The Story about the SPIFS and PERFINs

Stamps Perforated by Initials of Firms and Society's

PERForated INitials

"The First Edition"

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This article must not be published without permission from the author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 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 publications.


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 <>, 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 questions.

The litterature I have consulted is:

  1. 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 <> (This is the old address as the STAMPS list moved on 25 March 1996 to, wrote:

"Peter Giffen of Australia published a monograph "Perfins of British Malaya" 1989.....
Cited biblio in the monograph:

  1. F.H. Vallencey - British Stamps Perforated With Firms' Initials. 1948.
  2. John S. Nelson - Handbook of British Perfins. 1967.
  3. Charles Jennings - History of British Security Stamps (Overprinted and Underprinted). 1968.
Furthermore, I have also consulted:
  1. A History of J. Sloper & Co's Stamp Security Service Through Five Reigns. By Sloper & Co. 1939.
  2. 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 before.


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 impractical.
    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.
Endwood Drive
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).

Any comments?


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 "PERFINs".

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 article: "Holes"."

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 rec.collecting.postal-history: "Careful stamp scholars usually note that Perfin is the acronym of Perforated Insignia, since initials are not the only permissible symbols...."
    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 greatly appreciated!

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 the perforations.
    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 your consideration.

I have the honour to be, Sirs,
   Your most obedient humble servant.
     Joseph Sloper

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 stamps:
"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

Danish PERFINs
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 January 1877.

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" from 1877.
    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 stated:

"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.

Author's Remarks:
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:

"Perforated Insignia
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 Language says:
    "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.

  1. badges, emblems, or other distinguishing marks of office or honor; as, the _insignia_ of an order of knighthood.
  2. marks, signs, or visible impressions by which anything is know or distinguished."

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 ( 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 was given."

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."

South Australia
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 sold.

(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:

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.

Western Australia
(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 otherwise damaged

The Commonwealth Post Office Guide issued in August 1903 states on page 205:
"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 pence."

The 1983 Postal Guide, as amended in Jan 1991, states:
"1.25 Perforation of postage stamps

  1. Customers may obtain approval to perforate postage stamps with letters, figures or designs. Australia Post does not arrange for stamps to be perforated.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 Australia Post."

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 this part.

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 1945."

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: 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:  
Art Mongan
Bob de Violini
Choy Heng-Wah
David T Tilton
Greg Ioannou
Hans Karman
Joseph Coulbourne
Ken Lawrence
Michael Meadowcroft
Michael D Dixon
Peter Schmelter
Ray McNaughton
Rodney Knight
Steven McLachlan
Wesley Shellen

David Hill
Kim Bjarnt

The British PERFIN Society
The Danish Perfin Society
and last, but absolutely not least, my friend Bob Track (, for his valuable help in proof-reading the articles in this series.

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.
Toke Nørby


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
John Mathews
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,
Bloomfield, ON,
K0K 1G0,

PERFIN Samlerklubben
Kaj Mathiessen (
Lærkevangen 40
DK-5210 Odense NV
Phone: +45 66 16 27 24

Michael Meadowcroft has informed me about:

ANCOPER (Association Nationale des Collectionneurs de Timbres Perfores)
M Janot
4 Rue des Capucins
92190 Meudon

M Herbert
90 Avenue de Paris
78000 Versailles

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
D-25497 Prisdorf

The ArGe has issued a comprehensive catalogue on German Perfins (Der Deutschen Firmenlochungen).

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
Postbus 3052
5003 DB Tilburg
The Netherlands
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
Jackie Ryan,
301 S Hine Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53188,

The Perfins Club
Editor: John Lyding (

Foreign Catalog Editor
Floyd Walker (
P O Box 82
Grandview, Missouri


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 <>, 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 <>, 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 <> 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 "perforations"."

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?) note 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" (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 coined.

November 1933
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 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 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, Otselic, N.Y."

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!!

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" (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 advertisement:

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

Mewhinney continues:
"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 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 collectors.

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!
Toke Nørby



  1. Files of Mr Richard L Mewhinney.
  2. "American Boy Magazine", February 1909.
  3. "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.
  4. "Nordisk Filatelistisk Tidsskrift", Vol 12, 15 December 1933, pp 253-254.
  5. "Perforated Initials" by George H Harnden, the "Weekly Philatelic Gossip", 13 June, 1946, p 453.
  6. Homestead Hobbyist, No 3, February/March 1944. Publisher: Mr Hallock Card.
  7. "A History of The Perfins Club - A Research Project" by Richard L Mewhinney. June 1970.
  8. "Linn's Weekly Stamp News": 13 May 1943, Vol XVI, No 8, Whole Number 758.
  9. "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).
  10. "The American Philatelist", January 1960, Vol 73, No 4, p 257.
Two other recommendable books:
  1. "Handbook of British Perfins" by John S Nelson. 1967.
  2. "A History of J Sloper & Co's Stamp Security Service Through Five Reigns" by Sloper & Co. 1939.


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