The Perforations Found in Victoria

The perforations found in Victoria form a complex and   fascinating study. It is an area of active research   on my part, and an area in which surprisingly little   has been published. The only major study, that I can   find, was published by Yardley way back in 1918. If   you are aware of any more recent studies, I’d   be interested in hearing about them.

For starters, it seems that there may have been as   many as a dozen different perforating machines used   in the colony, with many of those machines being repaired   or converted from line perforators to comb perforators   during the course of time. Each machine and each new   repair created distinctly different characteristics   – different holes sizes, different gauges, sharp   round holes, ragged irregular holes, line perforations,   comb perforations, and so on.

The intent here is not to provide a detailed analysis   of all those variations but, rather, an overview of   the basic evolution of the perforating types found.

The first stamps were all issued imperforate. The postal   clerks cut the stamps individually from the sheet using   scissors, or by other means. Certainly the vast majority   were separated from the sheet using scissors, but there   is evidence that, occasionally, the postal clerks folded   the sheets between the margins then ripped the sheet   to separate a column of stamps from the rest of the   sheet. These show the ragged edge associated with such   a technique. Still others were likely separated using   a sharp knife, and a few examples are known which appear   to have been separated using private, unofficial roulette   wheels or perforating machines.

The first official attempt to create a perforated stamp   occurred in the Fall of 1857, when the clerks at the   General Post Office in Melbourne were given a simple   rouletting device to assist in the separation of stamps.   The rouletter consisted of a simple axle with 7 discs   on it, evenly spaced to the width or height of a stamp.   Each of these discs had a sharp edge, similar to a modern   day pizza cutter, with a series of notches cut equidistantly   into the circumference of the disc. When these were   rolled over a sheet of stamps, it would slice through   the paper, leaving a trail of short cuts with remaining   tabs of uncut paper between each cut. Using this technique,   the roulette wheel did not completely separate the stamps,   but made it easy for a clerk to give a stamp a quick   pull and the remaining paper tabs would tear and the   stamp would release from the sheet. The discs on the   axle were held in place by a series of washers and nuts,   and some time and effort was required to disassemble   it and reassemble it with different spacing between   the discs. Since most stamps were rectangular in shape,   the clerks usually rouletted one way only, and used   scissors to complete the separation. As a result, these   early examples are typically found with roulettes along   the horizontal or along the vertical but generally not   both. There are exceptions, especially with the one   shilling octagon stamp, which, conveniently, was square.   Stamps rouletted by this machine gauge about 7.5 to   9, and are often found rouletted on one or two sides.   The roulettes have a characteristic wide `tooth’   between each cut of the rouletting wheel. Beware of   fakes, especially for the very scarce issues.

The following year, a contract was given to Calvert   to roulette all stamps prior to them being issued to   the post offices. He used a rouletting device that had   slightly different characteristics than the one issued   to the GPO. The discs on his machine left a much shorter   uncut tab, resulting in much finer `teeth’ when   pulled apart. As well, his contract required that the   stamps be rouletted on all 4 sides before being released   to postal officials. These differing characteristics   make it easy to separate Calvert's roulettes from those   done at the GPO.

Calvert experimented with three types of perforating   machines. In addition to the rouletter, eh also used   a serrated cutter that gauges about 18, and a serpentine   cutter that cut wavy lines gauging about 10-10.5. In   addition to the examples shown, there were also some   compound usages, with the serpentine cut along the top   ofr bottom and serrated on the other three sides.

There is an interesting side-story attached to this   phase of stamp development in Victoria. It appears that   Calvert was caught pawning some sheets of stamps, which   led to the termination of his contract with the government.   As a consequence of this, there was a brief period when   imperforate stamps once again appeared at post office   wickets.

The government intervened and hired F.W.Robinson to   be the official Stamp Printer for the colony and all   the associated tasks, such as perforating. Robinson   decided to replace the rouletting with the more efficient   perforating methods that had been adopted by many postal   authorities around the world. He purchased a line perforator   that gauged between 11.4 and 12. Despite the discrepancies,   all examples of this perforation are listed as perf   12 gauge. The machine was a simple stamping machine   with a row of wire pins and a steel plate bed with corresponding   holes to match the pins. A sheet of stamps was placed   on the bed, aligned so that the margins between two   rows or columns of stamps was in lines with the pins,   and a lever was depressed by a worker, punching one   row of perforations into the sheet. This process was   repeated to perforate between each row, then the sheet   was turned at right angles and the process repeated   to perforate between each of the columns. For a sheet   with 10 rows of 12, it required 24 separate steps to   perforate a single sheet. Often the workers misplaced   the sheet slightly resulting in badly off-centred stamps.   One can only imagine the tedium of perforating hundreds   of sheets and the opportunity for misplaced perforations.   Some examples are known with additional, corrective   lines of perforations – these are generally quite   scarce.

In 1864, Robinson purchased a new line perforating   machine which gauged 12.5 to 13. and for almost a year,   it was the only machine in use, at which time, it was   sent for repairs and the original perf 12 machine was   returned to duty. When the perf 13 machine came back,   both machines were used to keep up with the increasing   volumes of stamps being printed.

As stamp volumes increased, the perforating machines   suffered repeated breakdowns and repairs, creating a   complex study. A number of rare perforation varieties   emerged from this period, and special care must be taken   to properly identify these. To identify many of the   rare types, one must examine the characteristics of   the perforations as well as the gauge. Many examples   are improperly identified and many apparent rarities   are not what they appear to be.

Starting in the mid 1870s a new and improved type of   perforator first saw usage. Known as a comb-perforator,   it had the ability to perforate three sides of a stamp   in one operation. Instead of the previous single line   of perforating pins, these new machines were augmented   by a number of short rows of pins at right angles to   the long row. When depressed, the pins along the main   axis would punch the full length of a column on a stamp   sheet, and the short rows would punch the short distance   along the horizontal margins of one row in the sheet.   The number of operations required to perforate a sheet   of stamps was reduced by half. To accommodate these   machines the size of the normal postage stamps was standardized,   so that the vertical distance between the `comb’   rows on the perforating machines was always the same.   Stamps which did not fit this norm, still had to be   perforated using the line cutters. The example shown   above illustrates quite dramatically the effect that   occurred if the machine operator did not place the sheet   of stamps accurately before perforating – in this   example the perforations wander upwards and downwards   with each column on the sheet.

One of the characteristics of comb-perforated stamps   is that they are all exactly the same height, as the   spacing of the perforating pins was pre-determined at   the time of manufacture of the comb perforating machine.   Stamps that were comb-perforated are 24.5 mm tall. Here,   we see a comb-perforated stamp on the left, with another   example that was obviously line-perforated on the right.   This stamp had not been previously recorded as a line   perforated stamps until this example was found.

The combined usage of line perforating machines and   comb perforating machines continued until the end of   the colonial period. In the later years, the comb perforators   were used whenever possible, but some usage of the line   cutters, even on the standard sized stamps, is encountered   right to the end, with some examples being very rare.

Even with the comb perforating machines, it was still   possible to create a badly off-centred row of stamps.   It would appear that perforated sheets were inspected   prior to release, because the most obvious examples   of misaligned perforations were repaired. Usually this   was done using a line perforator to produce a new row   of perforations in the correct location. The stamps   affected are often found with two rows of perforations   along one or more margins. Extreme cases are found in   which 3 sides have a second row of perforations.

Some of the repaired stamps involved machines with   different gauges, known by collectors as mixed perforation   varieties. Many of these are extremely rare with only   a handful of known examples. In some instances, only   a single example is known.

An example of a mixed perforation pair is illustrated   above. This pair was comb-perforated but did not pass   inspection, and was subsequently perforated again with   a line perforator to add another column of perforations   to better center the stamps. The added line perforation   gauges 11, while the original comb perforator gauged   the standard 12 horizontally and 12.5 vertically. Most   such examples of mixed perforations are rare, and this   example is no exception.

If you have any unsolved puzzles or new findings relating   to the perforations of Victoria, I’d like to hear   from you – it is an area of special interest to   me

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