I occasionally list stamps with perfins. What is a perfin and how does it affect stamp value?
The term “perfin” is short for “perforated initials” or “perforated insignia”. Perfins were a control used by companies to prevent theft from the mail room. Perfins originated in England in 1868 and have been used in over 300 countries. In the US, 6500+ different perfins have used according to the checklist published by The Perfins Club (www.perfins.org). The use of perfins in the US reached its height in the 1920s and 1930s.
Perfins are created by feeding the stamps through a small perforating machine, similar to what the Bureau of Engraving and Printing used. The machine punches the design into the stamps. Perfins were not regulated by the post office so designs vary widely. Most companies used their initials and/or a company logo. Some stamp collectors used their own perfins. It was possible to purchase a small hand operated perforating device that would apply a perfin one stamp at a time. These small devices made it affordable for the die-hard perfin collector to have their own perfin.
In the mailroom, workers could slip mint stamps into their pockets to use on their own mail or to sell them for cash. To reduce theft, the stamps were perforated with the perfin to identify them as coming from that company. If a postal worker saw a piece of personal mail with a perfin on it, the post office contacted the mailer and let them know. The mailer could take measures to catch the thief. I’m sure a few stamps were stolen anyway. But perfins definitely discouraged large thefts which would draw the attention of postal workers. Perfin usage declined as mailers moved to postage meter machines.
Perfins have been used on many different stamps over the years. They are mainly used on regular issue stamps, although commemorative, air mail, special delivery, and other stamps are known with perfins too.
What’s a perfin worth? It depends on who the buyer is.
Traditional stamp collectors usually shun a perfin because part of the stamp design is missing. This is analogous to a stamp with a heavy cancel or a stamp with a missing piece. To traditional stamp collectors, a perfin is worth only a fraction of catalog value.
However, this stamp is exactly what a perfin collector wants. Some perfins are very common and others are very rare. The perfin collector may pay a large premium for the same stamp if it has a valuable perfin.
Decide what a perfin is worth to you and whether you want to include them in your collection or not. If you’re interested in learning more about perfins, I suggest contacting The Perfins Club.