World's smallest perforation - Lin Yangchen
©Lin Yangchen

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World No. 1

The coconut definitive holds a little-known world record. In 1949 they were issued with the world's most closely spaced perforations on the vertical sides—910 holes per metre in SI units, or 18.2 holes every two centimeters in philatelic convention. The horizontal sides were not far behind: 17.6 holes. The switch from the long-used perforation 14 was made midway through the very first batch of printings in 1948 (Stanway 2009). Although the circumstances of the change are as yet unclear, part of the rationale was probably to make the stamps easier to separate.

A riot of colour.

It never caught on among the world's stamps, however. Halewood (2007) described it as 'hideous'; indeed, larger perforations have a more stamplike character. Furthermore, experiments conducted almost a century before had already shown that any perforation finer than 15 was too fine (Easton 1949). Early 16-gauge perforations of the Penny Red (left) produced sheets that came apart too easily, prompting the authorities to reduce the perforation to 14 in 1855 (right).

The Malaya sheets, however, did not have this problem. The separability of stamps is a function of not only interhole distance but also hole size. While these stamps have the world's smallest perforation, the holes themselves are remarkably small even for this perforation, leaving ample paper between the holes to hold the sheet together.

The finer pins used also seem more prone to misalignment, being less than 2/3 the diameter of the ones used for perforation 14 (measurements by the author). They not only deviate from a straight line but also alter the gauge from hole to hole. The misregistration of the key plate and duty plate adds to the mess in the example above. Other cases of wriggly perforations were reported in various small heads issues by Hale (2014, 2016a) and Lin (2015c).

The pattern of stampwise repetition of misaligned holes in the horizontal and vertical perforations (above) indicates the use of a single-row comb perforator through which the sheet was advanced row by row, a design that had long been in use at British stamp-printing firms (Simpson & Sargent 2004).

Examination of the perforation irregularities shows that the same comb was used on the stamps of Hale (2014, 2016a) and on the 20-cents block above. The sheet, however, could be fed into the machine head-first or foot-first: the Negri Sembilan (Hale 2014) and Singapore (above) sheets were fed one way while the Penang QEII of Hale (2016a) was fed the opposite way.

The faults are not limited to the margins, as shown above and in Hale (2016a). Wider blocks, or ideally entire sheets, will reveal whether the irregularities extend farther towards the middle of the comb. For unknown reasons, the vertical perforations seem more prone to irregularities.

The world's smallest perforation has suffered from other ailments, such as missing holes due to a lost or broken pin (above). If this diminutive perforation was not such a good idea after all, it at least proved that to the world through actual use in a high-volume definitive series.

A rare pre-printing paper crease, showing ink spread out along the raised right-side fringe due to extra pressure from the printing plate. The stamp is marginally wider than normal. The black wavy lines intersect the white crease in a pleasing overlay of elements of modern art.

A subtle design tweak accompanied the introduction of the tiny perforation: the outer rectangular frame was thinned down to the same weight as the inner frame for some values, a change made universal in the Malay states coconut definitives.


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