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. It 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, such as the Deutsche Triumph Fahrrad Werke Nürnberg from 1907 to 1925, the same perforation is found on different stamps:


Upside down and mirrored perfins complete the spectrum - here for example Wanderer Fahrrad Werke:

There are many variants where single holes or even whole letters are missing.

Perfins are not only found on stamps but also on postcards:

The above is double-perforated “F.N.” and comes from the Belgium manufacturer Fabrique Nationale d’Armes de Guerre (Herstal) known for his chainless, shaft-driven bicycles:

The 5 c stamp added for overseas mailing is perforated too. The card was sent to the bicycle manufacturer J. Fries, Beseler successors in Flensburg/Germany who also used perfins - not with the initials but with the full name “FRIES”:

On other cards/stamps the addressee added additional holes

Ruined? Yes!

Nowadays a perforation would actually make the stamps worthless, because in most postal areas, as in Germany, these are no longer allowed. Instead of them metermarks are used.

Perfins may be regarded as personalized stamps. They can be shown at official exhibitions. They enrich each thematic collection and offer wide possibilities for research.


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)

                                       T. Josefsson - Nymans Verkstäder, Uppsala/Sweden, perfin: „N.V.“,  1992 (BS Magazine 13B, page 19)    

                                       Miquel Jover and Jordi Qiuntana, Bicycle Perfins of Spain, 2014 (BS Magazine 78, page 16)    

                                       Arnoldt Rehm, Excelsior Fahrrad Werke, 2014 (BS Magazine 78, page 18)

                            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 AustraliaAnd 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:

   What is a Perfin?
   The Origin of Perfins
   Perforating Machines
   The Use of Perfins in Canada

The complete handbook could be downloaded as pdf from this website: