Antique tabletop perforating machines: are they getting more expensive?
When I began searching for an antique perforator a couple of years ago, I never imagined what an interesting journey it would be. I’ve had the opportunity to purchase two different perforators (and resold one of them), and although I’ve collected stamps for years, it's the technology that made the tiny holes in between stamps that has captured my attention. That’s not to say I’m no longer interested in stamps—I very much am—but I’ve come to more fully appreciate the machinery.
At the time, I had seen listings for or reports of sales of 26 antique perforators over the previous year and a half. 19 of those were full-size treadle-operated models. The average or mean asking price was nearly $700, while the median asking price was approximately $500. The average price of all perforators that I could verify had actually been sold was just under $400.
When I wrote that article, the average sale price for a tabletop perforator was almost $430, slightly above the overall average. With the addition of sales I’ve recorded since then, the average price is now over $500.
Going up, up, up
The last two sales I’ve noted have significantly driven up the average sale price for tabletop perforators, but both were actually resales of machines that had previously changed hands since I began tracking such things. One was a Rosback that sold for $586 last year, then for $843 in March. The other was my own Franklin perforator for which I initially paid $400 in 2014, then sold for $700 last month.
Why the big jumps in price? Are perforators getting more expensive? Maybe, or maybe not. Let me explain.
The cost of doing business
The Rosback that sold on eBay in March actually brought a lot more than I expected. Based on my notes, I figured it would top $500, but I never dreamed it would go for over $800. Even at that price, however, the seller may not have made as much money as you might think.
eBay takes a 10% cut (close to $85 in this case), and PayPal takes approximately another 3% (say $30). Assuming it cost the seller $50 to ship his perforator, that leaves him with a profit of roughly $100. That’s nothing to sneeze at, mind you—I’d be happy to have that $100—but again, the profit margin isn’t as big as it appears at first glance.
My Franklin also sold for significantly more than what I paid for it, but I made even less profit that the seller of the Rosback. I’d spent nearly $150 to put new pins in the machine late last year, and it cost me another $100 or so to ship it to the buyer on the other side of the country. After PayPal took their slice of the pie and I paid for miscellaneous shipping supplies…well, let’s just say that I got out of the perforator what I’d put into it, and that’s about all.
In both cases, we (the Rosback’s seller and I) needed to sell for significantly more than we paid. It’s not that we made much money by selling our perforators for more than we paid for them; we simply had to pass along the costs associated with reselling and shipping the machines just to recover our initial investments.
More expensive? Yes and no
With all of that in mind, I would venture to say tabletop perforators in general are not getting any more expensive. It’s perforators that were purchased, then resold, that are driving up the average price.
There is a lot of demand and competition for these old machines, and I don't think we can rule out the possibility that the average sale price will continue to rise. Considering the small sample size with which we have to work, however, it may be a bit premature to conclude that perforator prices in general are getting higher.
Not everyone has the opportunity to purchase a tool to make real pinhole perforations. I’ve been blessed enough to get the chance to purchase two different machines, and I’m excited to be able to use my vintage Southworth perforator to assist other stamp producers.
I recently sold my antique Franklin hand perforator that I’d originally purchased in 2014. Taking its place is a larger Southworth tabletop hand perforator!
I spotted this heavy beast in a bulk lot of old print shop equipment on eBay in February, and since it was in Tampa—not a short round trip by any means, but doable in a day—I contacted the seller to see if he would be willing to part with just the perforator. He was, so a price was agreed upon and we drove down one Friday to pick it up.
This Southworth apparently went through some rough times at some point. There are a couple of obvious repairs to either end of the head; undoubtedly the bottom brackets cracked—why and how is not clear—necessitating the obvious welding job. The welds don’t look particularly fresh, though, so the repairs seemingly did their job.
On the more positive side of things, the perforator does seem to have all of its original equipment: ash tables, metal guides, and even inlaid metal rulers in the table on the back of the machine. That’s fancy stuff! It’s capable of perforating a line approximately 15 inches long, and seems to have a virtually full complement of pins with only two or three empty slots at one end. They’re in reasonably good shape, too—enough so that I’m in no hurry to order a set of replacements.
The extra size compared to other tabletop perforators and all the goodies do come with a price: this thing is heavy. I managed to lug it up the stairs, but I’m in no hurry to move it any further than I have to now. I haven’t had an opportunity to weigh the machine, but it is one solid hunk of metal.
Scott A. of Purgatory Post found a Southworth ad that pictures the model I now own in a 1923 American Type Founders Company catalog.
The ad indicates that Southworth manufactured several different models of 15-, 20-, and 28-inch full-size perforators, plus my so-called “hand power perforator.” “Southworth Hand Power Perforator is an honest-to-goodness perforator,” the ad proclaims, “and the material used in the construction is of the same high grade as is used in the larger perforators.”
Due in part to its size and design, Scott wrote in an article in the March–April issue of The Poster that the Southworth was “one of the finest hand-powered perforators.”
A reply from Southworth
After purchasing the perforator, I wrote to Southworth Products, which is still in business today, albeit as a producer of lift tables and pallet movers and the like rather than pinhole perforators. I was hoping that Southworth might have a copy of an old owners manual or assembly schematic that would give me some additional insight into exactly how the machine was put together; that they might be able to tell me when my perforator was built; and that they might be able to tell me how much it originally sold for.
One of the company’s vice presidents, Gene Thompson, responded to my inquiry. In a letter I received today, he noted that Southworth just last year celebrated its 125th anniversary. What’s clear is that the company produced equipment for the printing industry beginning in 1890 and through the early part of the 20th century. “Unfortunately,” Mr. Thompson writes, “this is a period of time where much of our documentation and historical data has been lost.”
Mr. Thompson does speculate that my perforator was probably built in the 1910s, though I suppose it’s possible it could be a bit newer than that. Scott A. has found references to Southworth perforators still being sold at least as late as 1930.
I’m not going to pretend for a minute that the Southworth is anywhere near as pretty as the Franklin I sold. The Franklin didn’t look out of place in our living room. The Southworth would not look out of place in a dirty workshop, and considering the amount of grime on it at the time I purchased it, that may very well be where it had been sitting.
The biggest factor in me deciding to keep the Southworth and sell the Franklin was the Southworth’s ability to perforate a line 15 inches long compared to 10 inches for the Franklin. That means I can completely perforate a sheet of paper without having an inch or so unperforated at one end. It’s a small thing, but it makes a difference.
I also like that the Southworth seems to have all of its original accessories, namely the lovely tables. Despite needing to be repaired at some point, that suggests to me that perhaps whoever owned the machine took some care to make sure it was maintained.
A final item of note: the holes that the Southworth punches seem to be in a slightly straighter line than what the Franklin produced for me. I don’t know whether that’s indicative of the differing qualities of the machines—the Franklin seems to have been something of an entry level perforator, while Southworth may have targeted a higher market—or if it’s simply a sign of wear in the Franklin. In either case, the difference is virtually imperceptible when looking at a single stamp.
Philosateleian photo featured in Kelleher’s Collectors Connection
Late last year, I received a copy of the November–December 2015 issue of Kelleher’s Collectors Connection in the mail. The magazine, which is published by Kelleher Auctions, wasn’t something I’d requested, but I suppose they got my name and address off of a mailing list somewhere.
At any rate, while paging through an article about President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s stamp collection, I noticed on page 16 a picture of his Roto-Gage, a combination perforation gauge-magnifying glass-watermark tray which was apparently marketed as something of a Swiss Army knife for stamp collectors. Hey, I thought to myself, I remember seeing that on display at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom a few years ago. I took a photo of it while we were there.
I took another look at the picture in the magazine, and that’s when I realized that it should look familiar because it was the picture I took.
What I didn’t see was any sort of acknowledgement of where the photo in the magazine originated. I feel like Philosateleia’s reprint policy is fair—with the exception of The Philosateleian U.S. Stamp Album, all I ask is credit if you use my content—but that obviously had not been done.
I wrote a polite note to the editor of Kelleher’s Collectors Connection, Randy Neil. Mr. Neil responded promptly and apologized for the omission of the appropriate credit, but promised it would appear in a future issue. And I’m pleased to report that on page 4 of the January–February 2016 issue, Philosateleia is credited as the source of the Roto-Gage photo.
It’s exciting to see a photo I took published elsewhere, and I appreciate how Mr. Neil promptly addressed the issue. I’ve never purchased anything from Kelleher, but that sort of customer service definitely leaves me with a positive impression.
English cat survives eight-day journey through mail
A Siamese cat named “Cupcake” is alive and well after being accidentally mailed by her owners.
According to a full report in The Guardian, Cupcake somehow managed to sneak into a box of DVDs that was being packed for shipment in England. Although Cupcake was dehydrated, she was otherwise physically unharmed.
According to The Guardian, it took eight days for Cupcake’s box to travel from Falmouth to Worthing, a distance of about 260 miles. My question is why did it take more than a week for a package to travel that far?