At last! A consummation devoutly to be wished. Or should I say, a resumption long overdue. I think it was about 500 pages and two years back that I temporarily abandoned my original mission in this FMF Stamp Project — which was a leisurely ramble through the storied landscape of my stamp collection, starting with British Africa. I got through my collection from the British Colony of Ascension Island, and also the small southern African territory of Basutoland (now Lesotho). Then I went my merry way, with long diversions to Congo, other precincts of that vast continent, and into various fjords and flights that led eventually to a 150-page examination of so-called “Cinderella” stamps (that is, stamps that are not real stamps). That topic, by the way, is far from exhausted, though I needed a breather!
I’ve been circling back toward Bechuanaland, the next country by alphabetical order in my British Africa album. I got so far as to present a solid introduction to the topic (see Bechuanaland: Introduction blog post, April 2018). Then other subjects and stories drew my attention. There’s just so much of interest in the world of stamps, don’t you think?
Continuing to circle, I touched on Bechuanaland in my tale of the elusive five-pound Victorian, then managed to work it into my short exploration of “Fiscals” (a branch of Cinderellas that goes on and on). The happy outcome of that short tale was that I acquired the Bechuanaland one-pound Victorian, which you will see again, shortly.
Hooray! Here we are, ready or not. Just to recap: As I’ve already explained, in the 1880s, the British divided Bechuanaland into a protectorate (Bechuanaland Protectorate) and a crown colony (British Bechuanaland). The protectorate survived until 1966, when it became the independent republic of Botswana. The British colony became part of the southern African nexus, and was absorbed into the Union of South Africa in 1910. Bechuanaland/Botswana has a colorful history (see 4/18 blog post for more). Now it’s time for stamps!
British Africa (continued), Bechuanaland, page one:
Issues of 1886-7. OK, here we go. Actually, this is a piece of stamp-cake. I figure the best way to proceed is to offer a kind of thumbnail view of the album page (right), then enlarge the stamp images and expound on them.
The first stamps from “British Bechuanaland,” shown below, are overprints of Cape of Good Hope stamps. There would be many iterations of these overprints in the next few years, both for British Bechuanaland and Bechuanaland Protectorate. I have a decent showing here. Let me tell you, the ones I am missing are not cheap!
A word on the legend provided in my stamp album (see right). You may notice that it refers to British Bechuanaland as a “high commission territory” in 1960. This is nonsense. Bechuanaland Protectorate was indeed under British supervision in 1960 — independent Botswana was still six years off. But British Bechuanaland? It didn’t even exist after 1895, first merging with the Cape Colony, then the Union of South Africa.
I believe I have rhapsodized about this set (above) before — how the designs look like bas-reliefs profiles of the Queen carved into tablets of rose marble or granite. Drab, you say? OK, the lilac color doesn’t jump out at you, and it’s the same for the 1d, 2d, 3d, 4d and 6d, before changing to a decidedly unglamorous shade of green for the 1/- through 10/- values. And then, for the one-pound and five-pound values, it reverts to the same faded lilac color. Sigh.
But wait! I will have none of it! That lilac, to begin with, is worthy of Miss Haversham’s parlor, or the most delicate hydrangea in a garden at Wellfleet. Furthermore, the design consistency is a bedrock quality of this set, providing a sense of stability and order that can only have helped in the remote precincts of British Bechuanaland in 1888.
Bechuanaland, page two: Issues of 1888-98. Just a few comments on this page. There is always something to say! Notice at right how the earlier set has been surcharged — with the same value spelled out in the tablets flanking the portrait! I guess too many postal customers needed to see a number …
At right, top row, is a remarkable sequence that captures all the wackiness of British Bechuanaland bureaucracy. Here we have the overprints running across top and bottom, sideways left, and sideways right. Whew! Make up your minds! (As you can see, from the pencil notations, I paid good bucks for these — $13 for the 1/2d, for example.
The second row is a complete set of GB overprints of the Victoria sexagenary jubilee set. Not bad!
Bechuanaland, page three: Issues of 1888-97. Notice the subtle difference in these stamps. The overprint has changed from “British Bechuanaland” to “Bechuanaland Protectorate.” It took me years to collect all of these…
Bechuanaland, page four: Issues of 1904-27. By now “British Bechuanaland” was just a memory — but “Bechuanaland Protectorate” would last 80 years. For nearly three decades, postal authorities made do with these undistinguished overprints of British definitives — through the reign of Edward VII and well into that of George V. What a missed opportunity!
Bechuanaland, page five: Issues of 1926-35. You may be able to identify on this page, reproduced at right, a “postage due” set at the top, another one in the middle, and at the bottom of the page the familiar “omnibus” set commemorating George V’s 25th anniversary on the throne, on the verge of his death in 1935. No need to dwell on them here.
What I want to swoon over is this gorgeous set of George V definitives that appeared in 1932. Aren’t they beauties? Sorry I don’t have the higher values (yet). They are quite dear. However, please enjoy the delicate artistry of the engraving of a pastoral Tswana landscape that features grazing cattle and a venerable baobab tree.
Bechuanaland, page six: 1937-45. The king is dead. Long live the king. That’s the way it was in the British Empire. George V expired Jan. 20, 1936, and after the business with Edward VIII, George VI was duly coronated in 1937. Without missing a beat, the engravers substituted a portrait of the young king for that of his late father, and the same beautiful design remained in use through the 15 years of his reign. Notice the exquisite color combinations for the upper values — black and olive green (1/-); black and carmine (2/6); black and ultramarine (5/-); black and red-brown (10/-). This complete set, mint, was selling today online for $42.50.
This set again! You may remember it from the Basutoland pages — same South Africa set, same patriotic themes, same white faces enjoying the end of World War II.
Bechuanaland, page seven: Issues of 1947-9. No need to dwell on this page, which features “omnibus” issues for the Royals’ 25th wedding anniversary (which I don’t have), the Royal Visit of 1947, and the Universal Postal Union issue of 1949. Why do I bother to collect these stamps, which aren’t valuable? I guess I just like to keep striving for completeness …
Bechuanaland, page eight: Issues of 1953-60. Guess what happened after 1953, when Elizabeth II was coronated? The same darn thing: The engravers substituted her portrait for her father’s and before that, her grandfather’s, and the splendid design had another run — right up into the 1960s.
Here’s a little oddity (above). In 1960, British imperial powers took it upon themselves to issue this set of stamps congratulating the 75 years of their “protection racket” in Bechuanaland. They must have known by then that their time as colonial masters was rapidly drawing to a close — Ghana already was independent, Sierra Leone and the rest would follow quickly. Yet here we see the Dowager Queen Victoria of 1885, and the demure, fresh-faced Elizabeth of 1960, flanking a scene on the Tswana veld — as though everything were normal as could be, the past and present are of a piece, and the British “protectorate” is secure.
Bechuanaland, page nine: Issues of 1961. Then bang! came decimal currency, a gift from South Africa. Postal authorities rushed to issue a set with decimal surcharges. When the news reached me, I was excited. These might be rare stamps. I quickly sent off a money order to Lusaka, asking the postmaster to send me a set. Then I sat back and waited … and waited …
(You may wonder why I still lack to 12 1/2 cent value. Indeed, why not? I recently scanned the online market and couldn’t find it. I’m sure my patience and persistence eventually will be rewarded.)
Bechuanaland, page 10, issues of 1962.
Imagine my disappointment when the envelope finally arrived from Bechuanaland Protectorate — with this brand-new set (right) instead of the surcharges. As you might guess, I had to go out on the stamp market and accumulate the surcharged set over a number of years — somehow always missing the 12 1/2 cent value in the process. The set I received from the post office in Lusaka did not include the top value two-rand stamp. I used to think it was because that stamp was issued months later, but now I wonder if I simply didn’t send enough money to cover the whole set. In any case, as you see below, it cost me $11 to buy it and finally complete the 1962 set, which sells online (mint, never hinged) for a decent $75 or more.
Bechuanaland, page 11, issues of 1961-3. More postage due and “omnibus” stamps appear on my last album page for Bechuanaland — though it is not the end of my collection. (Stay tuned for next month’s installment.) Why don’t I have the “Freedom from Hunger” stamp in the middle? Laziness trumps completeness, I guess …
TO BE CONTINUED