1873: The scarred face of the goddess Ceres

Could the stamps mentioned in this article be characterized as “perfin”? At first sight no, because they aren’t really perforated… These French stamps, Cérès type of 1870s, had indeed undergone a physical “treatment”, sorts of notches or deep dry marks in order to be used only in a precise context as the perfins.

French postcard 1873 franked with a notched stamp.
This article deals with these notched French stamps used only on postcards during some months in 1873 and 1874.

1- Why perfins?

2- Context of the use of notched French stamps

3 - The end of this practice in France

1- Why perfins?

N.B. perfin stands for PERForated INitials or INsignia.

In 1850s-70s in Great Britain, unused stamps could be exchanged for cash at post offices. Many companies, fearing the massive theft of their stamps by their employees, perforated their stock of stamps with the initials of their company. So a perfin had no value and could quickly get in trouble for whoever used it. This security against theft was done in agreement with the British Post Office acquired by Mr. Sloper in 1868. First perfins date from this year.

Joseph Sloper (1813-1890), inventor of the perforation process.

Joseph Sloper (1813-1890) was the inventor of the perforation process. His perforating machine could be used for perforating initials designed with small holes on stamps and also on checks, and other valuable documents, thus preventing fraud. 

Advertissement for Sloper's machines.

He was granted a patent for his device in 1858 and many companies began using the perforating machine for checks. Perhaps perfins already existed before the British Post Office officially authorized them?

Other security endorsements on stamps included commercial overprints and underprints, but perfins was the better and simpler solution.

Penny red with commercial overprint and underprint.

Over time, the perfins disappeared since most companies had resorted either to subscriptions at advantageous rates with the Post Office which was responsible for franking the mail or were equipped with machines to frank the mail.

2- Context of the use of notched French stamps

The postcards were introduced in France on January 15th, 1873. They had to be sold already franked. And shortly after, advertisers understood that there could be an interest in exploiting the fact that these cards traveled « opened » and that it was therefore possible to print an advertisement for a product or a company. This process is called “repiquage” in French, which is a professional term, it’s a kind of retouching, which means that an additional private printing has been made on documents already printed.

"Carte postale annonces", commercial postcard.

These cards were called "carte postale annonces", and to encourage their use, they were sold franked at a lower price than the postage rate, 5 to 10 centimes less, sometimes they were even given away for free. On June 1873, an official document of the French Post Office specified the conditions under which this discount sale was authorized.

To prevent another use of these stamps, they were either notched with 4 horizontal slots or with the bigram CA (Carte-Annonce). The tools used to make these marks haven't been found.

Stamps with 4 slots or bigram CA.

This protection may seem excessive for a few centimes but if it multiplied on an “industrial” scale, it could cause an unfair competition for the French Post Office and it could bring easy money to fraudsters. To overstate the point, it's like buying a 10 euros banknote for 5 euros.

Today, these postcards are very rare and their price is high. Notches only exist on 10 and 15 centimes Cérès type stamps. The rate corresponded for 10c : card Paris to Paris or between nearby towns, for 15c : card from post office to post office everywhere in France.

3- The end of this practice in France

On December 1873, a French ministerial decision established that postcards or letters franked with lacerated stamps would be declared as unfranked. This decision quickly led to the end of this practice.

At this time, numerous countries used perfins. So France, few years later, authorized officialy on November 15th, 1876, the use of perfins by companies. The rules were of not perforating the stamp at the place of the face value and exceed 1/3 of the surface of the stamp.

1878: lettre franked with a perfin type Sage.

Despite the vigilance of the Post Office, personal letters or holiday postcards were franked with perfins. The law of December 6th, 1954 will definitively prohibit the perforation of stamps, with the authorization to companies to sell their stock of stamps already perforated.