Malaya stamp perfins - Lin Yangchen
  • Malaya stamp perfins

©Lin Yangchen

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Occasionally, one comes across a piquant juxtaposition of the past and the future: the agrarian woodcut design of the coconut definitive, perforated with machined holes reminiscent of the punch cards in early computers, as if heralding the dawn of the digital age.

The so-called perfin, standing for perforated initials or perforated insignia, is in fact a security marking used by companies and government departments to deter unauthorised use of their stamps. The dot-matrix lettering adds yet another dimension to the typographic diversity of the coconut definitive. Compared with typical dot-matrix fonts, perfin letters have fewer dots and a more primeval character.

The special transilluminatory imaging technique used here was inspired by a perforated Egyptian lamp holder at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. See the photophilately appendix for more details.

Samuel type D21 perforator (1940) of De La Rue (Cockburn 2010), which was individually applied to stamps (Freeland 2010). The word SPECIMEN marks a stamp provided to postmasters and postal administrations as a reference sample, and invalidates them against postal use. Perfins have a drawback here: the numerous holes may coincide with important design or print details. A nicely centered strike of the multiple script CA watermark is visible in the above.

Boustead & Co., an asset management and corporate finance company established in Singapore in 1828 that has grown from strength to strength with the country to this day. Left, a die used by the Singapore office (Turnbull 2017); right, a larger, scruffier die used by the Penang office (Turnbull 2017). A perfinned stamp is often considered less "valuable" if the perfin cuts into the sides, but the author sees its beauty in showing the human side of perfin production.

Perfin of Law Yew Swee & Co., dealer in a wide variety of goods from wines and tobacco to fashion to hardware, construction materials and stationery. Law (1881–1954), born in Penang, set up his business after several years as a civil servant in Kuala Lumpur.

Different hole sizes from the Asiatic Petroleum Co. Competing British and Dutch petroleum companies, Shell Transport & Trading Company and Royal Dutch Petroleum Company, set up this joint venture in 1903 to develop markets in the Far East. The upside-down perfin includes what could be a small control hole or code hole in the lower left corner denoting a specific machine, although control holes are usually of the same type as the regular holes.

A beautiful transitional phase between embossing and perfin, showing "crescent moons" of partially punched-out circules (new English word coined by author in 2017) of paper, and endorsed with rubber stamp of the same company. From the Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China, which was closely allied with British colonial trade in Asia. It merged with the Standard Bank in Africa in 1969 to become Standard Chartered with headquarters in London.

The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) was involved in the management of colonial government accounts in Penang and Singapore. There are eight possible orientations of the letters, arising from the common practice of folding blocks of stamps to be punched simultaneously.

Part of the "H" in an HSBC perfin. Stamps perfinned in folded blocks sometimes leave their punched-out bits in other stamps facing the opposite way when the block is separated.

[image coming soon]

Pre-war perfin of the Singapore Municipal Commissioners (SMC), who oversaw domestic affairs like water, gas, electricity and nightsoil removal.

Post-war SMC perfin (1947–1974), with a defective SINGAPORF datestamp. The perfin machine, made by J. Sloper & Co. in London in a setting of four dies in a row, was rediscovered at a flea market by Yong (2011).

Mis-estimation was common with the hand-operated machines in the realm of perfin production.

Truncated "M" in reversed and inverted forms. The author has also seen an example with only one stem of the "M" remaining, making the perfin look like "SIC".

Double perfins are relatively rare.

Spiral staircase for nightsoil collection in the old days.
Ellison Building, Singapore
©Lin Yangchen

Perfin of the Singapore Improvement Trust, set up in 1927 to clear slums and improve sanitation. It oversaw the construction of Singapore's very first flats to house the growing population. It was superseded by the Housing Development Board in 1960.

See Dewey (1971), Hall (1986, 1987), Giffen (1989, with corrections in The Perfin Society Bulletin (1991) 254:9–10), Lavender (2002), Peters (2008), Cockburn (2016c), Turnbull (2017) and Michel Houde's online database for perfins of Malaya, and Hill (2015) for a review of perfin production methods. These classic markings were gradually superseded by meter marks.

Documentation of Malaya perfins remains incomplete while primary sources are eroding with the passage of time. Forgeries are by no means unknown in the perfin world—some have even been made using the original machines—and it is impossible to be sure without a complete reference of dies and settings. Moreover, it is not clear whether the pins in perfin machines could have been bent or lost with wear and tear, further complicating perfin taxonomy. Perfins will endure as one of the more esoteric intrigues of the coconut definitive.


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