How To Use A Stamp Perforation Gauge

Have you ever come across a stamp perforation gauge and haven’t been sure what to do with it? Or perhaps you have heard of perforation gauges, but aren’t sure what they are for? Stamp perforation gauges are useful tools for collectors, so it’s worth learning how to use one.

To use a stamp perforation gauge:

  1. Lay your stamp next to your gauge’s scale
  2. Line up the perforations with the gauge’s markings
  3. Check the number on the scale

Below, we’ll go into more detail about stamp perforation gauges. We’ll tell you what they are, how they’re used, and why you might want to use one. We’ll also mention the different types of stamp perforations that you might encounter.

What Is A Stamp Perforation Gauge?

A stamp perforation gauge is a philatelic tool used to measure and count the number of perforations along a stamp. These tools look most similar to traditional rulers in size and shape, and are very useful devices to keep in your philatelic toolkit.

Stamp perforation gauges are used to measure the number of perforations within a span of twocentimeters. Many gauges have perforation scales printed around their edges, which is handy for measuring the perforations of stamps already mounted in an album. Some may have the scales in the center of the device for loose stamps, and others may have both.

Each scale resembles a ruler in both size and shape, with spaces of different lengths between each mark. Often, the scale on a gauge will be marked with black dots, to make aligning perforations easier and clearer. The scales range from around 7 to 18 perforations per two centimeters. A ruler for converting millimeters to inches is also usually printed on them too.  

What Is A Stamp Perforation?

Stamp perforations are the rows of small holes punched between stamps, in order to make them easier to separate from one another. Looking at a single perforated stamp, you could say that each perforation looks like tiny “teeth” around its perimeter.

Nowadays, many governments produce and issue stamps that are self-adhesive. These stamps are diecut separately to one another and are only each attached to their backing paper, eliminating the need for perforation.

However, the history of stamp perforation dates back to the mid-1800s, when a man named Henry Archer of London invented the first ever stamp perforating machine, a faster and easier method of stamp separation which would eliminate the need to hand-cut rows of stamps before individual use.

The word “perforation” is often shortened to “perf”, a term you will likely see in philatelic blogs and publications.

A Handy Invention

Stamp perforation gauges were invented in 1866 by a French philatelist named Jacques Legrand. Legrand, who used the pseudonym Dr Magnus, is credited with having introduced philately as a serious area of study in France during the nineteenth century.

Interestingly, Legrand felt passionately that the name “timbrology” should have been given to the subject of stamp study, rather than “philately”. Of course, this battle was evidently unsuccessful, with “philately” being the most commonly-used term today, and “timbrology” is considered more of an archaic term.


Stamp perforation gauges may also be referred to as “odontometers”. The term comes from the words “odonto” (meaning “tooth”) and “meter” (meaning “measure”). Aptly, these “tooth measures” are also used in the field of orthodontia, as a dentistry tool!


A perfin is a stamp which has perforations not just along the edges, but also punched across the stamp face itself. These perforations will form initials or the insignia of a person or company, and are not something a stamp perforation gauge would be able to help with!

Perfins were actually created as a way of preventing theft, as only their owners could use the stamp by official agreement with postal authorities. This also offered better security over a company’s postage.

For collectors, perfins can be a bit of a divisive topic. Many collectors consider stamps with their faces marked by perforations damaged and therefore undesirable. Furthermore, identifying the owner of a perfin is often very difficult as many organizations share initials.

However, others may view perfins as interesting and worthwhile philatelic collectibles. Perfins are not commonly seen in recent times, and can hold interesting historical value. For instance, a perfin still affixed to a cover with an identifying feature as to the company which owned it – such as a letterhead or organization address – may prove quite valuable.

How To Use A Stamp Perforation Gauge

1. Lay Your Stamp Next To Your Gauge’s Scale

All you need to do is slide the stamp across the scale until you find the section where the printed pattern perfectly matches up with the perforations on your stamp.

2. Line Up The Perforations With The Gauge’s Markings

Make sure you line up the perforations all the way along the stamp, and not just partway. Most perforation gauges measure to half sizes, and some even up to tenths of each hole, so you want to be sure that your count is exact. If you’re struggling to view these potentially tiny marks exactly, a magnifying tool of some kind may come in useful here!

3. Check The Number On The Scale

Check the number next to the gauge’s perforation pattern, and that’s your perforation gauge amount. Simple!

Types Of Stamp Perforations

We call a perforation with teeth close together and smaller holes between them a fine perforation. The higher the gauge, the finer the perforation. At the other end of the scale, a perforation with larger holes and teeth spaced further apart would be known as a coarse perforation. These would have a lower perforation gauge, as fewer gaps would fit across the two centimeter length of measurement.

Compound Perforation

You might find that many stamps have a different gauge along their horizontal and vertical edges. This is known as “compound perforation”. Because of this, make sure to count the perforations along each side of the stamp.

When writing down the perforation of your stamp, either for interest or cataloguing purposes, any stamps with compound perforation should have the horizontal gauge listed first, and then the vertical. For instance, a stamp whose gauge is written at “perf 9 ½ x 10” would be a stamp with 9 ½ perforations along its horizontal edges, and 10 down its verticals.

Why Do Stamp Perforations Matter?

Here we are talking about how to count and measure the perforations on a stamp, when you may be wondering why the number of stamp perforations even matters in philately. After all, do these tiny teeth really make a difference to the stamp itself?

Well, sometimes you may find yourself with a set of stamps which all look perfectly identical, with the only minute difference being the number of perforations along each of their edges.

For instance, the same stamp may have been issued with different perforation gauges at different times throughout its circulation. This seemingly-miniscule detail will actually go a long way in the process of stamp identification, not just in learning when it was released but also in giving it its value.

Perforations also matter greatly to collectors as an indication of the condition of the stamp. Each tiny perforation is incredibly fragile, so creasing or tearing would be easy. But, a stamp with perforations clear from harm are likely to be much more valuable and sought-after than one with bent perforations, and stamps with perforations ripped or cut will be considered undesirable.

Where To Obtain A Stamp Perforation Gauge

Luckily, stamp perforation gauges are cheap, and very easy to purchase online. Most cost less than $10 from specialist philatelic vendors, and are also readily available from online marketplaces.

If you are in a pinch and can’t wait for your gauge to be delivered, you will find that a fair few websites offer downloadable gauge scales either for free, or for a very low cost. These scales can simply be printed out and used as normal. Just make sure your printer copies the gauge perfectly to the scale given on the website, otherwise your gauge will be inaccurate!

Finally, if you don’t want to buy a stamp perforation gage and don’t have access to a printer, you can just measure 2cm against your stamp with a ruler and count the perforations yourself. But what would be the fun in that?

Final Thoughts

Perforations are an important part of any stamp that has them, and a perforation gauge is a valuable tool for any philatelist looking to properly identify and document their collection. Stamp perforation gauges are accurate, cheap and extremely easy to use, and we hope this guide has helped you discover all you need to know about these handy philatelic tools!

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