Almost as soon as techniques for printing a sheet of stamps were developed, a need for separating individual stamps from each other also arose. The history of postage stamps demonstrates a wide range of techniques for separating stamps: various blades, paper cutters, scissors, rouletters, sewing machines, pounce wheels and eventually various forms of the pin-hole perforator. The separation of stamps on today’s die-cut, self-adhesive postage stamp sheets produce a similar effect to earlier serpentine rouletting techniques.
For most stamp artists, there are no inexpensive new perforators on the market today. Used models surface on rare occasions. Various alternatives are out there though. I bought a pair of Fiskars “Stamp” edge trimmers for testing. They work okay, especially for one-offs. Olfa and Fiskars also make acceptable inexpensive blades for rouletting. I have attempted to convince the folks at Fiskars to manufacture a stamp blade for their rotary cutter, so we can use it to easily perforate a sheet of stamps. I'm also trying to get them to further reduce the size of the perforations (serpentine blade curves) to more closely resemble small USPS stamp perforations (or at least the die-cuts).... the blades they currently offer produce “perforations” that are a little large in comparison.
It is not absolutely essential that you perforate your stamps. There is an early history of stamps that are designated as imperforate (straight cut - no perforations), and some of today’s souvenir sheets do not have any separation at all. Beyond functionality however, perforations tend to add a bit of a fancy border to a small piece of artwork, to which most people can easily relate on an aesthetic level.
I have an old floor model and a couple desk-top perforators. I belong to a group of artistamp producers. We have all helped each other locate perforators in the past. Although they are difficult to find, I’ve found several dozen over the years for others in the group. The point is, they are out there, so get the word out if you want one, but in the meantime, try the low cost approach. Don’t be fooled into buying one of the new products in the office supply stores that clais to be a perforator. They are no more than a small pounce wheel on a shaft and these machines can be very expensive for something that just “pierces” paper.
There are a few concerns who offer perforating services now. They have earned good reputations for dependable quality service. For those of you who may want to consider offering perforating services for others, there are electric models out there that can be reasonably priced, especially if you intend to recover the costs associated with purchase and transporting.
Much of the following background information has been extracted from a non-copyrighted book titled “Basic Philately - THE ART AND CRAFT OF STAMP MAKING”. by L.N. & M. Williams, LINK HOUSE PUBLICATIONS * LINK HOUSE * STORE STREET * LONDON
THE METHODS used in separating stamps have become a philatelic study, but there was a time, many years ago, when collectors had to decide whether to consider perforated and imperforate specimens of the same stamp as distinct varieties or not. In the early days of stamp collecting there were two schools of thought: the English and the French. It was the French school, with the insistence on the study of stamps in their original state, paying heed to shades, watermarks and perforations, which eventually prevailed and thus laid the foundations of philately as it is known today
The perforation of the space between stamps as an aid to separation was first suggest by Henry Archer, an Irishman. Although he designed a machine to carry his suggestion into effect, there must be some doubt whether he actually invented the process of perforation, or even was the first to apply it to paper. It has been said that he was inspired with the idea of perforating stamps through gazing at a perforated sun-blind, but whether this is true or not cannot now be determined.
It was in 1847 that Archer wrote to the Postmaster-General making his suggestion, and not long afterwards experiments were carried out on the perforating machine. As Archer had no knowledge of machinery he was obliged to enlist the services of a London firm of engineers. The experiments took several years, and it was not until 1854 that the first perforated stamps were put on general sale throughout the country, but before then some of the sheets of stamps which had been perforated experimentally were issued at post offices mostly in the west of England.
There are three main kinds of perforations so far as philatelists are concerned: comb, line and harrow. The chief component of a perforating machine is a row or a number of rows of perforating pins, which in action descend on the paper and cut into it. The exact arrangement of the pins determine the kind of perforation.
A comb perforator has a long row of pins with short rows running at right angles to it, and the distance between the short rows is equal to the space occupied by a stamp. One stroke of a machine of this kind has the effect of a comb with widely spaced teeth. In operation a comb perforator cuts along one row of stamps after another, beginning, say, at the top of the sheet and ending beneath the bottom row. In this way, three sides of a stamp are perforated at one stroke; the next stroke perforates the fourth side, which, of course, is also one side of the stamp beneath, and that stamp is perforated also on two more sides by the same (second) stroke. Row after row is perforated until the last row is reached, and then an extra stroke is made so that the bottom of the row is perforated as well; this entails perforating the margin of the sheet.
There are variations of the comb perforator, and one, known as a triple comb, is used to perforate the current stamps of Great Britain. A triple comb machine perforates two complete rows and three sides of the third row at one stroke. Comb perforated stamps have even. sides and regular, well-formed corners.
A line machine usually contains a single row of pins. In action it perforates one row of stamps at a time, beginning at the top and working down to the bottom; then the sheet is turned sideways and again perforated row after row. In this way the vertical and horizontal or perforation cross each other and produce the characteristic whereby line perforated stamps can be recognized, namely by their uneven corners. One corner may have too much paper attached to it whereas another may be short and stumpy. Rotary perforation, as used in the United States of America, is a development of line perforation, the pins being fixed to the wheels which perforate as they rotate.
Harrow perforation is a term applied to sheets which are perforated at one stroke. Individual specimens have even corners and cannot be distinguished from comb perforated stamps, but the margins of the sheets are usually imperforate on all sides.
Apart from these three main classes, perforation can be either rough or clean cut. In rough perforation the holes are ragged and have scraps of surplus paper adhering to them, whereas in clean cut perforation the holes are sharply cut out and are free of paper. Some of the early line engraved stamps of the British Colonies printed by Perkins, Bacon & Co. are found with rough perforation, because the machines were subjected to so much use that the beds into which the pins descended became clogged up with paper, and they could not cut into the sheets of stamps deeply enough to punch out the holes cleanly.
An unusual method of separation has been used in Holland and is know as interrupted perforation. The sides of the stamps are perforated with four holes followed by an imperforate space equivalent to two holes, then comes four holes again, and so on, with variations. The object of this method is to lend greater strength to the sides of stamps which are used in coils for automatic vending machines.
Philatelists measure perforations by the number of holes occurring in the space of 2 centimeters. This method was devised by Dr. Jacques Amable Legrand, an early French collector, who published what he called an odontometre in 1866. The odontometre was almost identical with the present day perforation gauge, consisting of a number of rows of equally spaced black dots, each succeeding row containing one dot or half a dot more than the row beneath.
When measuring perforations collectors usually measure the top of a stamp first, then the right hand side, followed by the bottom and finally the left hand side. A perforation is expressed in figures either with or without multiplication signs. For example, a stamp indicated as perf. 12 would have twelve holes in 2 centimeters along all sides. If the perforation were 12 X 11 it would mean that there were 12 holes in 2 centimeters at the top and bottom and 11 at each side. Sometimes the gauge differs on all sides, and would be expressed as, for example, 12 X 9 X 11 X 10 1/2, this being known as a compound perforation.
Most commercial perforation gauges have rows of dots ranging between 7 and 16, and this is adequate for most stamps, as very few have perforations outside that scale. However, some Turkish issues of 1868 were perforated 5, and an experimental perforation used in 1954 on Austria's first issue gauged 18 1/2.
WHEN HENRY Archerbegan his experiments on methods of separating stamps, he made some trials with rouletting before deciding to concentrate solely on perforation. The stamps he rouletted were the 1d. red of Great Britain, first issued in 1841. Theses stamps were printed from plates 70 and 71, and no doubt Archer bought the stamps in an ordinary way at the post office; his experiments on them were carried out in 1848.
In rouletting, the margins between stamps are cut instead of having holes punched out of them, in other words, no pins descend into the sheet of stamps and remove paper. Although perforation can, in a sense, be considered a more modern development than rouletting, the older method has been used, and even preferred, by a number of countries for their stamps.
There are many more different types of rouletting than there are of perforation. The simplest kind is known as the line roulette, or, to give it its French name which is used sometimes in philately, perce en lignes. This is the type used by Archer, and it has been employed by New Zealand, Mexico, the North German Confederation, and other countries. A series of short straight cuts is made in the paper, and the edges of stamps treated this way are almost straight, showing only slight traces of the cuts.
Not very different from line rouletting is colored rouletting, or perce en lignes de couleur. In this method the rouletting is done at the time when the stamps are printed. Notched rules are set up in the margins between the stamps, and the raised part of the rules pierce the paper during printing, leaving a colored mark, the same hue as the stamp, when it does so. Line rouletting is done usually after the stamps are printed. Stamps rouletted in color include the latter issues of Thurn and Taxis.
The early stamps of Finland were serpentine rouletted (pierce en serpentine), that is to say, a broken wavy line was cut between the stamps and when they were separated the edges had a serpentine appearance. One of the disadvantages of this method is that, as the paper was considerably weakened it was inclined to tear, and some of the "teeth" would become detached; that is why perfect specimens of the Finnish stamps, having all the roulettes intact, are rarely seen.
The simplest kind of rouletting is perce en points. This consists of a row of small round punctures in the paper, and is commonly but incorrectly referred to as pin perforation; as none of the paper is removed pin rouletting is the proper term. Paper run through a sewing machine would be rouletted in this way. Comparatively few stamps exist pin rouletted, but among them are the 1860 issue of Barbados and some stamps of the Indian Native States.
There is a similarity in the appearance of the edges of stamps which have been zig-zag rouletted and saw-tooth rouletted. Both types result in "teeth" at the edges, but whereas the zig-zag "teeth" are usually sharply pointed, those of the saw-tooth variety are often rather blunt and the stamps are inclined to separate badly, so that the "teeth" like those in serpentine rouletting, become torn. Zig-zag rouletting, known as perce en pointes (note the difference between this and the term for pin rouletting), was used on the Queensland 1d. of 1889, and is found both plain and in color. Saw-tooth rouletting was used on the 1861 issue of Bremen, and an issue of La Guaira for mail carried by ship between that port, Saint Thomas and Porto Cabello.
Perce en arc, or arc rouletting, is the term applied to a series of short semi-circular cuts which give a stamp almost the appearance of having been perforated, but the teeth can be seen on close examination, to have pointed instead of jagged ends. The last stamps of Brunswick, issued in 1864, were rouletted by this method.
A rarely used kind of rouletting is perce en croix, or lozenge roulette. The only instance of the use of this type which comes to mind is in the early stamps of Portugal used in Madeira, the cuts are in the form of rows of small crosses, which produce rather jagged edges when the stamps are torn apart. Another very infrequently employed type is oblique rouletting, or perce en lignes obliques, consisting of short slanting cuts parallel to each other. In order to find an instance of this species on has to turn to the issues of Tasmania between 1864 and 1870. At that period a number of local experiments with rouletting and perforation were being carried out, the oblique roulette being one of them.
A few perforating tips
I have an older manual Rosback floor model perforator on which most of my stamps are perforated. I enjoy creating stamps... more than perforating them. But over the course of about two decades, I've learned how to speed the process and produce nicely perforated stamps. I am not one of those people who believe that every perforation needs to be exactly centered. In the real world of philately, most all of the early manually perforated sheets of stamps demonstrate the human hand at work and those results make collecting stamps a bit more fun... no robots or laser control yet (or die-cuts).
I can now find my perforation marks for a new stamp design and start actual perforating, in less than five minutes. Anyhow, to each his/her own. Here are a few perforation tips for those who do not use rulers and printed alignment marks.
1. Put lights on both sides of the perforation table so you can properly see your work. Snake lights are cheap when on sale.
2. Plant your left or right foot on a mark and keep it there the entire time you perf, every time you perf. The relative distance of your body from the perforator desktop can easily make a difference in visual alignment, so you don't want to vary it too much. You should find positions that allow you to comfortably depress the foot pedal with good leverage.
3. Maintain a constant posture... don't bend down or stand straighter than a normal comfortable position... varying your eye level/distance on any axis will change the geometry and hence, your perforation alignment.
4. Once you find a comfortable position to maintain, you can determine your perforation line offset. This is necessary because you can not actually see the pins perforate the paper... only the results.
Draw a straight line across a sheet of paper using a ruler. While standing in the position most comfortable for you, slide the sheet of paper into the pin assemble unit until the drawn line on the paper just disappears from your view. Holding the paper steady (press the paper to the tabletop), perforate a line of holes. Take the paper out and measure the distance between the drawn line and the perforations.
This is your offset. It should be a constant (unless you experience a growth spurt). My offset is about 1/4 inch. Yours may be more or less. This will be your offset as measured from the center of the gutter between your stamps. Practice... draw lines down the center of your gutter. Using your offset distance, measure from your gutter center line and draw another line through the stamps on your test sheet ... Slide the paper in until the second line just barely disappears. Perforate and see how close you get to the center of your gutter.
You will not be using measured marks to perforate, but instead, you will find design elements in your stamps that are close to your offset distance. If you have consistently laid out your stamps on the sheet, then you will be able to use the same design element alignment to perforate.
The next time you try your perforation test, notice where design marks on your stamps just disappear. You will get good at picking out parts of your stamps to use as perforation guides. You will need to find four design marks for the four different orientations of your stampsheet. You’ll quickly see why, as you’ll need to rotate the paper to perforate the last row both vertically and horizontally.
5. If you use this method of eyeballing your perfs instead of using printed alignment marks, use a test stampsheet and write down notes to yourself where those design element marks are. I usually print one in black and white. Try to find design elements within the stamps that you can use for alignment and make notes... draw arrows and such. Keep the test sheet for future reference if you want to perf more of the same stamp.
6. If you have an older perforator, the pins most likely are not in new condition. Hanging chads can be overcome by using one or two backing sheets (recycled paper) when you perforate... this should give you clean perforations on your stamp sheet. If you use a test sheet to find your marks, use the same number of backing sheets as you would normally use to perforate your stamps, as the thickness of the paper can affect visual alignment.
7. If you perf more than one stamp sheet at a time, try to align the pages by holding them up to a light source... printer paper feed can easily vary print position from page to page. After you make a couple perf lines, the pages will usually stay together in alignment. I suggest one sheet at a time for beginners.
8. When you perforate, do so by pulling the paper towards you after each perf, that way it's easier to check the results of your last perf line, and make adjustments if necessary.
9. Don't worry about it too much. You will get into a Zen kind of thing after awhile. Occasional straying from center demonstrates the human aspect of your work... and keeps the gods from grumbling about those who strive for perfection.
10. Document your work. There might be other, perhaps more compelling reasons to keep samples of your work. For anyone who views their artwork as a process, time is always a factor. If you intend to grow, you need to be able to see your work over a period of time that will allow valid conclusions. It's important to see when change has happened, and how it affects (has affected) your work. You can't do that without evidence of that change. When we create, we typically are too caught up in the moment to reflect upon the similar or unique processes that most all of us experience. I went through a long period without documenting anything, but am getting better at it.
Finding a Perforator
Here’s a few searching tips. You may be frustrated at first, but it will get easier, especially if you take notes. I have a Windows, IE system. Yours may be different, but attempt to find the alternate toolset that is available for you.
Select a search engine to find "used postpress perforator" (add UK if you want to refine the search) or "used printing equipment" or “used letterpress”
Click on one of the links supplied by the search engine
Once you are at a site, copy and paste the url onto your notepad page to keep notes of anything of interest
If the website has a search function, use it, as that's the fastest way to search their entire site, otherwise you will have to search page by page. To page search, while at the website, look for categories: postpress or sometimes (rarely) bindery and finishing or miscellaneous
Once in postpress, you may see a perforating/scoring category, if so, click on it. If not, then just use the page search to quick search through all the entries on individual pages
To page search, in IE, from the top menu, select Edit > Search on this page
For English language searches, enter "perf" (without the quotes) in the search criteria box. Click on the "next" button to the right of the search criteria. This will highlight all instances of "perf" on the page. You will probably get instances of "perfect" or "perfecta" or "perfector", but by entering "perf" you will get instances of abbreviated "perforator" or "perforating" or "perfer" or misspelled "perforater" or "perferator"
Scroll down the page and quickly scan for anything that relates to perforators
If you do not see anything of interest, click on the "next page" button (if there are multiple pages)
Click once again on the "next" button for your search criteria to highlight any instances on "perf" on the page (the search box will remain near the top of the page so you don't have to call it from the menu repeatedly)
scroll through the page
Important: If while searching, you find a company that carries perforators, write to them and let them know what you want... manual pin-hole perforator for those who do not want electric... tabletop for those who do not want a floor model. Remember, many of these businesses do not list all of the equipment they have, especially the low-end items such as manual perforators... so write and ask if they look promising.
Auction sites are also good for finding perforators... eBay has been an especially good source. When using their search tools, you can limit the search to various regions of the world.
As your search criteria, enter “perf*” (with the wild card asterisk) and then after the rough search has been performed, look on the left hand side of the page for the various subdivisions. You should see somethingthat falls under business and industrial and after clicking on that, a printing category and after clicking on that, you should see something like bindery and finishing. That’s most likely where you will find them.
Unfortunately, in some parts of the world hand drills are also called “perforators” so you will have to be patient if you don’t click on subcategories.