As the use of postage stamps increased, the problem of protecting stamps from theft, for both the postal authorities and the large commercial houses increased proportionately. Stamps were removed from the mail in transit by dishonest postal clerks and were stolen by employees from large firms either for resale or for personal use.
In 1868 in Great Britain, a Mr. Joseph Sloper invented a machine for perforating stamps with a design or with perforated initials, now called perfins. The advantages to be gained in the protection of postal accounts were soon apparent and the practice eventually spread to continental Europe. By 1880 stamps with perforated initials were in use by many firms in countries all over the world. It was only logical then, that this practice of making perforated initials on postage stamps would make a start in Imperial Russia.
Private and official Russian perfins
To understand the origin of the different kinds of Russian perfins, it is necessary to distinguish
Russian perfins. In 1907 the Imperial Russian
Postal Department allowed private firms to use perforated initials in stamps used for mail destined "for abroad" only. No doubt this important limitation is the reason that not many private Russian perfins are known.
In this article I will use the words 'private perfin'
when referring to postage stamps of Imperial Russia with perforated initials of private firms in Russia, Finland, the Ottoman Empire and China.
Four examples of those private Russian perfins are shown in figure 1 (a-d).
Fig. 1a - R.S of R. Skreiner,Riga.
Fig. 1b - V of Verdandi Insurance Company,Helsinki.
Fig. 1c - CL / J of Crédit Lyonnais,Jerusalem.
Fig. 1d - SHS of Sing Hwa Savings,Shanghai.
When referring to perforated initials used by the Imperial Russian post offices, I will use the words 'official perfin'
. Private perfins were meant to prevent the illegal use
of postage stamps while official perfins were meant to prevent the illegal re-use
of postage stamps!
Some examples of official Russian perfins are shown in figure 2.
The origin of private perfins in the stamps of Imperial Russia
Fig. 2a - М.П. / 2 of Moscow Post sub-office No.2.
Fig. 2b - А.К. of Archangelsk Kontora.
Fig. 2c - ИР/Б of Irkutsk Post sub-office B.
From 1 October 1907
, ordinary and registered mail addressed abroad could be paid for with perfins.
In Circular No. 60 of 22 August 1907 the chief of the Central Postal and Telegraph Department allowed the use of perfins. This circular was headed:
"Concerning the payment for ordinary and registered mail
addressed abroad with stamps that have perfins."
The circular provides:
- that from 1 October 1907 ordinary and registered mail addressed abroad can be paid for with stamps that
- the perfins can be made with a perforating machine in the form of initials, figures or symbols;
- the size of the perfins must not exceed one third of the stamp;
- the perfins must not damage the figures showing the face value of the stamps;
- on the cover or card, paid for with perfins, there must be the name and address of the sender;
- if any of these rules are not complied with, the use of perfins will be considered invalid by the postal
Why does the 1907 circular limit the usage of private perfins to mail addressed abroad?
In 1907 the Russian Post-Telegraph Department didn't seem to believe in the use of perfins at all. They have allowed firms to use stamps with perforated initials but only for mail addressed abroad!
Why was that? It seems to be useless to the firms concerned because this was not an effective way to pre-vent the theft of postage stamps by unreliable employees, if they only perforated the stamps for foreign mail and did not perforate the stamps for internal mail.
To understand the circular of 22 August 1907 it is important to know a little more about postal matters in a special part of Imperial Russia in the nineteenth century: the Grand Duchy of Finland.
As an autonomous Grand Duchy, Finland was part of the Russian Empire (the Russian Tsar was the Archduke and Supreme Lord of Finland) but Finland had its own postal privileges. The postal service was in the hands of the Finnish Postal Administration. This administration allowed the usage of (Finnish) stamps with perfins.
Around 1890 the Russian authorities took an important step on the way to the Russification of Finland: the Finnish postal system became part of the Russian Interior Ministry. The intended goal of the Russian authori-ties was to replace Finnish stamps with Russian stamps. The first step to reach this goal was on 1 January 1892, when the use of Finnish stamps was prohibited on mail to Russia and so for mail to Russia only Rus-sian stamps could be used.
The next step followed on 15 August 1900: Russian stamps were required for all mail to foreign destinations.
Large Finnish firms already used Finnish stamps with perfins for franking their mail. Starting on 15 August 1900 these firms now had to use Russian stamps for mail addressed abroad.
As they were accustomed to perforate their (Finnish) stamps, they now had a problem: their Russian stamps had to be perforated also in order to safeguard them from theft by unreliable employees. Some examples of Russian stamps with perfins of Finnish firms are shown in figure 3.
Fig. 3a - ASEA of Allmäna Svenska Elektriska Ab, Helsinki.
Fig. 3b - K.B. of Karl Bostrom, Hanko.
Fig. 3c - S. of 'Sampo' Mutual Insurance Company, Turku.
It is my belief that this quite unique situation in the postal history of Finland and Russia led to the Russian circular of 22 August 1907, which allowed Russian stamps with perfins for mail addressed abroad.
This also explains why most Russian stamps which can be found with private perfins were used by large firms in the Grand Duchy of Finland!
Fig. 4 detail- perfin V.E.
Figure 4. Finnish postcard with Russian stamps, both showing perfin V.E. of Victor Ek, Helsingfors.
(coll. H. Elo)
Private perfins in Russian stamps for use in the Ottoman Empire
As said before, by 1880 stamps with perforated initials were in use by many firms all over Europe. Large European firms continued this practice when they opened their branches in Constantinople and in other towns in the Ottoman empire.
Very large firms, for instance large banks like Banque Impériale Ottomane and Crédit Lyonnais, sent their mail to customers in many different countries. These firms brought their mail to the foreign post office where they expected to get the best service for delivering the mail fast and accurate to the addressee. So the mail to Austria usually was brought to the Austrian Levant post office, while the mail to Russia in most cases was offered to the postal clerks of the Russian Levant post office. Of course the mail through the Austrian post office had to be franked with Austrian Levant stamps and the mail through the Russian post office should be franked with Russian Levant stamps. That's the reason why we can find the same perfin in Levant stamps of different countries. See the illustrations in figure 5.
Figure 5. Perfin BIO of the Banque Impériale Ottomane, Constantinople, in Levant stamps of Russia, Austria, Germany and England and in a 10 para stamp of the Ottoman Empire.
The Russian Post Office in Constantinople
The Russian post office in Constantinople first opened in 1748.
During the Crimean War this postal service was abandoned, but on the conclusion of peace the re-organisation of the Russian postal service in the Levant was entrusted to the Russian Organization for Steamshipping and Trade (ROPiT), founded at Odessa in 1856.
From then onwards the Russian post offices in the Ottoman empire were in the hands of the ROPiT. The company was entitled to receive 25 per cent of all postal charges.
From 1 January 1864 onwards several issues of special Russian Levant stamps were used.
From June 1900 these stamps were replaced by ordinary Russian postage stamps overprinted diagonally with values in Turkish currency. These stamps were used at the Russian post offices in the Ottoman empire and on board the ROPiT's Company's vessels.
Fig. 6 pairs of Romanov Levant stamps with monogram perfin 'CL' - detail-
Fig. 6 Cover with two pairs of Romanov Levant stamps, all with monogram perfin 'CL' of the French bank Crédit Lyonnais in Constantinople.
The cover was sent on 20 September 1914 to Milan, Italy, where it arrived on 27 September 1914.
The Russian Post Office in Smyrna
In 1857 the ROPiT (Russian Organization for Steamshipping and Trade) opened a post office in the Russian consulate in Smyrna.
The earliest known Russian Levant perfins from Smyrna can be found in stamps of the Levant issue of 1900. Till now only one commercial firm from Smyrna is known to have franked their letters with Russian Levant stamps with perfins. This firm is Oriental Carpet Manufacturers Ltd. and they have used the perfin 'O.C.M.'.
Fig. 7 - detail -
Figure 7. ROPiT cover with perfin O.C.M. of Oriental Carpet Manufacturers Ltd.,sent from Smyrna on 3 February 1910 via Constantinople (ROPiT transit 5-2-1910) and Paris (21-2-1910) to Buenos Aires.
Private perfins on stamps for use in the Russian post offices in China
The Russian Post Office in Shanghai
In 1896 the extension taken by maritime communications between Vladivostok and Shanghai (and other Treaty ports) led to the opening of the Russian Post Office in Shanghai on 19 November 1896.
The mail was to be handled at the Russian Consulate in Shanghai and was normally taken to Vladivostok by Russian ships of the Volunteer Fleet and other Russian companies who were operating regular services in Far Eastern waters. Mail to Europe was sent by rail via the Transsiberian railway as from 1907.
At first ordinary Russian postage stamps were used for franking the mail.
In 1899 the Imperial Russian Postal Administration brought into use a series of special stamps for offices in China proper, consisting of Imperial Russian stamps overprinted diagonally with the word 'KITAI' (meaning 'CHINA' in Russian). These overprinted stamps replaced the ordinary Russian stamps which however also remained valid for postage in the Russian post office in Shanghai.
Fig. 8 - detail-
Fig.8 UPU postcard with perfin 'K&W' of Kelly & Walsh, publishers in Shanghai.
The card was sent from Shanghai on 18 August 1901 to Fleurier (10-IX-01), Switzerland.
The origin of official perfins in postage stamps of Imperial Russia
Perfins as a method of preventing the illegal re-use of postage stamps
An important method to prevent the illegal re-use of postage stamps was introduced on 9 April 1910.
This method was meant to damage the stamp at the end of the postal chain
: in the destination post office,
before sending the money transfer form or parcel card to the Control Board.
Postal Circular No.22 of 9 April 1910 states:
"…By agreement with the department of civic accounting, [postal] establishments handling money transfers and parcel delivery must perforate or cut in half the money transfer orders and the package
address cards before these items are sent for inspection by the Control Boards. This also applies to items that were postmarked at other locations and sent to the establishment for delivery…"
This was the first circular that started the use of official Russian 'perfins'
meaning 'leaving perforated
in the stamps'.
Throughout the country however, not all of these 'perfins' have the form of perforated initials. The perfins
appear in different shapes, because every post office was free to decide how to 'perforate' the stamps
before sending the (stamps on) documents for inspection to the control board involved. In fact throughout
the Russian Empire many kinds of 'perforating' were used by the post offices.
Fig. 9a - detail-
Fig. 9b - detail-
Fig. 9b The post office at Vilna Railway station had its own effective way to damage the stamps.
A canceller, punching square holes, has prevented the reuse of the Romanov stamps on this postal money transfer, sent from Birzhi (16-9-13) to Vilna (21-9-13) to transfer 86 roubles and 5 kopecks.
The 'perforating' had to be done at the post office where money transfers were paid out and parcels were
delivered. So these perfins were made at the destination post office. That's why a Russian stamp with a
postmark 'Riga' and a Moscow perfin, comes from a document which was forwarded by the Riga post
office to one of the offices in Moscow. The Moscow post office involved made the perfin (through the stamp
and document together) after having paid out the money or having delivered the parcel and before
sending the document to the control board.
Fig. 10a + 10b. Money order for 25 roubles from Riga to Moscow, sent on 5 May 1914. The money was
paid out to the addressee by the Moscow Post suboffice No.40 on 7 May 1914. All three stamps have the Moscow perfin М.П./40.
Fig. 10a - detail -
Figure 10b - detail -
The rule "to perforate or cut" has led to an interesting variation of punches through
stamps and documents. You can find punches with perf
ochtamt and >А.К.
punches with a perforated name of the city where the post office was located (name perfin
), punches with a number of holes making a design,
single punchholes and other results of perforating, cutting or damaging the postage stamps to prevent their re-use.
Fig. 11. Telegraphic money transfer of 200 roubles from Rybnitsa (Podolia) to Smela on 23-1-1919.
The card has three complete name perfins СМЕЛА (Cyrillic for Smela) through seven (four on reverse) 1 rouble Arms stamps with Podolia trident overprints.
Another method to prevent the illegal re-use of postage stamps of Imperial Russia was introduced in 1911 by
the postal Circular No. 27 of 18 May 1911
. This circular concerned the often high denomination stamps
which were used for postal accounting purposes, like postage due payments to the postmen.
Next to the use of stamps on money transfer forms and parcel cards the post offices in Imperial Russia also
entered postage stamps in the book of Finances, Form No.9.
Tsarist Russia had no postage due stamps. If a letter was underpaid, the amount due (usually double the
amount of the underpayment) was collected by the postman when he delivered the letter.
Every day the amounts so collected in cash by the postman of a particular post office were entered in the
above mentioned Book of Finances No.9 and stamps to the value of the total amount were affixed to the
pages in this book. For control purposes these (often high denomination) stamps were
tied with a circular dated postmark to the page of the book. For the Control Board it was important that these postmarks were easy to read. Therefore these stamps were cancelled with clear 'socked-on-the-nose' cancels.
Fig. 12. Perfins М.П./5, М.П./10 and О.П./К. (Odessa Pochtovaya Kontora) with corresponding post-marks of the Moscow and Odessa post offices.
Circular No.27 of 18 May 1911
gave the following regulation to prevent the stamps in the above mentioned book from being re-used:
"Postage stamps, stuck in the book of Finances No.9, prior to sending this book to the Control Boards, must be perforated or cut in half sideways from the edge of the page in the book of Finances No.9 . . . ."
So the stamps in this book, after being tied to the pages (form No.9) with a clear circular dated postmark,
were perforated with a perfin of the Russian post office concerned, before sending the book to the Control
Board. Therefore such a stamp has the postmark and the perfin of that same Russian post office.
Fig. 13 A part of page 135 from the book of Finances,"Forma No.9", with four stamps, all with perfin М.П./59 and with the postmark of the Moscow sub-office No.59.
- Scheper, D. : Perfins of the Ottoman Empire and the Foreign Post Offices in the Levant, 2009.
- Scheper, D. : Perfins of Imperial Russia and the Russian Post Offices abroad.