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
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
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
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