The “Dock” type stamps of Bermuda

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 first, unadopted, design was of the “Dock” badge and frame in a single colour, “BERMUDA” being in colourless on a curved band of colour above the frame of the vignette. Two value tablets, one in each of the lower corners, indicated the denomination in colourless figures on coloured back-grounds. The value tablets were to be printed in different colours for each denomination, thus allowing the main design to be used for all values.

The approved design was of the badge, or central vignette, in one colour and the frame, including a single value tablet placed centrally below the vignette, in a second colour.

The badge itself represents a three-deck ship at the entrance of a dock with gates, and has nothing to do with the floating dock at Ireland Island, as has often been claimed. In fact the dock represented is not even a dry dock, but is simply a type fitted with gates to allow the ship to be loaded or unloaded without being affected by the tide. In the background are two other ships, one being a schooner under sail. Bermuda was the first of a number of colonies* mostly in the West Indies, to adopt a design incorporating the badge or arms of the colony instead of the King’s head during the reign of King Edward VII.

With the exception of the 1d., watermarked single Crown and CA, the stamps were surface printed in sheets of 240, in four panes of 60, each pane consisting of ten horizontal rows of 6. They were printed in two operations, and the plate numbers,“1” on all values, in the colour of the vignette, appears four times in the margins of the sheet: above stamp No. 2 in the upper left pane, above the 5th stamp in the upper right pane, below the 56th stamp in the lower left pane and below the 59th stamp in the lower right pane. The frame plate was not provided with a plate number, but each pane is surrounded by a “Jubilee line” in the colour of the frame. The line is continuous around the upper panes of the ¼d. and later 1d. values, but is broken around the lower panes of these two values and around the panes of all the other values.

The 1d., watermarked single Crown and CA, was surface printed and issued in sheets of 120, in two panes of 60 side by side, each pane consisting of ten horizontal rows of 6. Unlike the 1d issues with watermark Multiple Crown and CA, the plate number, “1”, in the colour of the vignette, appears eight times in the sheet, above the second and the fifth stamps and below the 56th and 59th stamps in each pane. The “Jubilee lines” around each pane, in the colour of the frame, are continuous.

On the 2d., 2½d. and 4d. the wide horizontal gutter between the two upper and lower panes is printed with framed vertical rectangles of horizontal lines, four per stamp width, in the colours of the frames and “Jubilee lines”. On other values this gutter is plain, except for the “Jubilee lines.”

Two frame dies were made, but were used for different values. That for the ¼d., ½d. and 1d. is without dots in the small colourless circles near the frame lines on each side. That for the higher values is with dots in these circles.

The first stamp in the “Dock” design to make its appearance was the 1d., which was issued in November 1902, having arrived in Bermuda on July 10th, 1902. The vignette is in brown, and the frame is found in two distinct shades of aniline carmine, the second much brighter than the first and showing very clearly through the back. The 3d. followed in September 1903, with the vignette first appearing in aniline magenta and later in magenta, while the frame remained sage-green in both printings. The ½d., issued in December 1903, was the last of the series printed on single Crown and CA paper. The colours remained constant, the vignette being in black and the frame in green. The perforation of all the “Dock” issues is 14 comb.

During 1904 the watermark of British Colonial stamps was changed to Multiple Crown and CA, but the first Bermuda stamp with new watermark did not appear until April 1906. Again the first stamp was the 1d. value in the same colours as before, but with little variation in shade as only one printing was made. The ½d., also in the same colours as before, appeared in December 1906, to¬gether with a new value, the 2Jd. in brown and ultramarine. They were followed by the 2d., grey and orange, in October 1907, the ¼d. in brown and violet in September 1908, and finally, in Nov-ember 1909, by the 4d. in pale blue and purple-brown. The ½d. is the only value which shows any distinct shades, and can be found in black and green and in black and dull green. The 1d. exists with inverted watermark, which is rare.

In 1907 the Bermuda Government decided to issue the ½d., 1d. and 2½d. in the single colours recommended for these values by the Universal Postal Union. Supplies were ordered and the Id. printed throughout in carmine was issued in May 1908. Available stocks of the ½d. and 2½d. post-poned the issuing of the ½d. in green and the 2½d. in ultramarine until March 1909, and February 14th, 1910, respectively. All three values were printed from the same plates as before, that is, in two operations, and not, as has been suggested on several occasions, from new plates combining the vignette with the frame. Perforation, watermark, plate numbers and “Jubilee lines” are all as in the last issue. Each value, however, exists in two distinct shades, the ½d. in green and blue green, the 1d. in carmine and rose-carmine, and the 2½d. in ultramarine and deep ultramarine.

Die proofs of the “Dock” type in black on glazed card cover all states of the dies. Mention, however, should be made here of the die-essays of the complete design, frame and vignette, which show a number of details omitted on later proofs and on the stamps as issued. These details include spots of colour before and after “BERMUDA” and above the “M”, seven fancy dashes around the vignette, two dots to the left and two to the right of the value tablet, and dots in the small circles at the centres of the left and right sides near the frame, which were removed on the ¼d., ½d. and 1d. values. On all these die-essays the value tablet is in solid colour.

Examination of the die proofs of the vignette has shown that the die was lightened by the removal and thinning of some lines of the design between April 29th and May 16th, 1902. State I differs from State II in several details, the clearest being:

State I: Long shading lines on the sails of the left ship; heavy lines for the water; thin lines forming the rings below the bollards.

State II: Shorter shading lines on the sails of the ship; thinner lines for the water; heavy outlines to the rings below the bollards.

The four states of the die-essay and the two states of the die of the vignette with the frame uncleared are all State I, and the three states of the finished die of the vignette are State II, as are the Colour Trials and the issued stamps..

A most interesting series of colour trials exists of the 1d. It is believed that possibly only six, or at the most only twelve, of each were made, for untrimmed examples have a wide blank margin above the design which shows no trace of any stamps in a row above. All were made from the bottom row of the sheet and have the Jubilee line in the colour of the frame below. Examples are known of many of the colour combinations with the plate number in the bottom margin. Some were marked in pencil in the upper margin by the printers with their own names for the colours used for the frames, which are as follows:

Printer's name Colour
25c. Ceylon Yellow-brown
Burnt Umber Chestnut
£1 Telegraph Chocolate
Italian Brown Dark Brown
Azurline Bright Ultramarine

Certain colour combinations are those of the issued stamps. It is possible that all the colours of the issued stamps exist, but they have yet to be recorded.

Two crudely produced forged “colour trials” of the id. on plain paper have been reported. Both are very poor imitations and are easily distinguished. The colours are (vignettes in first colours):

  • Orange-Brown and violet blue
  • Dark brown and dark blue


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