Perfins - ruined stamps?
From 1868 to the 1960s it was in many companies common, to mark their stamps with holes. This should prevent the employees from using the stamps for private purposes. The idea of punching stamps came from the Englishman Joseph Sloper, who in 1867 applied a patent for a special punching machine .
The pattern of the perforation usually consisted of a letter combination of the initial letters of the company name. This is where the name "perfin" comes from (PERForated INitials). In former times philatelists regarded a perforation as damage to the stamp. The stamp was sorted out and added to the vignettes in the "back of the book" or even thrown away. The attitude to perfins has changed considerably in recent decades: There are work groups, collector clubs and many catalogs, in which several tenthousands of perfins are documented. There is a lot of research work in these catalogs, because the assignment between perfin and company is not always as easy as on this German Empire postcard from the Excelsior Fahrrad Werke "E.F.W.":
Sometimes same letters or letter combinations were used by different companies. In this case, a cancellation showing the city could help with the assignment.
There is a surprisingly large number of bicycle related perfins - especially from Germany and the Netherlands. You find a compilation of bicycle related perfins in the catalog part of this website.
Some perfins have changed over the years - for example those of Continental Caoutchouc- /Gutta Percha Compagnie:
If perfins were used for longer periods, the same perforation is found on lot of different stamps. For example those of Deutsche Triumph Fahrrad Werke "D.T.F.W." - used from 1907 to 1925:
Upside down and mirrored perfins complete the spectrum - here for example Wanderer Fahrrad Werke "W.F.W.":
There are many variants where single holes or even complete letters are missing.
Perfins are not only found on stamps, but also on postal cards:
The 5 c stamp - added for overseas mailing - is also perforated. The card was sent to the bicycle manufacturer J. Fries, Beseler Nfl. in Flensburg/Germany. Fries also used perfins - not with the initials but with the full name “FRIES”:
Back to the original question: are perfins ruined stamps? Definitely not - unless the recipient punched additional holes in them:
Perfins may be regarded as personalized stamps and are in line with the regulations and guidelines of the FIP. They enrich every thematic collection and offer various possibilities for research work.
With the invention of meter stamp machines perfins disappeared. Nowadays perfins would actually make stamps worthless, because most postal services not longer allow them.
Thanks to Nico Helling from the MFN for the approval, to take over parts and pictures from his report Company perforations or PERFINS (2).
Further references: Articeles/notes in Bicycle Stamps Magazine:
Pieter Reijbroek, Perfins and Bicycles – The Netherlands, part 1, 2006 (BS Magazine 56, page 12)
Pieter Reijbroek, Perfins and Bicycles – The Netherlands, part 2, 2006 (BS Magazine 57, page 14)
Wikipedia (German): Firmen-Lochung von Briefmarken
Wikipedia (English): Perfin
The Perfin Society (English): FAQ frequently asked questions
Roy Gault, Perfins of Britisch Cycle and Motorcycle Manufacturers
Article by Markus Scherz: Firmenlochungen in Krone/Adler Marken
Perfin Club of New Zealand and Australia: And so the Perfin was Born
Perfin Club of New Zealand and Australia: Perfin Links
The Perfin Study Group of the British North America Philatelic Society BNAPS (The Society for Canadian Philately) has prepared the ebook “Canadian Stamps with Perforated Initials” (5th Edition, edited by Jon Johnson and Gary Tomasson). The first chapters give a very good general introduction:
The complete handbook could be downloaded as pdf.