Cape of Good Hope

fullsizeoutput_4adbBehold! The Cape of Good Hope. Or should we use the name of the Portuguese who first rounded the point in the late 1400s, which they dubbed Cabo da Boa Esperanca? ….

Or give credit to the Dutch captain Jan van Riebeeck,  who found safe harbor near  the Kaap de Goede Hoop in 1652, and went on fullsizeoutput_4addto found Cape Town (about 25 miles north of the cape on the map).

By 1814, the Cape of Good Hope region was firmly in British hands; that is, after lots of jostling between Great Britain and Holland — and the emerging Afrikaners and Boers, but with little consideration for the majority black population. 

fullsizeoutput_4adcHere is an ancient map of the Cape of Good Hope, during a time when the Dutch and the Afrikaners and the Boers and the English lived as uneasy neighbors with each other — and the Xhosa and the Zulu. No one could have imagined what heartbreak and outrage would result from the transformational European incursion, starting at the Cape of Good Hope and spreading across southern Africa.  

fullsizeoutput_4ab1Above is my example of the first stamp issued for the Cape of Good Hope: No. 1, on bluish paper. It came out in 1853, just six years after the first U.S. stamp. The somewhat crude but elegant engraving depicts a seated figure — “Hope” — with an anchor as an appropriate nautical emblem. Hope’s image would grace COGH stamps for the rest of the century. The triangular shape must have been a sensation at the time; and imagine! For a British territory at the southern tip of Africa! How exotic. The shape of the stamp itself suggests a geographical cape, don’t you think?  (The catalogue value of COGH No. 1 ranges above $100, but that is for a much better copy than the one in my collection, above, which I inherited from my Pa.)  

fullsizeoutput_4ab2I also got these two (left and below left) from my father. The 4d above, also from 1853,  has three good margins (that is, you can see the white all the way around), so it may be worth some of its $100+ catalogue value. 

The 4d at the bottom is from a later set, with a fullsizeoutput_4ab3considerably off-center beat-up image. My Minkus album offers this notation: “Fine lines of background blurred or broken; printing less clear due to wear of plates …” This stamp is valued at $45, but mine is not a particularly well-cut example.

For as much as you could tell from its philatelic history, the Cape of Good Hope continued on its placid way for the second half of the 19th century. Starting in 1864, the Cape Colony issued sets of small, rectangular stamps depicting “Hope” with her emblems of state — the badge of the colony. The stamps may not look very exciting, but they sure conferred an aura of stability and continuity on events, which were anything but. 

fullsizeoutput_4aa7Above are two examples from the first set of the “Hope” rectangles. If you look closely at the outside border of each of these two stamps, you will notice that there is a thin frame line that extends around the entire stamp. This is the only set that would have frame lines around the outside. What explains this change in later issues? Take a look at the stamps below, and you may decide, like me, that it’s probably a wise design decision — to eliminate the frame around the entire stamp; it’s slightly simpler, more coherent and elegant. 

fullsizeoutput_4adfWell before the first “Cape of Good Hope” set was issued, the British territory had expanded far beyond the cape itself. The map at left is from the early 1800s, and shows clearly how “civilization” is spreading east and north from the cape. 



fullsizeoutput_4ae1By the time this map appeared after mid-century, the burgeoning Cape Colony was beginning to look like a map of New Jersey with its intricate territorial divisions. 




fullsizeoutput_4ae0After 1872, the Cape Colony had the same rights within the British imperial system as Canada and Australia. It still issued stamps with the name “Cape of Good Hope,” but it was about to become the biggest baddest colony in Africa. 

fullsizeoutput_4ae2Here is a map of Cape Colony at its apex, in 1898. In the 1904 census, the population of the Cape Colony was 2.4 million. That included 1.4 million blacks and almost 580,000 whites. The land mass covered 219,700 square miles — four times the size of the UK — yet the stamps still bore the name, “Cape of Good Hope.” Go figure. (You can still see the COGH sticking out like an inverted thumb-down near Africa’s southwestern tip.)

When the Union of South Africa started in 1910, the new dominion took in Cape Colony and all the territory outlined in red in the map above — all except the two small, circular enclaves of Swaziland to the east and Basutoland (Lesotho) nearby to the southwest.  

The stamps below are from the third COGH set, issued in the 1870s. Notice how the border only extends around the vignette of Hope with her symbols of the Cape Colony.  The clean tablets, top and bottom, look a little more modern, don’t you think? By the way, most of these COGH stamps are not very pricey. They must have been very common back in the day, when trade boomed within the expanding Cape Colony and beyond. I’ve never been that interested in these sets, because they aren’t very pretty. We stamp collectors can be pretty picky!

fullsizeoutput_4aa8Before we go any further, let me share what I’ve learned about how well the Cape Colony was governed in its early years. From the start there was lots of restless energy among the motivated groups of Dutch and English settlers, and considerable curiosity among the indigenous Xhosa, Zulu and other Bantu peoples. As the English, Boers and Afrikaners migrated along the coast and into the interior, they confronted each other and the native population with varying degrees of tolerance and respect. The Boers of the Orange Free State and Central African Republic established a racist hierarchy that subjugated the black African populations that surrounded and outnumbered them. The British, too, favored a racist hierarchy in Natal, Transvaal and the Cape Colony. 

In contrast, leaders in the Cape Colony by the mid-1800s favored autonomy from and parity with Great Britain, as well as a multi-racial society with equal rights. By 1872, when the Cape Colony achieved self-governance, there already was in place the foundation of a dynamic economy, thanks to the public works projects, agricultural and industrial development undertaken during the long governorship of Sir George Gray. Over the next decade of self-rule, a new initiative of “responsible government” would drive more growth that included new  railroads, roads, bridges, port facilities and two universities. The government of Prime Minister John Molteno was fiscally responsible, using its new wealth from diamond mining to pay its debts and fund an energetic program of local grants for schools and libraries. The Cape Colony promoted universal male suffrage (blacks, whites, asians, etc.) and religious freedom. The economy grew steadily during the 1870s.

Let’s pause a moment to consider three remarkable men at the center of the development of the Cape Colony: John Molteno, John X. Merriman and Saul Solomon. If the history of southern Africa had been written by these men, rather than by the likes of Cecil Rhodes, Paul Kruger, Sir Bartle Frere, Lord Carnarvon and the mandarins of Whitehall, the outcome for all south Africans would have been very different.

fullsizeoutput_4ae3John Molteno (right) was born in 1814 in London, part of a large English-Italian family of modest means. He shipped out to the Cape Colony as a teenager, working as a library assistant. He rose rapidly through the ranks because of his keen intelligence, outgoing manner and manifest competence. He won support from the Boers early on when he joined them in the Xhosa wars. Unlike the Boers, he espoused a lifelong commitment to equal rights for whites and blacks. When the British pressed for consolidation with the racist Boer republics in southern Africa in 1878, Molteno objected, on the grounds that the Boers would not tolerate the Cape Colony’s universal franchise. He lost his fight, and he was right. Molteno married three times. His first wife was “coloured” and died in childbirth. He went on to have 19 children; among his many descendants were anti-apartheid activists. 

fullsizeoutput_4ae4Molteno’s two key associates were John X. Merriman and Saul Solomon. Merriman’s extraordinary gift for administration helped build the Cape Colony into the economic engine that would power South Africa. Molteno persuaded Merriman of the importance of equal rights. At the end of the century, as the racist policies of Boer leader Paul Kruger became more dominant, Merriman presciently warned: “The greatest danger to the future lies in the attitude of President Kruger, and his vain hope of building up a state in a narrow, unenlightened minority.”  Merriman and Molteno were both closely allied with Saul Solomon, who like them had successful businesses aside from his public duties. Solomon in particular preached the gospel of equal rights and religious tolerance.

Molteno was such an admirer of Solomon that he asked his friend to stand for prime minister taking the job himself. Solomon demurred then, also later on, insisting on his ability to oppose government policy when it violated his principles. Here is how one of Solomon’s critics described him at the height of his reputation in 1887: 

“The Honourable Saul Soloman[sic], whom I may call Molteno’s ghost, is without doubt the ablest man South Africa has produced. Without his support few Ministers could hold office for long. He is the most remarkable statesman in the Cape. It is he


Issued in 1893, this was the first COGH stamp without the image of Hope. There’s a landscape from the cape region, including Table Mountain, but it’s sure hard to see! Plus, the stamp as issued is much smaller than this image. I’d call it a good effort, but a dud!

who can pull the wires and bring Jack’s house tumbling down about his ears whenever he likes. An able debater, a splendid fighter, an energetic, consistent, upright man, he deserves all honour and praise. He has led a life of steadfast consistency, and has conferred benefits upon the colony, which must earn for his name the unswerving veneration of generations of South Africans yet to come. He secured for the Cape the boon of representative institutions, he stimulated her energies in all matters educational, and that grand educational establishment, the South African College, is vastly his debtor. He has been ever foremost in making every effort to provide for suitable instruction for the people.”

This remarkable statement concludes with a critique of Solomon’s commitment to equal rights that amounts to high praise in the annals of history: “As to his native policy, he thoroughly believes he is right there. He is animated by noble, generous impulses, but here, if I may make bold to say so, in criticising so great a man, I think his goodness of heart has somewhat thwarted the soundness of his judgment. His whole life has been devoted to preaching the doctrine of the equality of all races and classes. I believe this to be a fallacy, a bitter, mournful fallacy. The French encyclopaedists were all wrong, these ideas are utter nonsense.”

What might have seemed “utter nonsense” in the racist thinking of the 1880s looks considerably more enlightened today. The “bitter, mournful” reckoning came later, with the racist polices of the Union of South Africa. The legacy of apartheid threatens to  poison the politics and policies of southern Africa far into the future. If only the counsels of Molteno, Merriman and Solomon had prevailed!

fullsizeoutput_4aabAbove is the last set issued by the Cape Colony, starting in 1902 with the death of Queen Victoria and the start of the relatively short reign of her aging son, Edward VII. There’s nothing special about the set, except that I want to show it off because I have it complete, from the 1/2d to the 5 shilling. You may find the set online for under $20. 

fullsizeoutput_4ab8To the right is the first stamp of the Union of South Africa in 1910, the same year as the death of Edward VII and the ascent of his son, George V, to the throne. The union comprised the Cape Colony, Orange Free State, Transvaal and Natal (see coats of arms in the corners). As you can see from the map below, the union encompassed the whole of southern Africa with the exception of Swaziland and Basutoland.  You still should be able to spot the Cape of Good Hope on the map — a tiny tail that wagged not only a dog and a colony, but a continent.fullsizeoutput_4ae8

fullsizeoutput_4ab9In 1961, the Union of South Africa became the Republic of South Africa (RSA). This name change did not alter the repugnant system of apartheid or improve the lives of black South Africans in any significant way. The RSA would not abandon apartheid until the 1990s.


I have discovered that part of the fun of doing these essays on southern and central Africa is that I get to try and add to my collection along the way. Accordingly, here are the Cape of Good Hope stamps I bought in online auctions while doing my “research.”  I believe I got them all for around $30. You will notice I picked up one early “triangle” stamp for $9. It’s No. 4, not a great cut, but still worth it, I think. The rest of them look pretty boring, I know. But please stay with me as I take a closer look at a few of them. 

fullsizeoutput_4ad7fullsizeoutput_4ad8To start off, look at these two dandy examples of the first “rectangle” set (right). Notice the frame going all the way around the outside of each stamp. Do you see it? Do you? Do you? Look hard! See it? (Here’s a helpful note from The New World-Wide Postage Stamp Catalogue: “Worn plates of 1p, 4p show no top or outer frame lines.” I can hardly see them here either.)

fullsizeoutput_4adaNow as a contrast, look at this pair (right). See the frame stop at the upper and lower border of the image? You might or might not be interested to know why one of these 3d stamps cost me $7.75 and the other didn’t. The reason is that the expensive one is listed in the catalogue as No. 25, ‘lilac rose (’80),” while the one on the right is listed as No. 26, “claret (’81)”  This is just a guess, but maybe postal authorities yanked the “lilac rose” version quickly because it was so faint and faded-looking that people had trouble seeing it. The “claret” version is easier to read, doncha think? Thus, the earlier stamp became the rarer variety, because it was in circulation for only a short time. As I say, just a guess.

fullsizeoutput_4ad9This stamp is not distinguished or valuable, but I include it because it is the only mint (uncancelled) variety I have from these Cape of Good Hope sets. I puzzled for some time over what are described as “emblems of the colony.” What at first looks like a wheel is the anchor, of course. That’s a ram standing inside the anchor’s curved heel, right? In the background are grapes, I’ll bet. And Hope is leaning on … well, that took me more time to figure out. Is it a lute or some other stringed instrument? Something to press grapes into wine? Something to poke or slaughter a ram with? Is she holding something, like a mug or flagon? Is she drunk on grape wine? 

Enough idle speculation! You probably have figured out the answer by now;  maybe you knew it all along: She is leaning on the cross-bar of the anchor! She’s sitting on the anchor’s pole, one arm on the cross-bar, the other extended so that she could … pet the docile ram! Got it.   

fullsizeoutput_4abbHere’s one that got away. The image is from online. It’s a half-decent example of No. 5, the 1 shilling yellow green (yellow green?). It catalogues at $175, and is a pretty example. I could have bought it for $35, but I let it slip away. (Sigh …)