Kevin Blackston
PO Box 217
Floresville TX 78114-0217
United States of America

Philosateleian Blog

The Southworth Perforator, hand power edition

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!

Southworth hand perforator
The Southworth 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.

An overview

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.

Reference material

Scott A. of Purgatory Post found a Southworth ad that pictures the model I now own in a 1923 American Type Founders Company catalog.

Page from 1923 American Type Founders Company catalogue
1923 advertisement for Southworth perforators

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.

I’ve already perforated a few things on this machine, including a sheet of Philosateleian Post’s upcoming National Park Service centennial stamp, and I look forward to doing much, much more!

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.

Part of page from November-December 2015 issue of Kelleher's Collectors Connection
Roto-Gage photo in Kelleher’s Collectors Connection

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?

First Coast Spring Stamp Show & Exhibition set for April 16

It’s kind of hard to believe it’s already that time again, but the First Coast Spring Stamp Show & Exhibition is less than a month away. The show, which is being held at the Northeast Florida Safety Council Building at 1725 Art Museum Drive in Jacksonville, Florida, runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 16.

According to a flyer prepared by the Jacksonville Stamp Collectors Club, the show’s sponsor, light refreshments will be served.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I think it’s unfortunate that this one-day show is held on Saturday only. I for one would love to see a Sunday show at some point, but the requests of this one collector are probably unlikely to make much of an impression on the organizers.

Do you plan to attend the First Coast Spring Stamp Show & Exhibition?

Antique tabletop pinhole perforator for sale

Update: this machine has been sold. Thank you for your interest!

When I finally had the opportunity to purchase an antique tabletop perforator in December 2014, I was absolutely ecstatic. Although I had been searching for one of the old machines for quite some time, I wasn’t sure that I would ever find one, or that I would be able to afford it if I did. There seem to be a lot more people who want one of these for producing local post stamps or artistamps than there are machines to go around. Owning my very own perforator was a dream come true—a once-in-a-lifetime event, I thought.

Until this past January.

In January, I had the opportunity to purchase a second tabletop perforating machine. I have a few things to say about that machine, and I’ll share some photos in a future post, but that purchase means I now have a spare. The perforator I bought in 2014 is now surplus, and beautiful as it is, it’s time to sell.

About the perforator

When I bought my original perforator, I wasn’t sure who built it. Machines that were manufactured by Rosback are most common, but they are all marked pretty clearly as being manufactured by Rosback, and my perforator had no such label on it.

It turns out that what I have is what was described in printing trade supply catalogues from around the beginning of the 20th century as a Franklin Hand Perforator, so named because it is operated by hand instead of using a foot pedal or treadle as is the case with larger antique perforators. I think Scott A. of Purgatory Post discovered an example of the ad. The machine originally sold for the princely sum of $25; that doesn’t sound like much money, but it was 1,250 times as much as it cost to mail a letter at that time.

Illustration of Franklin Hand Perforator in printer supply catalogue
Franklin Perforator catalogue illustration (credit: Google Books)

My perforator originally sold with a wooden table that lent support to whatever was being perforated. That was gone probably long before I ever saw the machine, but the perforator works just fine without it, and a replacement table ought to be easy enough to create. The perforator is really in excellent condition overall. It even has its original paint job, as you can see by comparing the following photos with the above catalogue illustration.

Front side of Franklin Hand Perforator
Franklin Hand Perforator (front)
Front side of Franklin Hand Perforator
Franklin Hand Perforator (back)

The Franklin perforator weighs 45 pounds, and its base has a footprint of 18 inches long by 6 inches deep. The pins that were in the machine when I acquired it were pretty badly worn, so late last year I installed a brand new full set of replacements. The machine does accomodate Rosback-manufactured pins, which are still available to perforator owners, and that’s what I used. In the ad pictured a bit earlier on, you may have noticed replacement pins (or “needles”) were available for 50 cents per 100. It now costs more than that to buy a single Rosback pin. Talk about inflation!

Picture of new Rosback pins in perforator
New Rosback pins in perforator

I doubt I’ve perforated more than a couple dozen sheets of paper since installing the new pins. They do leave an occasional hanging chad or bit of paper, but if you punch two sheets of paper at once, the top sheet ends up with perfectly clean holes.

Sheet of paper perforated with Franklin perforator
Sheet of paper perforated with Franklin perforator

I wouldn’t mind keeping this lovely thing for myself. It’s really a beautiful piece of machinery and it works very well. When I began my search for a perforator, though, I was searching for a tool, and since I’ve acquired another…well, quite frankly, I really don’t need two perforators. It’s time to let this one go.

My price

I’m asking $650 plus shipping, which will be done via UPS. If you want to pick up the machine from the Jacksonville or St. Augustine, Florida, area, you’ll save the cost of shipping.

If you’re interested, please send me a note now. Include your ZIP code (unless you would plan to personally pick up the perforator), and I’ll be happy to provide you with an estimate of the shipping cost.

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