either case, permission must first be
obtained, in writing, from the PMG."
The Postal Guide made no mention of prohibition on the redemption of
punctured stamps at post offices, as the repurchase of all stamps
was, at that stage, prohibited in Western Australia.
The Commonwealth of Australia
(Extract from "Commercial Perfins of Australia", John Grant & John
Mathews, Canberra 1992): A regulation relating to the repurchase of stamps was gazetted on 5
Jun 1902 and came into effect from 30 Jun 1902:
"Repurchase of Postage Stamps and Postcards.
Stamps shall be repurchased only when not perforated, soiled, or
The Commonwealth Post Office Guide issued in August 1903 states on
"Perforation &c., of postage stamps by business firms, &c. Any
person, with the permission in writing of the Deputy
Postmaster-General, may perforate postage stamps with such letters,
figures, or design as are prescribed in such writing, and stamps so
perforated shall not be considered to be defaced and shall be
received in payment of any postage fees or dues and telegraph fees,
but no stamps so perforated shall be purchased or exchanged by any
postmaster or servant of the Department, nor may such stamps be
affixed to postal notes for the purpose of remitting token sums in
The 1983 Postal Guide, as amended in Jan 1991, states:
"1.25 Perforation of postage stamps
- Customers may obtain approval to perforate postage stamps with
letters, figures or designs. Australia Post does not arrange for
stamps to be perforated.
- An application, accompanied by a sample of the desired perforation,
is required. This should be directed to the State Manager in the
relevant State capital.
- As a general guide, the perforations should not interfere with the
clarity of the printing which indicates the country of issue and
the value of the stamp.
- A postage stamp perforated in accordance with a permit issued by
Australia Post will not be considered to have been cancelled or
defaced. A perforated stamp will not be repurchased or exchanged by
I would like to thank Hans for this splendid information and would
like to invite YOU to tell us when YOUR country gave the first
authorization to use PERFINs.
Part 7. Epilogue - "The Never Ending Story" - Posted on 1996.05.19
As you can see, I have changed the title of Part 7. Nevertheless, I
have listed all PERFIN Societies that I am aware of at the end of
Bob de Violini wrote to me:
"I have read now the parts of your perfins history articles. It's
very good to get all that sort of thing put together in one place -
- - I'm waiting for 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. The Perfins Club, Inc was established in
Unfortunately I did not succeed in my attempt to find the person
or publication which first coined the term "PERFIN" from "PERForated
INitials" or "PERForated INsignia". If I find out, I will tell you!
Furthermore: please be aware of the posting of Bob de Violini on Sunday 12 May 1996 on rec.collecting.postal-history (Thanks to Bob!):
"A listing of all the titles in the American Philatelic Research
Library that deal with PERFINs is available on the APS Home Page.
The URL is:
http://www.stamps.org/cat3.htm. Search the - use PERFINS as the subject."
In this comprehensive list of PERFIN books you can probably find
what you are looking for if you collect PERFINs.
Now that this SPIFS-PERFINs story has come to an end and, I would
like to thank the following on-line and off-line friends who have
kindly provided information about PERFINs, either directly to me in
connection with this series or in earlier postings about PERFINs:
and last, but absolutely not least, my friend Bob Track
(email@example.com), for his valuable help in proof-reading
the articles in this series.
Bob de Violini
David T Tilton
Michael D Dixon
The British PERFIN Society
The Danish Perfin Society
I hope that you have enjoyed reading this long story. It is my hope
that you have realized that PERFINs are a great and very important
part of the Postal History of the world.
Thank you all very much for your patience and support.
PERFIN Societies Of Which I Have Knowledge
The list of PERFIN societies is based on a prior posting to
rec.collecting.stamps. On 8 February 1996 Joseph Coulbourne in rec.collecting.stamps posted a list of some
of the PERFIN clubs. I have added a few:
The Perfin Club of New Zealand and Australia
21 McConnell Cres
Kambah, ACT 2092
Hans Karman adds:
John Mathews and John Grant published a very comprehensive catalogue
of the PERFINs of Australia about five years ago.
Steven McLachlan mentions these points:
Available is "An Exhibition Display of New Zealand Stamps with
Perforated Initials" by Robert D Samuel. April 1994. 80 pages spirex
bound A4 size reproductions of an exhibit formed by the author which
contains all known PERFIN on NZ stamps. It includes the full range of
perfined stamps of Great Britain issued for the NZ Embassy. (Limited
printing of 100 copies). Price NZ$ 25 (US$ 20, GB£ 15) plus postage.
"A New Zealand Perfin Collection", 1993. 75 copies, by David Dell,
P.O. Box 40-510, Upper Hutt, NZ. Spirex bound A4. Whilst well done it
is not as complete as the Samuel book. Price unknown.
Canadian PERFIN Study Group
Steven M. Koning,
1401 Hwy 62,
Kaj Mathiessen (firstname.lastname@example.org)
DK-5210 Odense NV
Phone: +45 66 16 27 24
Michael Meadowcroft has informed me about:
ANCOPER (Association Nationale des Collectionneurs de Timbres Perfores)
4 Rue des Capucins
90 Avenue de Paris
ANCOPER has published a catalogue "Timbres Perfores, France et
Colonies", 2nd ed, 1990.
Peter Schmelter added on 25 August 1998:
Deutche Arbeitsgemeinschaft (ArGe) Firmenlochungen im BDPh
Alfred Wirth - President
Zum Bilsbek 9
The ArGe has issued a comprehensive catalogue on German Perfins (Der Deutschen
The Perfin Society
Dave Hill - Treasurer
Paardeberg, West End
Cornwall TR17 0EH
The Perfin Society has a list with many books on PERFINs for sale and
a comprehensive library.
Greg Ioannou adds: Two major catalogues of British PERFINs:
T A Edwards and B C Lucas, "A Catalogue of Great Britain PERFINs" and
Roy Gault (Editor), "The Tomkins Catalogue of Identified G B
PERFINs". (Both books use the word PERFIN and not SPIFS). The
latter book refers several times to another book: Tony
Llewellyn-Jones, "The Perfins of Great Britain".
PERFIN Club Nederland
William F. Baekers
5003 DB Tilburg
E-mail: William F. Baekers
Ken Lawrence mentions (in the American Philatelist,
July 1995) a new publication, "Guide to Perfin Exhibiting" by Silvia
Gersch and Robert Schwerdt. Further information at:
The Perfins Club
c/o Kurt Ottenheimer,
462 West Walnut
Long Beach, NY 11561
Silvia Gersch - Secretary
8923 East Palm Ridge Drive
Scottsdale, AZ 85260-7535
Bob de Violini adds:
"The Perfins Club have produced a cumulative index to the first
453 whole numbers of their magazine and have published a
US Perfins catalog along with catalogs of perfins of
several other countries".
Catalog Sales Dept
301 S Hine Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53188,
The Perfins Club
Editor: John Lyding (email@example.com)
Foreign Catalog Editor
Floyd Walker (firstname.lastname@example.org)
P O Box 82
Part 8 - Epilogue II or "The Man Who Coined The Term PERFIN" - Posted on 1996.10.14
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/PERFINs 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
<email@example.com>, 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. Also a special thank is due to Mr
Michael Baadke <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Senior Editor at Linn's
Stamp News, who found the 1943 issues of "Linn's 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 :-).
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 Bob de Violini <email@example.com> wrote me in May 1996!
From Richards's papers (1) 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", February 1909 (2): "We
have noted the issue of stamps privately perforated with initials as
a protection against thievery by employes. 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
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)
which was shown in Part 6 of my Perfin story.
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?)
"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" (3), Mr F Hugh Vallancey
wrote an article "British Stamps Perforated with Firms' Initials".
This article was published serially in the magazine on 22 July, 29
July and 5 August 1933. This article was reprinted as a little
pamphlet the same year. At that time, the term "SPIFS" was not yet
In the Danish magazine "Nordisk Filatelistisk Tidsskrift" (4), the
head clerk in the Danish GPO, Mr Olaf Boegh wrote about
"perforated" stamps used by different authorities in Denmark.
13 June 1936
Mr George Harnden, in the American magazine the "Weekly Philatelic
Gossip" (5) wrote an article named "Perforated Initials" in which he
"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
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 the US. It was actually coined by the
stamp collector Mr Hallock Card, of New York, who was the editor of
the "Homestead Hobbyist" (6) in which we 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,
In his "A History of The Perfins Club - a Research Project" (7) 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 this term in connection to
PERFINs. Further, when The Perfins Club was founded it
was the first time the term PERFIN was used!!
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" (8) 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
"WANTED, ACCUMULATIONS OF PER-
forated initials. State amount and price
or swap wants. Warren Travell, San
"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
#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 from 1968, "The History of British Security
Stamps (Overprinted and Underprinted)" (9), 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 (10), 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
I only quoted Mr Van Lint because he used the term "Punchies"
which I never had heard before :-)
Final 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'm happy that I know
quite a bit more, thanks to all the kind people who had helped me
with the story of SPIFS - PERFINs.
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? :-)
An abstract of the SPIFS/PERFINs story can be found at:
Thank you for your attention!
Two other recommendable books:
- Files of Mr Richard L Mewhinney.
- "American Boy Magazine", February 1909.
- "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.
- "Nordisk Filatelistisk Tidsskrift", Vol 12, 15 December 1933, pp
- "Perforated Initials" by George H Harnden, the "Weekly Philatelic
Gossip", 13 June, 1946, p 453.
- Homestead Hobbyist, No 3, February/March 1944. Publisher: Mr
- "A History of The Perfins Club - A Research Project" by Richard
L Mewhinney. June 1970.
- "Linn's Weekly Stamp News": 13 May 1943, Vol XVI, No 8, Whole
- "The History of British Security Stamps (Overprinted and
Underprinted)" by Charles Jennings. 1968. Published by the Security
Endorsement & Perfin Society of Great Britain - for Private
Circulation to Members. See also (11) and (12).
- "The American Philatelist", January 1960, Vol 73, No 4, p 257.
- "Handbook of British Perfins" by John S Nelson. 1967.
- "A History of J Sloper & Co's Stamp Security Service Through Five
Reigns" by Sloper & Co. 1939.