The postage stamps of Herm in the Channel Islands


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Articles on Herm stamps

An island of passing interest by Dr Bob Forrester

The Bréhon Tower and its reef have featured in several Herm stamp issues  

This is an updated version of an article which originally appeared in The Reporter, journal of the Club of Channel Islands Collectors.  

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Few visitors to Herm can have failed to notice the Bréhon Tower as they made their journey across from St Peter Port for it marks roughly the half-way point in that crossing.  The oval tower was built of Herm granite in 1856 as part of the last phase of an elaborate system of defences against the threat of French invasion but it was manned for only a few years as the danger soon passed.  Even so, the hoisting of a French flag on the tower in 1892 caused a great deal of alarm, though it was soon proved to have been a hoax.    

The tower was built on a fairly low reef which had for many years been a great danger to shipping in this busy channel.  Earlier shipping marks proved ineffective and an Alderney vessel, the Enterprise , was lost with many hands in 1850.  Although its usefulness as a defence structure may have been limited, the tower now makes a most useful daymark for shipping and it is also equipped with a flashing light. 

During the Occupation the Germans manned the tower, added various concrete embellishments and installed guns but perhaps their greatest legacy was vandalism, a story that has, unfortunately, been compounded by trespassers since that time.

Today the reef and tower are recognised as an important haven for wildlife, home to a colony of common terns and to oyster catchers, rock pipits, pigeons and at least sixteen species of plants. 

Bréhon has made only one philatelic appearance of any significance although its appearance on nautical charts means that it has featured on three other stamp designs.  The distinction of being the only postal authority to have portrayed the reef and tower belongs, fittingly, to the Herm Island local post and dates back to 1959.  In August of the previous year British artist Rigby Graham was commissioned to design a set of six definitive stamps for Herm.  These depict the voyage of the island's ferry and mailboat Arrowhead from the tiny harbour to St Peter Port and in order to make rough drawings for the designs Mr Graham was taken in a speedboat to follow the Arrowhead as she made that journey on a rather blustery day.  

One of designer Rigby Graham's rough drawings  for the 6d stamp

   The 6d definitive from the first printing

These rough conditions are captured very well on the resulting 6d value (which paid the local rate for newspapers, packets and parcels of between 1 lb and 10 lbs in weight) which is captioned 'ML Arrowhead at sea south of Bréhon Tower'.

The definitive set from which this stamp comes was printed by Harrison & Sons Ltd.  When originally issued on 1 June 1959 the stamp was perforated 13¾ x 14 but for a second printing made in 1961 the perforation was changed to 14¾ x 14.  There are perforated colour trials in two slightly different shades of blue and imperforate trials in the issued colours.  The definitive set was overprinted to mark a Royal Visit in 1959, the Royal Wedding and International Refugee Year in 1960 and for Europa in 1961 and was taken out of use on 16 September 1969 as a replacement set with designs of boats and ships was issued the following day.

The first of the nautical charts showing the position of the reef and tower features on a 5p parcel stamp issued by the Isle of Sark Shipping Co in 1980.  This was the lowest value in a series of stamps used to pay freight charges on parcels and small items of freight carried by the company between Guernsey and Sark and vice versa. 


Isle of Sark Shipping Co's 5p parcel stamp

In 1988 the Guernsey Post Office issued a set of four stamps to mark the World Offshore Powerboat Championships and the route of the race was shown on a nautical chart on the 35p value with the position of Bréhon marked. 

Fifteen years later the position of the reef and tower was shown on another Guernsey Post issue, this time a miniature sheet containing a single £1.50 stamp to mark the decommissioning of HMS Guernsey.  The position of the tower is shown just inside the border of the stamp.  On all three of these chart stamps good eyesight or a magnifying glass is required to make out the position of the reef.

Guernsey Post's 2003 miniature sheet for the decommissioning of Fishery Protection Vessel HMS Guernsey


Illustrations from the collections of Dr Bob Forrester and David Ackroyd

Scanning and editing by Peter Hewitt


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