Bermuda Stamps and Postal History

Bermuda June 1946 12s.6d. grey and yellow lemon shade corner marginal block of nine stamps

The Bermuda or Somers Islands are a group of small coral islands situated in the North Atlantic Ocean in approximately 32° 20' North latitude and 64° 45' West longitude, about 600 miles due East of Charleston, South Carolina. The chief islands in the group are St. Georges, St. David’s, the main island, Somerset and Ireland, of which the main island is by far the largest, and they are arranged in the general shape of a fish-hook, running north-east to south-west. Completing the oval on the west and north is a wide bank of coral reefs, and a thin line of reefs also follows the coast on the east and south, often only a few hundred feet from the shore. The greatest land distance is about 25 miles from St. Georges to Ireland Island, the average width about 1 mile and the total area approximately 22 square miles. The land is low-lying but hilly, with the highest point, Gibbs Hill, Southampton Parish, rising to 260 feet above sea-level. It is composed of soft sandy limestone, with a top-soil of either coral sand or, in sheltered areas, a red earth formed from the indigenous cedars. About two hundred feet below the surface is volcanic rode, indicating that the islands were formed on an extinct volcano, and soundings taken off the islands confirm that this submarine mountain rises nearly 15,000 feet above the surrounding ocean bed. The climate is sub-tropical, the temperature rarely exceeding 90° or falling below 45°, but is humid, averaging about 75% throughout the year, with considerable rainfall, mostly in the form of heavy showers, usually of short duration. Hurricanes from the West Indies sometimes strike the islands in late summer, and gales from the north are not infrequent in the winter months.

The islands were probably discovered in the first few years of the 16th Century, their name "La Bermuda” being marked on a map in a rare book "Legatio Babylonica”, published in 1511. A Spanish navigator, Juan de Bermudez, is known to have visited the islands before 1515, and it is assumed that he is the same man as the original discoverer, and the one after whom the islands are named. No permanent settlement was made by the Spaniards, and for many years the islands were avoided as being storm-swept and inhabited by devils! Bermudez or some shipwrecked mariners released a number of hogs, which multiplied and became a century later a useful source of food.

On July 28th, 1609, the “Sea Venture”, a 300 ton caravel carrying on board Sir George Somers, as Admiral, and Sir Thomas Gates, the newly appointed Governor of Virginia, and about 150 other persons, was wrecked on the reefs off St. Georges Island. The vessel had been separated by a storm from the remainder of a fleet of seven ships and two pinnaces carrying settlers from England to the new colony of Jamestown, Virginia. The shipwrecked party stayed in Bermuda until the following May, when they completed the building of two pinnaces and proceeded to Virginia. A few months later Sir George Somers returned to the islands to obtain a supply of food, especially hogs, to relieve a severe famine at Jamestown. He died on November 9th, 1610, soon after his arrival, and his heart was buried in what is now Somers Gardens in St. Georges. His companions brought his body back to his native Dorsetshire for burial, and their accounts of Bermuda aroused the interest of members of the Virginia Company. Two years later, on July 11th, 1612, a group of fifty settlers arrived in Bermuda under the auspices of the Virginia Company and founded the first permanent settlement, which they named St. Georges, after Sir George Somers and the patron saint of England. On June 29th, 1615, the Virginia Company renounced all claims to the islands, and a charter was granted to a newlv formed Company, officially designated the “Govenour and Company of the City of London for the Plantacon of the Somer Islands”, but more usually

The Postmaster Stamps of Bermuda

Bermuda 1853 Perot's First Issue at Hamilton, 1d. red on thick, white paper

The three types of Postmaster adhesive stamps, issued by Mr W. B. Perot, Postmaster of Hamilton, and Mr. James H. Thies, Postmaster of St. Georges, between 1848 and 1863, are among the greatest philatelic rarities in existence. The reasons for their issue and use are so closely con¬nected with the prevailing laws and local postal conditions that a brief summary of the known facts concerning them is considered both appropriate and necessary.

The “Dock” type stamps of Bermuda

Bermuda 1902 1d Dry Dock Color Trial

According to the records of Messrs. De La Rue & Co., the Colonial Secretary requested on October 22nd, 1896, that the Crown Agents and printers prepare a new value, 5d., in a new design. The denomination was intended for double rate letters to Great Britain and the United States, and for “Late Fee” letters to the latter country. The printers prepared two essays for Key-type production, using as the central design the badge of Bermuda, taken from woodcuts provided by the Crown Agents. The plan for a 5d. stamp was, however, abandoned, but after the death of Queen Victoria, the second of the two essays was approved on August 8th, 1901 (the approval received on September 3rd, 1901, by the printers), for 1d. stamps and ¼d. newspaper wrappers, with instruc¬tions to proceed with the manufacture of plates. On December 19th, 1901, it was decided to extend the use of the same design to other values, to be introduced as and when each was required.

The Pictorial Issue of King George V Bermuda Stamps

On April 14th, 1936, Bermuda followed the example of many other British Colonies by issuing a series of pictorial stamps. The series consisted of nine values from ½d. to 1/6d., recess printed by Bradbury, Wilkinson & Co. in double plates of 60 stamps each, divided after printing into sheets of 60 in ten rows of six. The ½d., 2d., 6d. and 1/6d., which did not incorporate a portrait of King George V, remained in use throughout the reign of King George VI, the 2d. however in new colours, and numerous printings of these values were made, including new plates for the and 6d.

The 1/2d. and 4d. of 1880 Bermuda Stamps

The postal convention of 1876 between Bermuda and the United States, details of which are given in Chapter IV of Part I, gave to Bermuda the right to charge 2½d. per half ounce on letters to the United States. Since Bermuda had no ½d. stamps at that time, only 2d. was charged for single rate letters, and no steps were taken by the Postmaster General to provide any. A report appeared in the “Philatelic Quarterly” for July-September 1877 that a provisional consisting of the current Id. stamp surcharged “HALF (½) PENNY” in black, had appeared and was in use.

Queen Victoria Stamps of Bermuda 1883-1904

Bermuda 1883-1904 Queen Victoria Specimen Stamps

During 1882 Colonial stamps began to be printed on paper watermarked Crown and CA. The first Bermuda stamp with the new watermark was the 1d. value delivered at the end of 1882, but not issued immediately. The new watermark was not noticed until 1886 as the colour of the stamp was so nearly that of the 1d. watermarked Crown and CC. However used copies are known dated from at least December 1883 onwards and by April 1884, the stocks of the 1d. with the old watermark appear to have been practically exhausted.

Trial Color Proofs of the King George V High Values stamps of Bermuda

Trial Color Proofs of the King George V Five Shillings stamp of Bermuda

Printing companies that had contracts with the Crown Agents were required to produce a color proof for approval before a stamp with a new face value or design could be printed. The preparation of proofs was to follow specifications and guidelines set by the Crown Agents. When a request for color proofs was made, the Crown Agents issued the corresponding printing plates from their secu­rity storage room at the printing plant. The printers then prepared small quantities of ink and recorded the ink formulations in a ledger.

Plate Flaws of Bermuda King George V stamps

The best description of the plate flaws of the Bermuda King George V stamps is in the Chapter 5 of M. Glazer "The King George V High-Value Stamps of Bermuda, 1917-1938" book. All the flaws are numbered and described according the book. I highly recommend the book for all the collectors of the Bermuda Key plates stamps.

Position 12

Flaw 12A

A break near the upper right scroll of the stamps, in the outer top line that connect the scroll to the base of the crown.