Henry Archer

Henry Archer

Entrepreneur, inventor of the world's first stamping and perforating machine
Country: Ireland

  1. Biography of Henry Archer
  2. Introduction of Stamp Perforation
  3. Festiniog Railway Post Office

Biography of Henry Archer

Henry Archer was an entrepreneur and inventor of the world's first stamp perforation machine. He was the son of the city treasurer of Dublin and a landowner. He completed his education at Trinity College in Dublin and was admitted to the Irish College of Advocates. Archer spent most of his life in North Wales and London.

Archer played an active role in the formation of the Festiniog Railway Company, the oldest private railway company in the world, which was established on May 23, 1832. As the appointed managing director of the company, he successfully raised an initial capital of £24,185 on the Dublin Stock Exchange, including £11,905 of his own funds. He managed the company throughout the construction of the Festiniog Railway in North Wales. During the early operation of the railway, he convinced shale mining businesses to entrust the transportation of shale to the railway.

In 1836, due to some disagreements, Henry Archer stepped back from active management of the company but continued to serve as a director for over 20 years until 1860 when he was granted a pension of £100 per year by the company.

Introduction of Stamp Perforation

Henry Archer invented the stamp perforation machine. On October 1, 1847, he presented his idea to the Chief Postmaster of Great Britain, proposing a method for separating stamps from stamp sheets. After receiving approval for his idea, Archer conducted a series of experiments in the field from 1847 to 1850.

Initially, he used a rough perforation, known as Archer's Roulette, which he patented in 1848. This was a trial perforation produced by Henry Archer himself on the "Red Penny" stamp using a machine he had designed, although the earliest versions of the machine were unsuccessful. However, the use of roulette resulted in high costs due to the rapid wear of the knives and the base plate, raising doubts about the practicality of this method of separating stamps. Archer then turned to the idea of perforation, or punching holes between stamps, and conducted numerous experiments with the size and spacing of the holes. The trial coarse perforation on the same "Red Penny" stamps yielded positive results and became known in philatelic history as Archer's perforation. Archer not only improved the perforation system but also patented it in 1850, making it suitable for the production of postage stamps.

In April 1851, the new perforation machine successfully passed tests, for which test stamps featuring a portrait of Prince Albert were specially made, with the assistance of the renowned engraver Robert Edward Branston. Archer proposed to the British Treasury to enter into a contract for printing and perforating stamps but was refused, despite his proposal offering lower production costs compared to the then-stamp producing firm, Perkins, Bacon & Co. Nevertheless, as a result of the ensuing competition for the government order, Perkins, Bacon & Co. was forced to reduce their prices.

In June 1853, Archer sold the perforation machine, the rights to the invention, and the patents to the British Treasury for £4,000. The first perforated stamps appeared in Britain on January 28, 1854. The perforation machine, improved by the English engineer James Napier, found wide application in printing.

Festiniog Railway Post Office

As part of the services provided by the private Festiniog Railway, the Festiniog Railway Post Office was established, which carries out urgent delivery of letters using its own envelopes, special cancellations, and additional railway post stamps. Such intact items are popular among philatelists.