by Lynne Belluscio
A few weeks ago, while browsing through Ebay, I discovered a 4 cent Washington postage stamp with little holes that spelled JELLO. That seemed curious and it didn’t cost so I bought it and then started to do a little research. I discovered that these perforated stamps, called “perfins” (for perforated initials or perforated insignia) were designed to prevent stamps from being pilfered. The idea started in England in 1868, when Joseph Sloper received a patent for a device to punch holes in a unique design in postage stamps. At that time, unused stamps could be redeemed at the post office at face value. It was easy for office employees to pocket a few stamps and turn them in at the post office for money. The perforated stamp discouraged this. It wasn’t until 1908 that perforated stamps were used in the United States. Filene’s Sons Company – a department store in Boston, used the first perfin on May 22, 1908. I contacted Steven Endicott, who maintains a webpage about perfins and he shared a lot of information. The JELLO perfin was used by the Genesee Pure Food Company between 1908 and 1923 and it is registered with the perfin collectors. Many stamp collectors aren’t interested in perfins because the holes deface the stamp. However, there are ‘perfin collectors, who only collect these perforated stamps. Which brings the discussion to another point. I was told that perfins were illegal because they defaced the stamp, but perfins were accepted by the US Post Office as long as they met certain size specifications.