Why are Stamps Perforated?

If you look at most stamps from the later 1800s and throughout the 1900s, you will see the distinctive half-moon patterns around the edges of the stamps. This is the pattern caused by perforation. Perforation involves cutting tiny holes around each stamp, so each stamp can be easily separated.

Why are Postage Stamps Perforated?

Stamps weren’t always perforated. Between 1840 and 1850, people sending a letter had to use knives or scissors to cut their stamps from a booklet or packet of stamps. Unfortunately, this proved to be a situation resulting in plenty of errors. Since stamps are small, any small mistake could mean a stamp was cut incorrectly, meaning it could not be used.

In the 1850s, many nations adopted perforations for stamps as equipment for this became available. Perforations offered many advantages:

  • It meant small stamps sold as part of larger books could be easily separated from each other.
  • It was more convenient for letter senders.
  • No knives or scissors needed to be used, meaning letters could be sent even if the letter-writer didn’t have something with which to cut the paper.
  • It reduced the number of stamps damaged beyond repair.

Of course, incorrectly perforated stamps and even imperforated stamps were sometimes still printed in error.

Are There Alternatives to Postage Stamp Perforations?

Perforations are the most common method for separating stamps, but other methods exist, too. For self-adhesive stamps, for example, die-cutting is used. This means each individual stamp is separated from the surrounding stamps by a clean cut, but all the stamps are together on one backing paper, which may not be separated at all.

It is more common, however, even in the case of die-cutting, for some form of perforation or separation to be used on the backing paper, too, so customers can separate the stamps without removing them from the backing. Interestingly, the pattern of perforation on the edge of stamps is so popular that even some self-adhesive stamps have a perforation pattern created on their edges, even if they are not perforated. This is done specifically for aesthetic purposes.

Postage Stamp Perforation Types

True perforation involves cutting lots of small holes along the sides of a stamp. When a customer pulls at two stamps, the paper gives at these perforated edges, creating a clean separation. Die-cutting, discussed above, is the other popular option.

Another, less popular, perforation style is called rouletting. Rather than cutting lots of small dots, in this process lots of small lines are cut. Rouletting works in the same way: the lines create a weakness or break in the paper. The paper stays intact, but when a customer applies pressure or folds along the lines and then rips the paper, the paper tears cleanly along the rouletting.

If you’re interested in different types of perforation and would like to see examples, visit Apfelbaum, Inc. to browse our selection. We can help you with anything philatelic. We can help you with anything philatelic.