February 2014

Gavin Fryer’s presentation had an unlikely title - Collecting Holes – and he used the term rather widely. Many stamp collectors study holes – the perforations of many stamps show variations, especially in earlier days, and for some these are a constant source of interest. For others, they are less interesting then the design of the stamps or the way that they are used. But for Gavin, exploring holes is obviously something of a passion and we were very soon intrigued by and shared his focus and interest.

There are some intriguing almost philosophical considerations. A hole is the absence of something. (Can stamps really be said to have a missing hole?) In most cases with stamps, holes signify the absence of a small part or parts of the paper on which they are printed. Rather dull you might think, but there’s more to holes in stamps than mere perforations, interesting though these can be.

Holes have been used to cancel stamps, and the contrary. Gavin showed us some examples of both, the latter being when some stamps were deemed invalid without the holes! We encountered again the word “chad” perhaps for the first time since many of us learned that word back in the US presidential elections of 2000 when many Florida voters used punched card ballots. But some were incompletely punched resulting in incomplete holes or hanging chads where one or more, what were supposed to be hole, were still not in holes and these votes were not counted by the machines used. “Chad” refers to the paper punched out when a hole is made and so the term has a philatelic use for the tiny round pieces of paper that must litter the floors of stamp printing companies. Gavin even mounted a few of these in his collection of holes, or indeed the absence of holes!

But he took the term very much further. There was an amazing stamp showing the hole in the design of a stamp where a fly (always rather short-lived insects) had become immortalised by getting between the printing block and the paper and this “philatelic fly’s” silhouette was there forever, now in Gavin’s hole (or is it whole?) collection. There were holes caused deliberately by the postal administrations in Liberia and Iran when a head of state had been deposed and so stamps with the unfortunate deposed President/Shah had been scratched out, or obliterated respectively.

There is one odd thing however. Why are many current self-adhesive stamps issued with perforations when these are no longer needed, the stamps being peeled of their backing paper with no need for perforations to assist the tearing or separation of stamps, one from another? When stamps started in the 1840s most country’s first issues had no perforations, but this involved postal staff in having to cut stamps with scissors or a blade and of course this caused a lot of delay. Perforations became common all over the world and continue to this day. But why are self-adhesive stamps issued with perforations they do not actually need?

Holes and the absence of them is a topic, which made for an intriguing afternoon. One of our members, Phil Kenton, imaginatively came up with a moniker for Gavin Fryer, - “The Holy Friar”!