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Herm 'Flimsies' by John Simpson 

Herm's 'Pigeon Post' service had its own special stamp and lightweight paper

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This article was originally published in Stamp Collecting on 12 June 1980 

Most Great Britain and all Channel Islands collectors know of the local issues used in Herm from 1949 until Guernsey obtained postal independence in 1969. Of these, the most difficult to obtain, and one of the most interesting, is the stamp used for the Pigeon Service. 

The stamps (or labels, if you prefer) were first proposed by the tenant of Herm, Mr A G Jeffries, as the island post office closed on 30 November 1938 when Lord Perry, Chairman of Ford's, left the island with his staff. Attempts to get the office reopened had been turned down by the GPO and all letters and holiday postcards from Herm had to be conveyed by private boat to St Peter Port, Guernsey. The stamps were to meet the cost of providing this service. 

Among the stamps suggested was one for a Pigeon Post between the islands and proofs in various colours were prepared for a stamp showing the bird carrying a letter in its claws. The first design was made by Mr C H Coker of the Guernsey Press Company (Figure 1), but this was not acceptable to Mr Jeffries, and a new sketch was prepared by Captain W E Birch of Eye in Suffolk. This was a much less attractive one, showing as it did a pigeon standing above a shell inscribed with the value. The name, HERM ISLAND, appeared at the top with PIGEON at the left and POSTAGE at the right. The corners were occupied by two caducei (Mercury's staff) and two daffodils. However, it was banned by the GPO because it contained the word 'Postage' (the first one read 'Pigeon Post'). The inscription was altered to 'Pigeon Service' and the stamps were printed in black on orange paper by Waterlow & Sons Ltd (Figure 2).

Figure 1 Essay for Herm stamp by C H Coker

 

Figure 2 Pigeon Post Label issued 26 May 1949

Unused stamps are scarce and used ones on flimsy are rare. There was a pigeon loft on Herm maintained by an employee of Mr Jeffries (Major A G Wood, the tenant who succeeded Mr Jeffries in 1949, described it as an ex-army pigeon loft).  The 1s received for the service included the cost of onward transmission from Guernsey to England and the employee in charge made arrangements with a pigeon fancier in Guernsey for messages brought to his loft to be put in an envelope and forwarded to their destination. 

It is generally thought that this service ceased when a radio-telephone was installed on Herm on 30 September 1949 (it started on 26 May 1949), but (again according to Major Wood) it did in fact continue into 1950, possibly as an attraction for holiday makers.  Any stamps then remaining were used up on parcels of 10 lb weight or more, but I have yet to see one on piece so used.  Supplies were exhausted by 1953.  There are available from one or two dealers fairly large thin cards of a luggage label type, complete with tap-hole, which bear these stamps.  It is possible that these were correctly used for sending parcels, but they were certainly never carried by pigeons!   With the flimsies (Figure 3) the procedure was to roll them up and put them into small red plastic (Bakelite) containers which were strapped to the legs of the pigeons and the birds were then let loose. 

 

Jon Aitchison provided the following additional information in his book “The Nautical Chart ‘Map’ Stamps and Pigeon Post Stamps of Herm Island 1949-1959” which he published in February 2008

As weight was clearly of importance small message forms known as ‘pigeongrammes’ or ‘flimsies’ were printed on thin, lightweight paper, their size variable but usually about 64 mm – 68 mm x 83.5 mm – 85 mm.  The pigeon post stamp was attached to the address side and cancelled.  The message was written on the reverse.  Two types exist which can be distinguished by the ruling around the stamp box (Figure 4)

It is known that the island authorities considered the service was for urgent messages only and were reluctant to dispatch pigeons for collectors who ‘just wanted to try it out’, hence genuinely flown pigeongrammes are very rare.  Far more cancelled to order ones can be found and indeed the Herm Island shop sold them bearing a full set of ‘Map’ stamps and a pigeon stamp.  These can be found unaddressed and usually without any message (Figure 5). Collectors should be aware that some of the latter have been doctored to look like flown items.  It is unwise to pay high premiums for flown flimsies unless you are certain of their provenance.  

 

Figure 5 Cancelled to order sets of Map and Pigeon Post labels

 

Figure 6 40th Anniversary label

In 1989 a label to commemorate the 4oth anniversary of Herm stamps was produced as a free gift to members of The Small Channel Island Collectors Society.  This label featured the Charles Coker essay design of a pigeon carrying a letter over the sea in ultramarine-blue with ‘drawn-on’ perforations and 1949-1989’ across the bottom (Figure 6).  About two hundred covers bearing this label with a special cancellation were posted from the island.  The front of these covers have an enlarged 1½d ‘Map’ stamp essay as a frontispiece.  In recent auctions the labels have realised about £5 and covers £8.

In April 2000 the same essay by Charles Coker of a pigeon carrying a letter across the sea was modified by a CISS member to read ‘CISS 2000’ in the bottom panel and produced as one of a set of labels to commemorate fifty years of the Channel Island Specialist Society.  These sets were presented free to CISS members attending the Guernsey late April meeting.  A few of these sets were seen to be cancelled on covers by members with a commemorative cachet: ‘CISS/50 Anniversary Weekend/28-30 April/Guernsey./1950/2000’.  Ten sets of these six labels (including the pigeon essay label) were sent as first day covers from Herm Island , cancelled by the anniversary cachet as well as Guernsey postage stamps with the Herm Post Office cancellation.

The mint pigeon essay labels were produced in six sheets of 20 (5 x 4), total 120 on gummed pale orange paper and rouletted.  The issues were unofficial, but are likely to be collectable, especially with regard to the scarce FDCs cancelled on Herm Island .

Illustrations from the collections of the late Dr Bob Forrester, David Ackroyd and Jon
Aitchison

Scanning and editing by Peter Hewitt

 

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