The 1880-83 Line Perforations Gauging 12.

In the late 1870's there were a number of perforation machines in use at the post offices printing facilities. Two of them were line perforation machines gauging just under 12.  One of these was the original machine introduced in 1859 when perforations were first attempted in Victoria. The second was purchased in 1871.  In late 1879, they were both withdrawn from service for repairs and when they were returned to service in 1880, they displayed a new and distinctively different perforation pattern.  The stamps that were perforated on these refitted machines are easily recognized, but often incorrectly identified

The two refitted perforation 12 machines were used to puncture sheets from a number of printings from 1880 until 1883 when they were finally retired for good.  Their use was extensive on some issues, but very sparing on others, resulting in some of the rarest perforation varieties to be found in Victoria.  These rarities often command top prices on the market yet, regrettably, some examples are not properly identified.  Proper identification is easy, once the visual clues are known.  The following is a brief guide.

Both scans show the top portion of 1d Bell design stamps line perforated 12. The stamp in the top scan was perforated prior to 1880.  The stamp in the bottom scan was perforated after the machines were refitted with new pins.

The Characteristics:

  1. Both examples shown have a perforation gauge less than 12. This is a key characteristic to note when measuring the perforations used in Victoria.  Stamps perforated with the line perforation 12 machines never measure more than 12. Over the years, I've encountered numerous examples that were mis-described on this point.  Stamps which are close to 12, but more than 12 are often assumed to be perf 12, but they're not. The line perforation machines that gauged 13 can actually measure from 12.2 to more than 13.  The manufacturers of the early perforating machines did not concern themselves with maintaining perfectly consistent spacing of the pins - as a result, the actual perforation gauge can vary, depending on the position of the stamp along the line of perforating pins. Stamps, identified as perforation 12, can vary from about 11.6 to about 11.9.  The scans above show a 2cm length on the actual stamps.  Since the perforation gauge is defined as the number of perforations in 2 centimetres, it follows that a simple perforation count on the above scans will yield the perforation gauge of these two respective stamps.  In both cases, the measurement is just shy of 12.  In other words, both stamps are perforation 12.
  2. Prior to the refit in 1880, the perforating pins were of a smaller diameter. They punched smaller holes and, therefore, left wider paper tabs (often referred to as teeth) between the perforation holes when the stamps were separated. In the top scan, the teeth appear to be about as wide as the perforation holes. During the refit and repair process, much thicker pins were installed. The result is clear when you compare the two scans. In the refitted machines, the perforation holes are much larger, creating pointed teeth. There is no flattened top to the teeth. The perforation pattern looks like the teeth on a cross-cut saw. This distinctive pattern is the signature of the line perf 12’s of the early 1880s.

The distinctive characteristics of the post-1880 line perf 12 can be seen in these scans. On the left, is a 1d Bell with the small-holes seen in the pre-1880 line perf 12, with a large-hole example beside it (dated Dec 20, 1880). In the center, is a copy of the small-hole 2d Bell beside a large-hole example (see the obvious differences in the perfs along the bottom edge). At the right is the very rare 2d Naish brown, with large-hole perfs on paper watermarked V2. With some practice, the large-hole perfs will become obvious on the page – the perforation gauge will be used only to verify your observations .

Notes and Observations:

Some post-1880 issues with the large-hole perf 12's are quite rare, while others are quite common.  In cases where printings started before the refit of the perforation machines and continued after their return to service, examples can be found with both types of perforation (small-hole & large-hole). Here are some of my observations to date. (perforation 12 is assumed)

  • I have examples of the ˝d Bell design in rosine perforated 12 with small-holes and also large-holes, indicating some perforations were done prior to 1880. This would seem to contradict the SG catalog which states the rosine shade was introduced in 1880.
  • I have the 1d Bell in yellow green with both types of perfs. Of my inventory of 400+ examples of the 1d Bell stamp, there are 7 examples watermarked V1 with large-hole perf 12, and just one example on V2 paper (unpriced in SG).
  • I have the 2d Bell (Die II only) with both types of perfs. I examined about 300 die II examples (of all perf types), and found just 2 examples with the large-hole perf 12.
  • The 2d Naish with large-hole perf 12 is a recognized rarity. In the brown shades, Kellow suggests that 20 examples may exist on paper watermarked V1 and a mere six examples may exist on paper watermarked V2. In the later mauve shades, one example with mixed perf 12 ˝ and 12 is recorded, and one example line perf 12 on all sides is recorded on piece.
  • The only 3d printing with the large-hole perforations is the Laureate printing of December 1880 in dull orange-yellow (sg143c). Kellow states this is a very rare stamp, and SG does not price it. To date, I have located just one example.
  • The 4d Laureates continued being printed beyond 1880 in bright lilac-rose and rosine shades and they are quite commonly found with the large-hole perf 12s.
  • The only 6d Laureate printing with the large-hole perf 12 is the light blue printing of April 1881 on paper wmk V1. The distinctive perfs are a unique attribute for identifying this printing. My experience suggests this is a much scarcer stamp than the catalogs might indicate, having found only one among my 250+ examples of the 6d Laureate on V1 paper.
  • The 8d Laureate, both wmk V1 and wmk 10, can be found with the large-hole perforations – they are fairly common.
  • The 1/ Bell with these perfs is also fairly common.
  • The 5/ Laureate (die II only) is often found with the large-hole perf 12.
  • A number of Statute and Duty printings are found with these perforations, but are beyond the scope of this review.


    1. G. Kellow: 1990, The Stamps of Victoria, B&K Philatelic Publishing, Melbourne
    2. G. Kellow: 1988: A Subject Index for Victorian Philately, RPSV, Melbourne
    3. R.B.Yardley, 1918, ‘Notes on the Later Issues of Victoria, particularly with regard to the Perforations and Watermarks’ London Philatelist


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