When Perkins Bacon Fell From Grace

Michael O. Nowlan - June 25, 1999
 

Perkins Bacon, a name still familiar in stamp collecting, was one of the first preeminent printers of postage stamps, dating to the Penny Black of 1840. What may be quite unknown about the Perkins Bacon firm was its "want of integrity" which cost them the printing contract for Great Britain, the Crown Colonies and other postal jurisdictions in 1861.

The Perkins Bacon firm's fall from grace occurred in August 1861 when J.B. Bacon presented Ormond Hill, cousin to Rowland Hill who created the first postage stamp, with six sets of postage stamps which were shared among friends, including Rowland Hill.

By acting so rashly J.B. Bacon broke the trust of all the nations for whom the firm printed stamps. Without permission, Bacon used company new issues, printer's waste, and reprinted stamps to satisfy the personal desire of Ormond Hill who said in a letter to J.B. Bacon "I beg that you will not allow me to put you to any trouble or inconvenience in the matter."

Little did Hill know what a breach of faith he asked Mr. Bacon to commit; little did Mr. Bacon realize the enormity of his poor judgment.

Curiously, Bacon shows a complete ignorance of the issue in a letter to Pearson Hill when he wrote, "We do not see the culpability of our conduct, especially considering the gentlemen to whom the impressions were furnished." Bacon had used a special "CANCELLED" obliterator to void all the stamps.

This profound scenario was perhaps the first criminal 'inside act' in postage stamp history. By today's standards, Perkins Bacon would be subject to much more than the loss of a printing contract.

There were 75 different stamps from 20 British Colonies that were cancelled by Bacon. They were from all six Australian states, six of the British West Indies, Cape of Good Hope, Ceylon, the Ionian Islands, Mauritius, Natal, Newfoundland, New Zealand, St. Helena, and Chile. Although some of the first issues of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia may exist, no copy has been found. Eight Newfoundland stamps were among the Bacon gift to the Hills - a total of 430 to 450 stamps.

A sound account of the Bacon subterfuge is well documented in Cancelled By Perkins Bacon, a slim but significant volume by Peter Jaffe.

Jaffe's text provides 221 color impressions as well as the sources and analysis for all the 234 extant examples. The Royal Philatelic Collection in Great Britain has 67 different Perkins Bacon "CANCELLED" stamps, and, while author Jaffe has 78 of the stamps, many of his are duplicates.

The story holds a great deal of fascination for a crime that began so innocently. The stamps in question are rare items, none of which were available to the public until 1897 when the first collection was sold.

What makes this story so intriguing is the possibility of finding a Perkins Bacon "CANCELLED" item. In the last six years, there have been at least five "CANCELLED" finds. The chances, therefore, of getting one of the Perkins Bacon famous stamps is not mere myth. There are others out there.

Peter Jaffe, who has been working on the story of the "CANCELLED" stamps since 1962, lends significance and insight to one of the historic features of philately. Cancelled By Perkins Bacon was published for London's Spink & Son Ltd. by James Bendon (P.O. Box 56484, 3307 Limassol, Cyprus ).

Michael O. Nowlan was born in Chatham, New Brunswick Canada. He grew up on a nearby farm, was educated, and became a teacher. In retirement, he follows his life-long avocation of writing. His credits include 16 books (four books of poems, two children's titles, and anthologies for schools). In recent years, he has written extensively about stamp collecting for CANADIAN STAMP NEWS, GIBBONS INTERNATIONAL STAMP NEWS, and other philatelic publications.


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