The Postmaster Stamps of Bermuda

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.

Ever since 1818, the Postmasters had been permitted to retain for themselves all of the postage money paid at their respective Offices on inland mail. The Act of 1842 reduced the inland postage rate to 1d. per ounce for letters, or “inland notes” as they were then called, to be prepaid in all cases. It was therefore to the advantage of the Postmasters to encourage the use of the inland mail service, but at the same time to ensure that all notes were prepaid at the time of deposit.

A person wishing to post a local note would normally take it to the Post Office and hand it in over the counter together with the currency for the amount of postage. The note would then usually be stamped with the impression of the date-stamp and deposited in the mail bag. Should it be necessary to post a note when the Post Office was closed, a slot was provided in the door, through which the note would be dropped together with the postage money in coin. The Postmaster, on returning, would collect the notes and the money, and forward the notes in the usual manner.

However, it sometimes happened that the Postmaster, upon his return, would find more notes than money to pay for the postage. He had no means of finding out who had failed to deposit the postage money, yet he was obliged to forward all the notes, including those that were unpaid, so as not to penalize those persons who had been honest. In consequence, some notes were sent post free, and the Postmaster would be defrauded.

In Hamilton such occurrences must have become sufficiently frequent by 1848 for Mr. Perot to attempt to remedy the situation. He was doubtless familiar with the Postmaster Provisional of the United States, which had first appeared in 1845. It was either suggested to him, or he himself decided, to produce similar adhesives for the prepayment of local letters posted when the Post Office was closed. However, no law or regulation existed, either authorizing the Postmaster to make such stamps or to enforce their use, and they were therefore produced solely for the convenience of those who might wish to use them on notes posted after hours, to prove that the postage had been paid. The Stamps were thus not only locals, but locals issued for a specific and limited purpose, which accounts for their great rarity.

The first type of adhesive issued by Mr. Perot was made from the current date-stamp, (Type PM4), from which he removed the plugs with the name and day of the month, leaving the year date across the centre. He would then make a number of impressions, possibly a dozen at a time, on a sheet of paper, and write “One Penny” above the year date and his signature, “W. B. Perot”, below it. The stamps would then be sold for one penny each to those who wished to use them, and would be accepted by Mr. Perot, when affixed to local notes, as payment of the postage. The stamps may have been gummed before being sold, - one recorded example still has some gum on the back, and may be unused - but it is not definitely known if this was a regular practice. No form of cancellation or obliteration appears to have been employed.
Early examples, dated 1848 and 1849, were impressed in black, but some time between May 7th and May 16th, 1849, the black ink used at the Hamilton Post Office was replaced by red, which was used there exclusively for the next sixteen years. All the Postmasters stamps produced after that time are therefore in red.

The stamps were unlmown to philatelists until 1897. In that year a specimen in red, dated 1854, on a cover written in April, 1855, was recorded in Alfred Smith’s Monthly Circular for July, 1897:

“A correspondent has sent us a letter written from Hamilton, in April, 1855, addressed to a gentleman at St. George, and on the sheet is pasted a stamp, in carmine, with “HAMILTON, BERMUDA,” in a circle, with “1854” in the centre. Above the date is written “One Penny,” and below is the signature “W. B. Perot.” We believe that there is no doubt that Mr. Perot was Postmaster at Hamilton in 1854, and his signature can be identified by many. The stamp is cut into a sort of rough octagonal shape, and seems to be attached to the sheet by gum; but it appears to us to be very doubtful if it was originally on the identical letter, on which there is no postmark, and the stamp is half hidden under the closing fold of the back. Perhaps some of our readers who have more knowledge of Bermuda than we have may have met with the stamp, which, at first sight, appears to have been a device on the part of the Postmaster at Hamilton to introduce stamps of one penny for inter-insular postage.”

In April, 1898, a second example was discovered and was acquired by Mr. B. W. Warhurst. This specimen is in black and is dated 1849. Mr Warhurst, in investigations concerning the status of the stamp, wrote to the then Colonial Postmaster of Bermuda, Mr. A. F. Smith, who replied as follows:

Colonial Post Office, Bermuda,
18th June, 1898.
Sir,- I have to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 14th ultimo, in which you make inquiries respecting a hand-stamp used in Bermuda in 1849-1855.
I have been unable to obtain any information from official sources respecting the stamp in question, but from a reliable private source I learn that it was the practice of the Postmaster at that time to issue stamps such as you describe to persons who desired to post local notes - that is for places within the Colony. The impression of the stamp, and the signature, etc., were made on a sheet of paper and cut off as required by the purchaser, and affixed to the note to be posted. These were not invariably used for postage, I am told, but only in cases where it was convenient to the sender. When a note was sent to the Post Office with a penny to pay postage, the note was simply stamped with the date-stamp.
However this may be, it appears to be clear that the stamps in question were used (sometimes at all events) as postage stamps are used now, for prepaying postage within the Colony.
I regret that I am not in a position to give you further and clearer information on the interesting question of the origin and use of this unique postage stamp.
I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
Colonial Postmaster.

Statements have been made by two contemporaries of Mr. Perot, giving further details. One of these was by Mr. J. B. Heyl, who owned a chemist’s shop, which was for many years on the corner of Queen and Front Streets in Hamilton:

“I suggested to him the stamping on a sheet of paper a number of stamps, with his signature and the ‘one penny’, which I cut off in squares and pasted on the letters, which were brought in and placed in a letter-box on the door of the office. The reason for this was that the money was not always correct in the box, and he could not find out who put the notes in the box without payment.”

Mr. Heyl seems to claim that the idea of the stamps originated with him, and that he personally affixed them on letters, though for what reason is not apparent. If Mr. Heyl accepted letters for posting when the Post Office was closed or while Mr. Perot was out, to be handed over later, there would have been no need for any stamps, since it would have been less trouble to all concerned simply to pass on the notes and the postage money at the same time. However, another contemporary of Mr. Perot stated:

“Mr. Perot was an old gentleman, very methodical, and in his leisure moments would strike off on sheets of paper one dozen impressions of his office stamp, omitting the month and the day of the month, substituting his initials to make them genuine; he would then gum the sheets and sell them in shilling parcels, and receive them as pennies in payment of local postage.”

Eleven examples of this stamp have so far been recorded, dated 1848 and 1849 for those in black, and between 1853 and 1856 for those in red. A check list of known copies is given at the end of this chapter.

Although Mr. Perot remained Postmaster of Hamilton until 1862, and the date-stamp, from which he made these adhesives, remained in constant use until 1865, it had always appeared strange that no examples of his Postmaster stamp were known dated later than 1856.

However, in December, 1945, the first example of a second type of Postmaster stamp, issued by Mr. Perot, was discovered by Mr. Arthur Pierce. It consisted of an impression in red of the Hamilton “Crowned Circle” paid stamp, on blue laid paper. The stamp was affixed to a local cover, addressed to Somerset, and was cancelled by an “X” in ink. The regular Hamilton date-stamp, (Type PM4), in red, dated March 9th, 1861, was impressed on the cover nearby. A spot of colour on the bottom edge of the stamp appears to be part of the crown of the adjoining stamp below.

The discovery of this second type of Hamilton Postmaster stamp clearly indicates that Mr. Perot did not give up making his adhesives in 1856, but it is still not known when he changed over to the new type.

Two more examples of this second type were discovered in Bermuda in March, 1948. Both are off cover, but both are on the identical blue laid paper used for the first discovered copy, and are cancelled by similar “Xs” in ink.

It should be stressed that, except in the cases of the second Hamilton Postmaster stamp and the St. Georges Postmaster stamp, the use of “Crowned Circle” paid stamps was restricted exclu-sively to prepaid overseas mail, and these stamps were never impressed directly on local letters.

The first example of the St. Georges Postmaster stamp was discovered in 1898, and was com¬mented upon by Major E. B. Evans in the January 1899 issue of Stanley Gibbons’ Monthly Journal. The adhesive consisted of an impression in red of the St. Georges “Crowned Circle” paid stamp on deep yellow paper, cut in a rough octagon. Major Evans further states: “The stamp was pasted on the cover of an official letter, addressed from St. Georges to the Pilot Commissioners at Hamilton, and is duly obliterated with the St. Georges postmark of July 12, 1861.”

No further examples were discovered for thirty years, but in 1929 a second copy, also on cover, was found. The cover is addressed to “Jas. Tatem, Esq., Hamilton”, but on this occasion the adhesive has been cancelled by a heavy diagonal stroke in ink, and the St. Georges dated paid stamp, (Type P3)2, dated July 4th, 1860, was impressed alongside, unfortunately not “tying” the adhesive to the cover. However, there is no doubt that the adhesive stamp is genuine, for it shows portions of the adjoining stamps on two sides.

Two other copies have been recorded, one of which is off cover but cancelled by the regular St. Georges date stamp, (Type PM5), dated January 21st, 1863.

It is interesting to note that, although there is no doubt that Mr. James H. Thies issued the St. Georges Postmaster stamps, the example on the cover dated July 4th, 1860 was used while Mr. Thomas Thies was still Postmaster of St. Georges, though owing to illness his brother James was carrying on his duties.

The great rarity of the St. Georges Postmaster stamps makes it appear probable that they were issued and used for the same reason and under the same conditions as the Hamilton Postmaster stamps.


  1. The Postal History and Stamps of Bermuda, M.H. Ludington, 1978