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The Importance of Good Perforations

This is the third of a series articles to be presented

for the collector who would like to learn more about

the tools for building a more complete collection.

Although the back of a stamp is important in assessing its quality, that's not what makes a stamp so appealing.  It's the front!  It's the combination of a clean bright image in a well- centered stamp with full even perforations.  Only in the case of extremely rare stamps have we seen collectors ignore the key factors of cleanliness, good colours, proper centering and good perforations.  In all other cases all the normal factors of quality come into play and they must support each other.  An otherwise perfect stamp will be given a low value if it is a bit dirty, a bit off center or has poor perforations

Perforations come in many sizes.  Stamps with a high number of perforations along each border are relatively easy to separate.  Those with few perforations are harder to separate and consequently can be damaged more easily.  Collectors can have a near heart attack when trying to separate valuable old stamps that are attached.  One should first bend them back and forth a good number of times.  Dealers have suggested placing one of the stamps on a hard surface with a sharp edge and then, after the bending exercise, performing the final separation along the edge.

How the perforations end up on each of the four sides of a stamp is much a random matter.  It is so random that many collectors with a practiced eye can easily distinguish one seemingly identical stamp from another by a small variation in its perforations.  Each country uses its own perforation equipment which also accounts for perforation differences.  The type of paper used in combination with the type of perforation machine can produce some odd results.  The perforation of some of  Canada's Large and Small Queens was often faulty in that the machines never completely cut through the paper for all the perforations.  Thus one often finds stamps from this era at auction with their perforations only partially separated.  It reminds one of the problems found with the antique voting machines used in Florida in the last American presidential election.

The best perforations, the kind that naturally attract the eye of both the amateur and the advanced collector, are those which are nice and even on the four sides of the stamp or block of stamps.  But don't be fooled.  It's their evenness  that can disguise their hidden faults.  Only occasionally will an auctioneer mention these faults and even then, this can be with some reluctance.  No can blame them, they are trying to do their job which is to sell their customer's stamp and earn a commission.  Your job if you are a buyer is to protect yourself and make sure you buy stamps of quality you can be proud of.  How can you do this?  It takes great care and a lot of patience.

For those of you with patience, here's what to do.  With the stamp facing you, get out a ruler and place it along the edge of the stamp so that only the perforations at the top show and not the rest of the stamp.  If the perforations all relatively even, you can be satisfied. You can then do the same on the remaining three sides.  They will never all be perfect.  What will usually happened is that you will identify one or two perforations that are on the shorter side, maybe a bit or maybe a lot.  If there are some perforations that are noticeably shorter, you must then decide whether they represent a problem.  If they do, you can either choose not to bid on the stamp or you can drop your price since the stamp has a defect.

On the other hand, if the perforations are too perfect, alarm bells should go off. Proceed with caution.  Expert forgers have been known to repair stamps correcting faults of all sorts including repairing perforations or cutting new perforations.  Very few of us can detect their handiwork.  One thing you can do in such a case is to check the ends of the perforations with a magnifying glass to make sure they are rough and uneven as is customary with torn paper, particularly with the older types of paper.  If the ends looked too good under the glass, you should discuss your suspicions with the auctioneer. If the auctioneer is a good one, he will take your concerns seriously.  If the auctioneer doesn't check carefully or tries to brush you off, then back off and don't bid on the stamp.  You will never be happy with a questionable item in your collection.

Some collectors who look for perfection in stamps, like to buy specimens with perforations projecting on all four corners.  This happens only rarely and again is completely random.  But it can make one stamp stand out from all the others.  Great premiums are sometimes paid for these beauties.  Often the collector will not even be conscious of why he so attracted to any particular stamp when bidding.  He is simply aware that the stamp has a special quality.  But beware of one thing, the corner perforations in these types of stamps are delicate and must be protected with great care.  The damage occurs when they are bent over when being handled so that the paper is damaged.  Once bent, there is a permanent fold line in the paper that can be seen with the naked eye.  The stamp is never the same.

Good perforations add great beauty to a stamp.  One short perforation in an otherwise perfect stamp will ruin it.  When buying stamps of value, check the perforations carefully.  It takes patience, but it pays off.

Good perfs on
all 4 sides

A couple
of short perfs

Some perfs adhering

Perfs projecting
on all 4 corners


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