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The Bermuda "Postmaster" Provisional of 1849


Bermuda
1849
1 Penny
 
The first adhesive stamps of Bermuda were actually provisional issues released by Hamilton's Postmaster William Bennett Perot. Although Perot is credited with this issue, it was really the idea of his close friend, James Bell Heyl, a chemist from Virginia. Upon hearing of the introduction of the Penny Post in Great Britain in 1840, citizens of many countries throughout the world urged their governments to enact similar legislation. Bermudans were no exception. Their pleas were answered in 1842 when the postal rate was reduced to 1 penny.

As postmaster of Hamilton, Perot collected the mails from the incoming ships in the morning, and from the stages running between St. George's and Somerset in the afternoon. He personally delivered mail to the addressees. Perot was an accommodating man, and when the post office was closed due to his absence, he provided a box in which letters could be placed along with the appropriate amount for postage (1d. per letter).

Some of his fellow citizens, however, took advantage of his good nature. The box invariably contained more letters than money to cover their postage. Perot was explaining his plight to James Heyl one day. Heyl had heard of the Penny Black, the adhesive stamp, which had been issued in Britain in 1840. It also is possible that, coming from Virginia, he was familiar with the Alexandria postmaster's provisional issued by Daniel Bryan.

Heyl suggested that Perot issue his own stamp. Heyl took a postmarking hand stamp being used in Hamilton, removed the month and day plugs, pressed the hand stamp onto an ink pad, and then applied it to a piece of paper. The result was a circular stamp with '*HAMILTON*BERMUDA' around the circle and '1848' in the center. He explained to Perot that such a stamp could be used prepay postage, eliminating any losses from dishonest patrons.

Perot agreed to the concept, but felt the stamp needed a more official look. He added 'One penny' above the year and his signature, 'W.B. Perot,' below it. And thus Bermuda's first postage stamp was born.

Only 11 examples of the Perot provisional exist. The first copies were discovered in 1897 by Louis Mowbray of St. Georges. He was going through his grandmother's correspondence when he found three copies of the hand stamped provisionals in red. He was convinced that he was onto something rare, but when he sent one to a dealer, he was disappointed to be told that it was not genuine.

Fortunately, Count Phillippe von Ferrari was more knowledgeable in the field of philately than the dealer. He knew the stamp was genuine and purchased it. The other two were given to Mowbray's friends who were asked to sell them for him. Two copies of the provisional on entires are in a collection in Hamilton, along with three other specimens. The Royal Collection in London also has three other examples. A copy on cover is owned by a collector in the United States.

The Perot provisional was printed in black until 1853, when a red ink pad was used. The hand stamps were printed on bluish or white papers. The Stanley Gibbons British Commonwealth Stamp Catalogue also lists a provisional in red on bluish-gray paper.

In An Album of Rare Stamps, Ernest A. Kehr says this stamp, which consists of a crowned circle with 'Paid at Hamilton Bermuda' in the center, was acquired by Mrs. Arthur Pierce, who gave it to her husband as a Christmas present in 1945. Kehr says the stamp is affixed to the upper right corner of an envelope addressed to Miss Hurst, care of W. Evans Esq., Somerset N. It is precanceled with an 'X.' The original Hamilton postmark, dated 'MR 6 1861,' appears in the upper left. Perot's signature does not appear on the stamp.

A similar hand stamp was issued by James H. Thies, who was postmaster of St. Georges in the early 1860's. It features a crowned circle with a 'St. Georges' inscription. Because of their scarcity, copies of the Bermuda Perot provisional are seldom offered for sale. A 1d red on bluish paper on cover was sold for $210,000 during an April 5,1980 auction by Robert A. Siegel. On February 18, 1981, a Perot stamp was sold at a Stanley Gibbons auction in New York for $46,200. The Hamilton postmaster stamp's value ranges from $125,000 to $225,000 in the Scott's 2001 stamp catalog.

Linn's Philatelic Gems by Donna O'Keefe Houseman, 1984
Purchase this book at

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 Robinson 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.l3s. 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 1d. 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 52.1ls.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 favor of, or prohibition against, the adoption of the idea of using home-made stamps. Perot decided to adopt it.

He took his postmarking hand stamp 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 he 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 dated December 8, 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 tune 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 May 7th and 16th of that year the color 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 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 MonthIy 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 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 F. 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 November 3, 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 Gibbon's 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 longstanding 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 of the Perot stamp, which he offered for sale. In a letter 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 of the rarities. They had been purchased by Captain James' 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.

Encyclopaedia of Rare and Famous Stamps by L. N. Williams published by David Feldman, Geneva
Purchase this book at DavidFeldman.com

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