JUMP TO PAGE   100  >  200  >  300  >  400  >  500  >  600

Postage Pokers: 1938

1938. Washington, D.C. "400-subject two-way postage stamp perforating machine at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing." Acetate negative by Arthur Rothstein. View full size.

1938. Washington, D.C. "400-subject two-way postage stamp perforating machine at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing." Acetate negative by Arthur Rothstein. View full size.


On Shorpy:
Today’s Top 5

Sure would be swell to identify the stamp

Of the regular postage stamps issued in 1938, the only ones issued in 4 panes of 100 stamps each were the Presidential Series, and Scott #837. It doesn't look like #837 (Northwest Territory sesquicentennial issue), so it must be one of the Presidential Series. But in blurry b/w, those stamps cannot be told apart. (It wouldn't be an airmail, etc., stamp, as they didn't issue any new ones, nor were any of the preceding issues in this format.) They printed a ton of the low-denomination Presidentials, so it's probably one of those. Would need a much higher-res scan to tell anything more.

Well, thank you for adding the blow-up there. That sure looks like the 1 cent Washington issue from the Presidential series. Scott # 804.

Origami Chapeaux

Folded paper caps were common in the printing industry for many years. Here's the great printmaker, typographer and sculptor Eric Gill in a self-portrait wearing one.

Printer's hats

In the early 1960s I spent a summer working in a print shop (I was a printer's devil, I guess, but nobody called me that). Print shops are filthy places, and almost everyone wore a hat - mostly baseball caps and flat caps - but one old dude folded a new hat every morning when he arrived. It didn't look anything like what the ladies are wearing, or like the illustration below, but was a square box-like construction.

My father, who was a printer, although he had moved up(?) to administration by then, said that when he started as a pressman in the 30s everybody folded their own hats each day.

Incidentally, that machine doesn't look any too safe; I'll bet you could perforate your fingers pretty easily. But print shops were dangerous places. They let me operate a job press shoving pieces of paper onto a moving platen. I once missed the pins which were supposed to hold the paper as it was pressed against the type, tried to reach in and fix it, and _just_ got my hand back before it was smashed.

Move Along Now

Oh, sure,. nothing to see here. No connection at all between those hats and the all-seeing pyramid on the $1 bill from the very same Bureau of Engraving and Printing ... or between the Ladies Who Perforate and Atropos, who cuts the thread of our fate. -- you just believe that if it makes you feel better.

Funny hats, paper streamers

It's obviously the BEP's New Year's Eve party. Just wait until the boys from the Gluing Dept. show up.

One clever woman

She hid behind the lady on the left, sparing herself 80 years of embarrassment.


I put a smaller version of one those hats into my coffee maker every morning.

Help Wanted

"Postage stamp perforating machine operators wanted. Paper dunce caps supplied. Must have own floral-print dress. Stout, middle-aged ladies only."

Observation: not only did the hats protect the women's hair, but they also protected the perforating machines from loose hair.

Time passes slowly

... on the postage stamp perforating machine. I speak from experience, as I once spent a summer working for Texas Instruments, drilling 8,000 identical holes per day in 8,000 tiny pieces of plastic.

Still, in 1938, with the unemployment rate rising to 19%, one would be thankful for a government job, even a job perforating stamps.

Hatz shmatz

Printing nerd that I am, I paid no attention to the ludicrous headgear, but instead homed in on the perforating machine. Especially since it is labeled Crown Cork & Seal, primarily famous for making bottle caps. Well, lo and behold, they were among the many suppliers of perforating machines to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

[As any true printing nerd could tell you, the "ludicrous headgear" has much to do with the trade. Any pressmen or printer's devils out there? - Dave]

I dunno, Dave: been doing this since 1980 and have yet to see such a thing in any print shop I worked in. I also have to say the hoots would have been rampant. But I take you at your word and await enlightenment.


It's my humble guess that this machine produces a lot of small paper particles that tend to stick in your hair in a very irritating way. Hence the protective head gear. And there are three ladies in the picture, look for the hats ;-)

[There are four. Look for the shoes. - Dave]

I stand corrected !

Interesting Headgear

I'd like to know more about their headgear, as I've never such anywhere else, regardless of era.

Depression life was just awful

Poor ladies couldn't even afford proper headwear. Seriously, what's with the hats?

Looks like the chad bin's full

Just visible in front of the lady on the left's legs. Would a little attention to cleanliness be such a burden?

The machine

Appears to be this one, or one very much like it, now at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum.

The B Team

They must not be their best workers, as both are wearing dunce caps!

Nice wall mounted Emerson 29648

I feel like such a dunce for having no idea what the purpose of those hats would be. And I wonder if the fourth woman is also wearing one?


The woman on the left appears to have three legs, and her shoes don't match. I wonder what's the story with the paper hats.

Syndicate content is a vintage photography site featuring thousands of high-definition images. The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago. Contact us | Privacy policy | Accessibility Statement | Site © 2024 Shorpy Inc.