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Holes in Stamps That Are A-OK

Stamp collectors do not like stamps with imperfections, such as holes, but there is an exception and that is for stamps that purposefully have had holes punched in them, so-called "perfins"


According to Wikipedia, "a perfin is a stamp that has had initials or a name perforated across it to discourage theft. The name is a contraction of 'perforated initials' or 'perforated insignia'."


There is a philatelic organization in the US devoted to perfins named, not surprisingly, The Perfins Club. Its website provides this succinct explanation of perfins in the US:


Used mainly from 1908 (i) until the 1950's, perfins were commonly used in an attempt to discourage theft of stamps by company employees. Perfins originated in England where, unlike the U.S., one could take unused postage back to the post office and redeem it for cash. In 1868, when they were first allowed use on postage, a penny stamp was a fairly significant amount to a company junior clerk making perhaps 5 - 10 pence per week. A stamp with a perfin in it could not be redeemed. The use of perfins at least moderated theft from the company because, at least in theory, the post office would not accept perfin mail from anyone but the firm that had ownership. But, of course, there were always ways around the system and letters did get sent. At minimum, it prevented an employee from reselling discounted postage. The wide spread use of postage meters beginning in the 1940's and permit indicia virtually ended the practice of using perfins. (i)


Hundreds of companies in the US embraced the use of perfins, each with its own combination of letters, numbers, or in some cases, a shape or image (e.g., a triangle or an anchor). The Perfin Society has cataloged the many variations, and you can view all the varieties on covers at this link.


I'm not a collector of perfins, but I did acquire at an auction in early 2023 one perfin stamp and 12 covers with perfins, which sparked my interest in this type of collectible.


The stamp in Figure 1 is a run-of-the-mill definitive from 1954 - US Scott 1036a depicting Abraham Lincoln. You can see the perfin pattern in the upper lefthand and upper middle pictures of Figure 1; the pattern is much more obvious from the back of the stamp.


The ability to scan a stamp and then annotate, rotate and change the color of the scan makes it much easier to figure out what the pattern stands for. That's what I did in the upper righthand image and the two images in the bottom row of Figure 1. Once I figured out the symbols - what appeared to be a "G" and an "E" - I then went through the "G" perfin patterns on the website noted above, and voilà, I figured out that "GE" stood for "General Electric" and was pattern G072, probably variation G072-2A.


Of the 12 covers I picked up at auction, I am highlighting five in this blog: a relatively early usage from 1912 (Figure 2); a Canadian perfin (Figures 3 and 4); a likely illegal or fraudulent use of a perfin (Figures 5 and 6); and two covers (Figures 7 and 8) typical of the others I acquired. On each cover is superimposed a black-and-white image of the stamp with the perfin outlined in red.


(i) See Postal Bulletin of April 9, 1908 (Vol29_Issue8571_19080409.pdf (uspostalbulletins.com) for a Postmaster General order that permitted the use of perfins in the US.


Figure 1 - General Electric ("GE") perfin (pattern G072-2A) on US Scott 1036a issued in 1954.

Figure 2 - Baltimore & Ohio ("B&O") Railroad perfin (pattern B278) on US Scott 332 or 375 (depending on watermark). Postmarked March 16, 1912, in Cincinnati, OH on B&O Southwestern Railroad Co. cover to Olney, IL. Recipient was A. Louis Odor (1847-1917), a stockbroker.

Figure 3 - Canadian Pacific Railroad ("CPR") perfin (pattern unknown) on Canada Scott 219. Postmarked October 7, 1935, in Victoria, British Columbia on a CPR Empress Hotel cover to Oakland, CA. Recipient was Theodore Henry Lachelt (1899-1991), a travel agent.

Figure 4 - Back of cover depicted in Figure 3.

Figure 5 - Chicago Northwestern ("C" wrapped around "NW") Railroad perfin (pattern C235) on US Scott 837. Postmarked October 11, 1938, in San Francisco, CA on private envelope to Pacific Telephone & Telegraph in Oakland.

Figure 6 - Back of cover shown in Figure 5. Return address was a business address belonging to Ruby Vera (Seifert) Waterman (1892-1978), a corsetier, with no obvious connection to the railroad business, thus the conclusion that this is an example of an illegal or fraudulent use of a perfin.

Figure 7 - Western Pacific ("WP") Railroad perfin (pattern W154) on US Scott 742 (Mt. Rainier issue, which is apropos to the Western Pacific). Postmarked December 19, 1934, in Seattle, WA on Western Pacific cover to Oakland. Recipient was John Henry Coupin (1891-1973) who was a General Agent, Freight Department ("G.A.F.D.") for the Western Pacific. Mr. Coupin was highlighted in the June 1956 issue of the Western Pacific's employee magazine called Mileposts when he retired after 46 years of service.

Figure 8 - Missouri Pacific Lines ("MP/RR") perfin (pattern M211) on US Scott 852 (Golden Gate Internal Exposition commemorative). Postmarked June 16, 1939, in San Francisco, CA (the exhibition was taking place at this time, but this cover was not postmarked there) on a Missouri Pacific Lines cover to Oakland. Recipient was Edward Chester Sparver (1889-1962), a World War I veteran (air service) and insurance agent.





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