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There seems to be a trend now to ignore the perforations of a stamp
when identifying it. That may work well for some foreign stamps but for
the United States Issues the perfs are a major factor in distinguishing
varieties that can have a dramatic effect on a stamp's value. It's also a
tool used in detecting fakes. Any collector should have a good working
knowledge of perfs, so we'll spend a little time here on the issue.

To begin, at first glance it would seem to be a difficult task to learn about
perfs. We are more than confident that after you have read this article
you'll be able to determine the perf of "ANY" stamp in the world.
PERFORATION, PERFS:  The simplified definition is the rows of holes
between stamps that enable easy separation of stamps.

All perforations are measured against the same standard throughout the
world. This standard is a distance of 20 millimeters (which may be all or
part of a stamp depending on its size), and the number of holes (teeth)
provided within that distance of 20 millimeters is the "count" or, as we
say, the "gauge" of the perforation. In order to calculate this
measurement we'll need a "Perforation Gauge" and believe me there are
many out there, so depending upon your specific needs and of course
budget you can start with the most common and inexpensive one;
This one can be found in Cardboard, Plastic and Metal

And then, of course, we can always go hi-tech and spend half of our life's
savings (actually about $400.00) and get one like this;
There are also a number of computer generated programs out there that
can accept a scan of a stamp and return an accurate perf gauge. When
we find ourselves confused we rely upon the EZGrader by SoftPro to
help us out. Alright, if you want to get more information on their
products, and we use quite a few of them, here's the plug
just click here
and we'll take you to their site. We don't sell their products or receive
any commission if you buy from them, we are just impressed with how
easy their products are to use along with the accuracy that we want to
When perfs are referenced in any catalog the horizontal perforation
gauge is given first, and then the vertical. We'll use the US 1575 stamp
as an example the perfs are 11 x 10½ which would mean that the perf
gauge across the top and bottom is 11 and the sides are 10½ had the
perfs been listed as one number such as 11 then all sides would have a
perf gauge of 11.

Now that your well on your way to being able to calculate the perf
gauge, just like in most aspects of stamp collecting there's more.
Throwing in a few nice to know tidbits along the way, we'll discuss the
different types of perforations.

Shortly after the first stamps were issued by Great Britain in 1840, the
idea of separating each stamp from the other by means of rows of small
holes between the rows of stamps was introduced. Legend has it that a
man had purchased some of England's first stamps and, under the
influence of drink, sat on the curb where he produced a pin and began
to poke pin holes between his stamps so that he could tear them apart.
The idea worked so well that he took his stamps back to the Post Office
and pointed out his great discovery. Later, it is related, the British
Government provided this gentleman with a substantial sum of money
for his invention. There seems to be some evidence that something of
this nature actually took place.

In this day of collecting it is somewhat difficult to understand why so
much emphasis is placed on the different gauges of perforation. The
fact remains that for United States stamps, which have been perforated
by machines producing various gauges of perforations, there is often
an enormous difference in value running from a few cents to as much
as several hundred dollars for what, for all intents and purposes, is the
identical stamp except for the gauge of the perforation.

Now let us take into consideration the various kinds of perforations and
the methods by which they are applied to stamps.

The original perforating machine, one that is still in common use for the
stamps of some countries, is the "comb" perforator. As the name
implies, this is an instrument shaped like a comb. The pins that do the
perforating are arranged in a long row to fit the width of the sheet of
stamps and the extensions of shorter rows of prongs are arranged so
as to fall between each stamp, like this:
Stamps in sheets are stacked in quantity and the comb is punched
through the top row. Then the comb is moved to the next row and so
on. The comb does not always line up exactly with the preceding row so
that this style of perforation can often be identified in any vertical pair
of stamps.
Usually the punches, or prongs, that make the perforations are round in
shape. They need not be, however, and sometimes they are oblong, or
lozenge, in shape or perhaps some other shape. Collectors refer to
these odd shapes as "hyphen hole" perfs., or "Lozenge" perfs., and
"square" perfs.

Modern perforating machines, as used in the production of United
States stamps, are sprocket wheel punches which punch continuous
rows of holes between the stamps. When the stamps are produced on
rotary presses in a continuous strip, the sprockets are small wheels
that make a continuous row of perforations in one direction. Then, a
little further along on the machine, the sprockets are on a long shaft
running the complete width of the sheet to produce the cross row of
perforations at each turn of the wheel. Naturally this is a complicated
device requiring careful coordination with the printed stamps so that
the rows of holes will fall at exactly the correct place between the
stamps. Nowadays this coordination is accomplished electrically by
what collectors call the "electric eye".
Photo by Bureau of Engraving
and Printing Electric eye
All true perforations actually remove some of the paper and leave
holes. (Incidentally, these tiny pieces of paper that are removed from
the stamps produced in the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in
Washington, D. C., amount to many tons of waste a year and are sold as
such at a good profit to the Government.) When no paper is actually
removed, but, instead, slits or pricks in the paper are made, they are
referred to by collectors as "roulettes". Roulettes are made in a variety
of shapes running from plain slits to arcs and serpentine shapes. All
have names to collectors and all are easily identifiable as the names
describe the shapes. Roulettes may be measured the same as

Most all current United States postage stamps are now produced by
machines that provide the standard "Perf. 11 x 10 1/2". (The horizontal
top side of the stamp is always given first, followed by the right side,
and then, if necessary, the bottom, when indicating compound

Well there you have a pretty good idea of what stamp perforations are,
of course this is not all inclusive, there are many that specialize, and
were not one of them, in the art of determining perforations. The
information contained should suffice for most collectors.

I hope you have found this article helpful and should you have any
questions or comments, please let us from our
Contact Us page.