Bermuda’s Postmaster Provisionals by L. N. Williams

This is an article taken from the Encyclopaedia of Rare and Famous Stamps, vol.1, pp.5-10, by L. N. Williams, published by David Feldman in 1992, with updates since its publication.

Perot’s First Issue

All the Bermuda Postmasters’ stamps are classic examples of stamps first discovered and recorded many years after they were issued. All have romantic associations and they and their “biographies” form part of the lore of philately.

As a general rule the privilege of issuing postage stamps is reserved to governments, but there have been cases in which private undertakings have made issues; these are among that class of stamps known to collectors as private locals. The individuals who have issued postage stamps are few indeed; three of them were postmasters in Bermuda.

One was William Bennet Perot, postmaster of Hamilton, Bermuda, from 1818 until 1862. When he was first appointed he was 27 years old. For the first 14 years of his appointment, his remuneration was derived solely from an unusual local statutory provision under which postmasters were entitled to retain and appropriate to their own use and benefit all the postage received by them on internal mail. They were obliged to forward all “inland notes”‘, as internal mail was then called. Later he was paid an annual salary: £50 in 1843; £62 in 1844; £70 in 1847; and £95 in 1854, increasing to £100 in 1858. Nevertheless he was still entitled to retain the internal postage money which he received; between 1843 and 1845 it rose from £25.14s.3d. to £44.13s.

Prepayment of inland postage at the rate of one penny an ounce was first required by a local Act of 1842 and was continued as a requirement by later local statutes. The obligation remained on the postmaster to forward all such inland notes. As was pointed out in Bermuda, The Post Office, postal markings and adhesive stamps by M.H. Ludington p 171 Robson Lowe, London, 1962, it was to the postmaster’s advantage to ensure that all inland notes were prepaid.

The population of Hamilton was not very extensive and Perot’s duties as postmaster did not take up a great deal of his time. However, £44.13s. a year in pence and ounce averages at something over 205 ounces a week and his annual return for 1845 showed that the number of ld. post letters, books and packet letters sent from Hamilton to St. George was 9,095, which is not altogether negligible.

Normally, a person wishing to post an inland note would take it to the post office and hand over cash with the note. That system worked satisfactorily enough when the post office was open and the postmaster or someone else was in attendance.

Perot spent most of the day in his garden, of which he was very fond, due partly to the fact that his health was not robust. He owned considerable property and used as the post office a house at the entrance to what is now Par-la-Ville Park. The house still exists and is used partly as the Bermuda Natural History Museum.

Mr. J. B. Heyl, the American proprietor of a chemist’s shop (still in existence on the corner of Queen and Front Streets in Hamilton) adjacent to the post office, was one of Perot’s friends and was prevailed upon by the postmaster to call him from the garden whenever he was required in the post office during the daytime of the days when the office was open.

For the convenience of those who wished to post their letters at night or when the office was closed, Perot provided a box into which people could drop their inland letters and pennies. Sometimes he would find, on opening the box, that there were more such letters than pennies. Since Perot had no means of fixing the blame on any particular person or persons, it is not entirely surprising that he should have been more than a little annoyed – for he was not only defrauded of income but also was obliged to perform the service of forwarding all the letters, if honest or unforgetful correspondents were not to suffer. The year 1846 had shown a sharp increase in the amount of fees which Perot had received from internal mail; it rose to £52.11s.6d., but it dropped to £47.6s.6d. in 1847, perhaps reflecting the cheating of anonymous non-payers.

Perot consulted Heyl about the possibility of stopping the unfortunate occurrences. Heyl, who may have seen some of the stamps issued by postmasters in North America, later claimed to have suggested to Perot the striking on a sheet of a number of stamps. As before, postage on inland notes could be prepaid in cash during the daytime; the stamps were to be provided for the convenience of people who wished to post their letters while the post office was unmanned; any unstamped letters could be treated as unpaid.

There was no statutory provision or regulation in favour of, or prohibition against, the adoption of the idea of using home-made stamps. Perot decided to adopt it.

He took his postmarking handstamp which had been sent out to Hamilton from London on 18 November 1841 and removed the date plugs except for the year. He then struck it, using black ink, several times on a sheet of paper. The postmark produced a circular impression with the word “Hamilton” curved round the upper part and “Bermuda” curved round the lower part; between the words, at each side, there was a cross; the four figures of the year appeared in a straight line across the middle of the circle. Perot gummed the sheet, probably, and then on each impression wrote the words “One penny” above and signed his name beneath the year. From time to time Perot used to manufacture a number of the stamps and keep them in stock so that they would be ready when required.

The exact number of stamps to a sheet has not been definitely established and no multiple larger than an all but severed pair has been recorded. The belief of Sir Henry Tucker, an eminent collector in Bermuda, was that the stamps were struck in two vertical rows of six. In a letter to us dated 8 December, 1962, he wrote.

In connection with my view that the postmasters were struck in two vertical rows of six, I am afraid that my belief is not very well founded. As you say, it seems fairly clear that there were 12 impressions on a sheet. The only reason I have for the statement I made is that I was so informed many years ago by an elderly collector named Englesbee Seon, who lived in Bermuda during the First World War and for a little time thereafter. He has long since died, but I recall that he made this comment to me more than 40 years ago and whether it was accurate or not I have no way of knowing. He was, however, friendly with Sir Reginald Gray, Mr. William Bluck and other Bermuda collectors of that period. It is, I agree, rather slender foundation for my belief.

The earliest-made stamps of Perot’s First Issue to have been found bear the year date 1848. Black ink was used at Hamilton post office up to May 1849. At some time between 7 and 16 May of that year the colour of the ink used was changed to red and red ink alone was employed at Hamilton until 1865. Only eleven stamps have been recorded – three of 1848, two of 1849, three of 1853, two of 1854 and one of 1856, the latest-made stamp of Perot’s First Issue which has been found. Six of the known examples are in red, five in black. During 1852, Perot obtained leave of absence, being temporarily replaced by his assistant, Robert Ward. The post office was moved during Perot’s absence to Ward’s residence.

Perot’s First Issue on cover

Perot did not bother to cancel his stamps of the First Issue when they were used on letters; he probably considered that the mere affixing of a stamp to a letter would prevent the stamp being used again.

Perot’s First Issue became known to philatelists in 1897, or nearly 50 years after the stamps were first issued. An example in red, dated 1854, (I) was sent to Alfred Smith & Co., of Bath, one of the pioneer firms of stamp dealers in England, by a collector in Bermuda. The stamp was, of course, not postmarked and that., together with the fact that half of it was hidden under the fold at the back of the cover, seems to have cast suspicion on the stamp, as appears from a notice published in Alfred Smith & Son’s Monthly Circular, vol 23 no 271 July 1897. According to Mr. Ludington, the handwriting on the cover was that of N.T. Butterfield, founder of the first bank in Bermuda, by which his name is still borne. The letter was addressed to B. Wilson Higgs, merchant and occasional forwarding agent at St. George. It was sold at Robert A. Siegel’s for $210,000 – the highest price for any stamp of Perot’s First Issue.

Nine months elapsed before another example (II) was discovered. This time it was a copy in black and was dated 1849. A young Englishman who had only a few weeks earlier gone out to the islands found a letter bearing the crude-looking stamp affixed at the lower left corner of the address side. He showed his find to the other occupants of the office; nobody thought very much of it so he tore off part of the letter bearing the stamp and put it in his pocket. Later he met a local collector who offered him a few shillings for the piece, but his offer was refused. He sent the stamp to his father in London in the hope that more pounds might be obtained there than shillings had been offered in Bermuda. The price at which the piece changed hands is not known, but it was bought by B. W. Warhurst., a well known philatelist. The writing on the piece is that of N.T. Butterfield and, again according to Mr. Ludington., the letter was almost certainly addressed to Henry E. Higgs, also a commission merchant and forwarding agent of St. George, a cousin of B. Wilson Higgs and the only advertiser in the Bermuda Royal Gazette of that period whose name started “Henry E.”.

Soon after the finding of that stamp, an article was written by Major E.B. Evans who had spent a number of years in Bermuda. Edward Benjamin Evans, who had been born 3 November 1846 and commissioned into the Royal Regiment of Artillery in 1867, had begun collecting stamps in 1861 when he was at Uppingham Grammar School. He was an eager philatelist, bringing to his interest a keen and inquiring mind. He made a habit of conducting research into the postal affairs and postage stamps of the countries where he was stationed.

The article, in Stanley Gibbons’ Monthly Journal, vol. IX., p 10 July 1898, contained all the then known details of the Perot stamps. Major Evans doubted their bona fides because he had never had one offered to him in Bermuda although he had had a long-standing advertisement in the local papers for old stamps of the colony.

The article was given considerable publicity and led to further inquiries being made in Bermuda. People who had known Perot and who remembered the use of the stamps, wrote to Major Evans and research was undertaken by Edward Denny Bacon. Gradually the whole story was unfolded and the genuineness of the issue was accepted.

In October 1922, Richard Roberts., the well known dealer in London, was visited by a man who produced four examples (IV- V – VI-VII) of the Perot stamp, which he offered for sale. In a letter to me, dated October 22, 1976, Mr. Ludington stated that the man was Dr. William E. Tucker, a well known physician of Hamilton. He sold the four stamps on behalf of his aunt, Miss Frances Trott, for £50 each.

In 1934, Captain M.D. James, an army officer and native of Bermuda, walked into the offices of H.R. Harmer and produced from his pocket a pair (IX, X) of the rarities. They had been purchased by Captain James’s grandfather., John Harvey Darrell, Chief Justice of Bermuda, from Perot in 1853 and had lain among the judge’s papers until a few months earlier.

Perot’s Second Issue, this example was sold by Spink in June 2006 for $120’000

Perot’s Second Issue

Early in 1946, the philatelic world was astonished when a new type of Perot stamp was discovered. The design, as collectors had known for over fifty years, had been used for the stamps of J.H. Thies of St. Georges and also by Perot as a handstamp on prepaid overseas mail between 1845 and 1863. The crowned double circle PAID AT HAMILTON BERMUDA could be thought to be somewhat more impressive than that produced by the bare postmarking handstamp with its omissions and its manuscript additions. Perot’s Second Issue appears on letters dated in March 1861; perhaps he thought that his appointment in 1860 as a member of the House of Assembly ought to be reflected in his home-made stamps.

The newly discovered Perot Second Issue was affixed to a letter and apparently had been used as an adhesive. The letter had been presented to Mr. Arthur D. Pierce as a Christmas present from his wife. She had obtained it from a dealer who didn’t know what it was, but who felt sure that a Bermuda specialist would find it interesting. The stamp is struck in red on blue laid paper. A postmark of 1861, in the type of the better-known stamps of Perot’s First Issue, was struck at the upper left of the letter.

Perot’s Second Issue bore no manuscript indicating its value or that it was his issue as distinct from that of anyone else. Also unlike the case with his First Issue, Perot thought it necessary or desirable to deface the stamp by a penmarked cross; whether the defacement was effected before or after the stamp was affixed to the inland note remains a matter of individual speculation for no example is known in which the cancelling cross extends beyond the stamp to make it tied to the cover.

Ward’s Issue, one of only two known

Hamilton: Ward’s Stamps

Two examples of Hamilton are of the crowned double circle type of Perot’s Second Issue cancelled with a cross in blue pencil. One was discovered in 1951 and the second in 1953. There being no means of dating the blue pencil marking, these stamps were regarded with reserve because it is possible that each could have been cut out from an envelope of an overseas letter for which postage had been prepaid at Hamilton.

An argument in favour of their being adhesives is based on the fact that in machine-made envelopes on laid paper, normally, the lines run diagonally across the face of the envelope. These stamps on cream-coloured laid paper differ. In one the lines are vertical., while those of the other are horizontal. That, however., is not entirely conclusive per se because the crowned double circle handstamp was hand held and need not have been applied upright to a cover. It is possible that these stamps were used by Robert Ward, Perot’s successor in June 1862, who then started to employ red and blue pencil in place of red and black ink for prepaid or unpaid postage rates marked on letters.

Another circumstance in favour of their being adhesives is that each has adhering to the back a piece of blue-grey paper such as was used for envelopes.

Doubts about the status of the Ward stamps seem to have been resolved subsequent to the sale by Harmers of London of the remarkable collection of Bermuda formed by Sir Henry Tucker. At that sale in 1978, a Ward stamp realised £260. Just under two years later at auction by Richard Wolfers in the United States, that stamp realised £6,875.

Theis’ Issue

St. George: Theis’ Stamps

The postmaster at St. George was first appointed in 1818. His official title, Deputy Postmaster-General of Bermuda at St. Georges, indicated he was deputy to the Postmaster-General in London, superior of and with greater salary than that of the Hamilton postmaster. Like the postmaster at Hamilton, the postmaster at St. George was entitled to retain all postage received by him on internal mail. Between 1818 and 1853, the income of the St. George postmaster from inland notes averaged some £25 annually. Although the name of the island and town is St. George, philatelists refer to it as St. Georges because the Crowned doubled-circle handstamp sent out there from England is inscribed ST GEORGES BERMUDA.

Until his death in 1853, the St. George postmaster was James Taylor. Two of his nephews had assisted him. They were Thomas and James Henry Thies – a surname which was later to become philatelically famous. Thomas Thies was appointed to his late uncle’s position and, from September 1859 became officially Postmaster-General of Bermuda. He retained that post until he died on 31 August 1860, aged 30. He was succeeded in office by his younger brother, James Henry, who had carried out the duties during Thomas’s failing health and illness for the previous year or more.

Almost certainly it was James Henry Thies who conceived and brought to fruition the idea of issuing the Postmaster’s stamp of St. George. Whether he was imitator of Perot or innovator, he seems at first to have taken somewhat more care in the production of his stamps than had Perot. There is reason to believe that Thies ruled out the sheet of paper by pencilled lines into rectangles and then struck in red ink in each rectangle his handstamp bearing the inscription: PAID / AT / ST GEORGES BERMUDA enclosed by double lines broken by a surmounting crown.

The first Thies stamp (Thies I) to be found was discovered by Ralph Wedmore. The find was not publicised or recorded at the time and the circumstances are best told in a letter dated 19 May 1940, written to us by Mr. Wedmore:

I bought the stamp in Bristol at a small shop at which stamps were left for sale. The year was 1895 or 1896. The Perot stamps had not at that time been discovered., but it looked genuine to me, so I paid the 1/6 which was asked for it. It came from a small collection of early British and Colonial stamps, with nothing after the late seventies in it … There were no cut-outs of any kind. I think the then owner must have had some reason for treating it as a postage stamp and pricing it at 1/6.

The first record of a Thies stamp in the philatelic press is in Stanley Gibbons’ Monthly Journal, vol IX., p 111 January 1899, in a note by Major Evans. He stated that the stamp (Thies II), on an official letter addressed to The Pilot Commissioners at Hamilton, was on deep yellow paper. He went on, “why this kind of adhesive stamp was used … it is difficult to understand”. For many years, the authenticity of the Thies issue remained in doubt.

The mere existence of a Thies stamp was recorded in The Postage Stamps of Bermuda by H.R. Holmes (1932). No details about the stamp’s appearance or condition appeared in print. All traces of this example were subsequently lost, but a somewhat defective example [IV] was found in 1975 by a young man in California among the effects of his deceased father. This may be the stamp recorded in 1932. It was sold at auction by Earl PL. Apfelbaum in June 1976.

A fifth example has been authenticated. A well-known American collector, George Ulrich, who had an outstanding collection of Bermuda, writing to me in June 1978 about the discovery, stated: “Like mine, it has a cancellation right over the stamp. It is on the same yellowish paper … and the date is JA 30/1863 … ,’, A question asked of me was whether the newly discovered stamp could have been the one recorded in 1932. My opinion was that, in view of the example auctioned by Mr. Apfelbaum in 1976, this stamp was hitherto unrecorded.