Following the introduction of the Penny Black in 1840, countries around the world began issuing their stamps to pre-pay postage. In some countries, the need for stamps came years before official examples could be produced. Local postmasters began introducing provisional stamps to fill the growing need for postage stamps. One such postmaster was William Bennett Perot who produced what is now one of Bermuda’s rarest stamps.
The Postmaster of Bermuda’s capital, Hamilton, from 1818 to 1862 was William Bennett Perot (appointed on 5 November 1818 when he was 27 years old). As part of his duties, he was required to deliver all internal mail, whether received from passing ships or sent internally, being entitled to retain the charges levied. He would walk around Hamilton carrying in his top hat the letters to be delivered, which he had carefully pre-arranged so that at each place he called he would doff his hat, and there was the appropriate letter to be handed over.
A local Act of 1842 set the charges at 1d. for every ounce, following a public outcry since only 1d. was being charged in Great Britain. From the following year, Perot started to receive an annual salary (initially £50) in addition to any postage money received, which in 1843 amounted to £25 14s 3d. Reasonable use was made of the postal system: the records for 1843 show that over 9000 items were sent from Hamilton to Bermuda’s second-largest town of St George, which was the original capital.
The principle was fairly straightforward: anyone wishing to send an item would take it to the post office, and hand over the required charge. The post office was in a house owned by Perot, and it is said he preferred to spend most of the day pottering in his garden. When the office was not open, there was a box in which the mail, together with the cost of postage, could be left. However, Perot often found that insufficient money was in the box, but he was still obliged to handle all the mail deposited.
It was the idea of James Bell Heyl that Perot should produce his own ‘stamps’: Heyl owned a chemist shop as part of the post office and was possibly aware of stamps that had already been produced by other countries. The public could buy these stamps in advance, and affix them to any mail left in the box; Heyl would call Perot from his garden when customers arrived or could sell the ‘stamps’ if Perot was not around. If a letter were posted without one of the ‘stamps’ it would be regarded as unpaid.
Perot adopted one of the circular handstamps he had been sent from London, with ‘HAMILTON’ across the top, ‘BERMUDA’ around the base, and the year, then 1848, across the centre: he removed the remaining date plugs. He now made impressions in black ink on a sheet of paper. It is believed, but not proved, that there were 12 impressions to each sheet, arranged in two columns of six. It is also not certain whether the sheets were gummed. On each impression, he wrote ‘One Penny’ above the year and his signature below. It seems that Perot produced further quantities as demand necessitated. He did not provide any form of cancellation–the fact that one of the ‘stamps’ had been affixed to a letter was sufficient.
During the following year, 1849, the colour of the ink used was changed to red. The philatelic world was unaware of these ‘stamps’ until 1897 when a collector from Bermuda discovered three examples. One, in red dated 1854, was on a cover which he sent to a firm of stamp dealers in Bath. The item was treated with suspicion and returned to its owner. Subsequently, the cover was bought by Baron Philipp de la Rénotière de Ferrary.
The next find was an example in black dated 1849: an Englishman discovered it on a letter while working in Bermuda. Of the other examples that have come to light, only one other is still on a piece of the original letter: the rest are off cover and have mainly been cut to the circular shape of the ‘stamp’, often encroaching on some of the letters.
So far, examples have been recorded as follows: three in black on bluish-grey paper, dated 1848, including an example still on its letter, and one in the Royal Philatelic Collection; two in black on bluish-grey paper, dated 1849, including the example from the second ‘find’, still on a piece of the original letter; three in red on thick white paper, dated 1853, including one in The Royal Philatelic Collection; two in red on bluish wove paper, dated 1854, including the first example, discovered that was on
cover and one in The Royal Philatelic Collection and one in red on bluish wove paper dated 1856.