ZAR/Transvaal: Philatelic Addenda — Into the Weeds!


Here is the coat of arms of ZAR (Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek) that was painted on the side of ZAR President Paul Kruger’s wagon. Since the coat of arms is the only design on ZAR stamps, it’s useful to have a clear depiction for easy reference. Note inside the shied the lion at left, an armed Boer to the right, and a voortrekker’s wagon underneath. In the middle is the anchor symbol of the Cape of Good Hope, part of a shared British/Boer heritage. The motto, “Eendragt Maakt Magt,” translates as “Oneness Makes Might.”

Into the tall grass of philatelic esoterica! This is where stamp-collecting gets interesting — to stamp collectors. This short essay is for general readers, though. By embarking on this brief expedition into the high veld of ZAR/Transvaal philately, you can glimpse varieties of design and printing, amid other oddities that delight the collector, invite speculation and excite the imagination! Imagine, being excited by printing varieties. That’s part of stamp-collecting. Well, this won’t take long, and I believe you, General Reader, will have a bit of fun coming along on this quick tour, presented as several addenda.


The Pietersburg issues of March-April 1901 are fairly expensive, but very exotic. Consider: they were on sale for only a few weeks, during the desperate last days of the Boers’ ZAR (Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek). ZAR President Paul Kruger had fullsizeoutput_4df4already left the country. The provisional government in Pietersburg was running low on stamps — a truly dire circumstance! — so the authorities  came up with this crude, type-set design. There are three design varieties. I have multiple examples of each type, all with the same value of 4 pence. Each stamp is hand-signed/cancelled, and catalogs at between $25 and $40. I recall I paid about $40 for the lot. Quite a deal, eh? Below are enlargements clearly illustrating the differences. (Remember, we are in the tall grass, so stay close.)   







VARIETY ONE (left): The date is large. The “P” in Postzegel is large.



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TWO (left): The date is smaller. The “P” is still large.







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THREE (right): The date is small. So is the “P.”  



Can you spot the differences?  Isn’t this fun? (For more about the Pietersburg issues, see FMF Stamp Project blog post of 3/17/17.)


It pains me to have to display this page from my album without any stamps in it. It’s just that the “VR” overprints on ZAR stamps are quite rare and expensive, and because they are so dull, I am not motivated to invest in one. I probably will, though, sooner or later, just to have it on the page to make things more interesting.

B. Why were so many overprinted stamps released in 1900?  The Scott catalogue lists 49 varieties with “V.R” or “VRI” overprints  — or “E.R.I.” after Victoria died and Edward VII took over in 1901. Come to think of it, there were an awful of of “VR” overprints back in 1878-9, during the first British occupation — 46 varieties listed in Scott. It was efficient to use up existing stocks of stamps, I suppose. But it looks kind of sloppy. 

The early overprints of 1900 were issued under military authority in Lydenburg, Rustenburg, Schweizer Reneke and Wolmeransstad. Stamps from Schweizer Reneke carry a handstamp, “Besieged” (left, below). These are very rare stamps indeed.  Remember Baden-Powell and “Mafeking Besieged”? (See blog post, December 2019, for the whole story in brief, with stamps.)  In his history, “The Great Boer War,” Bryon


This is a very rare, very expensive stamp, pictured here on the Internet. It’s originally a green 1/2d. stamp from Cape of Good Hope (see Hope in her dress?). Along the left side is a hand-stamp, “BESIEGED,” and the cancellation reads “Schweizer Reneke Z.A.R. 12 Sept. 00.” One wonders how mail got through the siege … was there a gentlemen’s agreement? An ad hoc postal convention?

Farwell writes: “The sieges of Kimberley, Ladysmith and Mafeking, avidly followed while they were in progress, widely celebrated when they were raised, have been given their place in history. Rarely mentioned, however, is the siege of Schweizer Reneke, a small town in the western Transvaal which was invested on 19 August 1900 and not relieved until 9 January 1901. No one remembers the name of George Chamier, the garrison’s commander. The gallant defenders of Schweizer Reneke had the misfortune to be besieged at a time when the people at home were bored with sieges; they had had enough; besides, there were no newspaper correspondents there. And the British public, which exhausted itself cheering for plucky B-P and the relief of Mafeking, raised not a single cheer for the relief of Schweizer Reneke.”  

This proliferation of “VIctoria” overprints invites speculation, if not further research. Was it because the military authorities didn’t have a supply of the old Victorian Transvaal stamps on hand in the field? Perhaps by 1900, that profile from 1878 would no longer be age-appropriate for the tottering Dowager Queen. Why not just keep using local stamps? Was it necessary to declare philatelic victory so fast? It certainly seems the Brits wanted to establish their supremacy toot sweet. So they cobbled together crude overprints and gave existing ZAR stock the royal brand. Take that, you uncouth Boers!

The catalogue prices for these sets rise into the hundreds — they must have been quite limited issues.  But what truly deters a casual collector like me, in addition to the daunting prices, the rather boring differences between the overprints, not to mention the dull stamps underneath, is the following: 

C. The catalogue warns: “Nos. 202 to 213 have been extensively counterfeited.  … ”Beware of counterfeit.” … “Excellent counterfeits of Nos. 246 to 251 are plentiful …” 

What is it with all this counterfeiting? Was there a fad for collecting these dull and wacky Transvaal stamps, all of them with the same design? Was the see-saw history of Transvaal a spectator sport in jolly old England, such that collectors competed to


Are these stamps real, or counterfeit? Is the overprint legit or not? If one is real and the other counterfeit, is it still a counterfeit? Hasn’t the overprint legitimized the stamp? Does anyone care?

show off their sets of  Victorian overprints on ZAR stamps from battleground towns in the veld? This is sheer speculation, folks, but by the end of the 19th century, stamp collecting had become quite a fad, so I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if there was some titillation in GB as Transvaal and ZAR swung back and forth in their bloody joust for white supremacy. 

Some sets are questionable as “reprints,” then are listed with overprints as “counterfeit.” Which makes one wonder — are we looking at a counterfeit overprint on a counterfeit stamp? Is the overprint counterfeit and the stamp genuine, or vice versa? Seems like a long shot that you’d actually get a real stamp with a real overprint. 


For reference in this section, here again is a clear rendition of the Boer coat of arms, as painted on Paul Kruger’s wagon.

D.  Actually, the counterfeiting started much earlier — in fact, right at the beginning of ZAR postal history in 1869. Scott catalogue editors note that “So-called reprints and trial impressions of the stamps in types A1 and A2 are counterfeit. This applies to Nos. 1 to 96.” Sometimes the only way to tell genuine from forgery is by the color shade. How discouraging!


Nevertheless, I persisted and succeeded in getting this couple of early beauties — Nos. 21 fullsizeoutput_4de3fullsizeoutput_4ddeand 31, illustrated here. The Scott catalogue helped a lot in distinguishing tell-tale signs of forgery, leaving me fairly confident that the stamps I bought are the genuine article. Allow me to accompany you a bit further into the philatelic weeds while we pick our way  gingerly past the telltale signs of forgery in search of the real and the true — as best we can. 

One clue is in the motto, “Eendragt Maakt Magt” — Oneness Makes Might. In the genuine stamp, the “D” in the word “EENDRAGT” is outsized, touching the ribbon. In forgeries, the “D” is the same size as the other letters inside the ribbon.

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Look for the “D” in “EENDRAGT” — notice how it is outsize and touches the top line of the ribbon. This is a sign of authenticity.


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A second clue: In the genuine stamp, the eagle’s eye is a dot in a white face. In forgeries, the eye is a blob and the beak is hooked.

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In both No. 21 (above) and No. 31 (below), the eagle looks like it has a nice “dot” for an eye, as in the genuine stamp, and not the “blob” of the forgeries. Furthermore, the beak in both stamps is straight, not hooked — another good sign. I must say, though, the fearsome eagle looks a lot like Woodstock from “Peanuts.”



Please examine these extreme close-ups. What do you think? Are they real, or counterfeit?  (I should point out that the stakes are not that high: No. 21 has a catalogue value of $17.50, while No. 31 catalogues at $40.)  My claim is that I did due diligence in researching and buying these stamps online, and I think the evidence is fairly solid that these are the genuine article.

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E.  While we are here in the weeds, let’s examine another philatelic oddity — sets from the ZAR’s restoration after 1884. Paul Kruger’s administration put out set after boring set featuring the ZAR’s coat of arms. (Many of these stamps also were counterfeited, for reasons I find inexplicable but am not sufficiently interested or fullsizeoutput_4dfaprepared to pursue.)

fullsizeoutput_4dfdThis particular oddity involves sets featuring a “wagon with two shafts,” and a later set depicting a “wagon with pole.” The extreme close-up illustrations below should give you a clear idea what we’re talking about.

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See the two shafts on the wagon?

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Now do you see the single pole?









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For reference, here is a close-up of the wagon in the coat-of-arms painted on Paul Kruger’s wagon. It’s clearly a pole, not two shafts.

Before anyone gets excited over the distinction, let me point out that both sets can be had for under $30. This is not a matter of rarities, just oddities. Why change from two shafts to a single pole? Is the pole more historically accurate?  Is the pole truer to the formal depiction in the ZAR coat of arms? Most fervently, it is hoped that the pole is well-suited to help the Boer oxen haul the trekker’s wagon out of the philatelic weeds so we can get back to the narrative!


ZAR/Transvaal: The Story Continues

fullsizeoutput_4e12Anecdotes and legends swirl around Paul Kruger, celebrated in his day as “Oom Paul” — Uncle Paul. He was the immovable cornerstone of Boer aspirations late-19th-century southern Africa, the Keeper of the Vow, even as he was reviled as a racist, obstructionist rube. Kruger was born on the eastern edge of the Cape Colony in 1825. His  family had lived in south Africa since 1668. The Krugers moved across the Orange River in 1836 as part of the Great Trek. He had little or no formal education outside of the Bible. He grew up fast amid skirmishing Boers, Brits and Bantus. By his teenage years, Kruger was already an accomplished frontiersman, horseman and guerrilla fullsizeoutput_4e0bfighter. In his memoirs he said he shot his first lion at 16, though others say he was 14, or perhaps 11. After breaking a leg in an accident, the story goes, Kruger repaired his wagon and drove it  to safety — though one leg was shorter than the other thereafter. He spoke Dutch, basic English and several African languages — and believed all his life that the Earth was flat.

Kruger would marry twice and father 17 children. As an adult, he cut an odd figure with his bulk, his rustic attire, a wide, uneven fringe of facial hair and an unsmiling, sphinx-like demeanor. His habits were not of the manor born. Some imperialists underestimated the future four-term president of the ZAR, considering him unsightly, even ugly with his short frock coat, chin whiskers and top hat. Some saw only greasy hair, a worn pipe protruding from his pocket, and copious spitting — in short, here was little more than a vulgar, backveld peasant. 

fullsizeoutput_4e11But Kruger’s capacity for leadership, his zeal for autonomy and his unshakable faith set him apart. He caught the eye of Andries Pretorius, the Boer leader who founded the short-lived Republic of Natalia. Biographer Johannes Meintjes observed that Pretorius saw in Kruger a man behind whose “tough exterior was a most insular person with an intellect all the more remarkable for being almost entirely self-developed.” Later on, a discerning Lady Phillips was said to have commented on the president’s comings and goings in Pretoria in his fullsizeoutput_4e07stained  frock coat and tall hat: “I think his character is clearly to be read in his face — strength of character and cunning.” 

Not yet 30 in 1852, Kruger was present for the signing of the Sand River Accords that ended the First Boer War and established the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek. He led commandos for the ZAR against Basoto and Tswana tribes, and was commandant-general from 1863-73.  After Britain’s annexation of fullsizeoutput_3fd4ZAR/Transvaal in 1878, it didn’t take long for Kruger to begin agitating for new arrangements with the Crown. In 1880 Kruger, Martinhus Pretorius and Joet Joubert were called to confer with the British overlords, and on December 16 the Boer leaders declared renewed independence for the ZAR. Shooting and bloodshed followed, with the Boers prevailing at Laing’s Nek, Ingogo and beyond. Rather than pressing imperial interests, British Prime Minister William Gladstone chose to negotiate, granting the Boers local autonomy and in the London Convention of 1884, full independence under a new president — Paul Kruger.

fullsizeoutput_4debfullsizeoutput_4dedThe British continued to call the region Transvaal, though the stamps issued after 1884 all carried the name  “Z.Afr.Republiek,” in line with a postal convention between ZAR, the Orange Free State and Cape Colony. In what looks like a cheeky maneuver, the  Boers also took the 4d. stamp from the Queen Victoria series of 1878 and surcharged it “Een Penny” — simultaneously asserting their Afrikaner supremacy and devaluing a British artifact from four pence to one penny. Cute! Other than that, all the new ZAR stamps, as before, had the same design: the Boer coat of arms. 

The ensuing years were a period of prosperity and growth for the ZAR, particularly after the discovery of rich gold reefs in Witwatersrand. Friction grew between Boers and the burgeoning  population of “uitlanders” — non-Boer settlers. The ZAR and the Orange Free State strengthened their ties, and smaller Boer republics like Stellaland were brought under the ZAR’s wing. Conflicts between Boers and Brits only increased after Cecil Rhodes, the swashbuckling imperialist, became Prime Minister of the Cape Colony in 1890. His British South Africa Company impinged on ZAR/Transvaal from Matabeleland and Mashonaland, and non-Boer settlers in the fullsizeoutput_3fcdZAR increased their pressure for full citizenship rights and privileges. Paul Kruger with his plain politics, his biblical certainty and stubborn commitment to Boer supremacy, was ill-suited to the task of guiding his sturdy wagon of state through the economic expansions and upheavals of the century’s end. 

Notwithstanding the pressures, Kruger was at the height of his popularity among the Boers in 1898, winning election to his fourth term by record margins. By now, Transvaal had its long-dreamed-of railroad to the Indian Ocean coast at Delagoa Bay, in Portuguese Laurenco Marques — celebrated in a stamp released in 1895 to inaugurate “penny postage” in the ZAR. The gold boom had created the mining town of Johannesburg, which already had grown fullsizeoutput_3458bigger than Cape Town. The uitlanders and their British surrogates, including Cecil Rhodes, had been humiliated by the failed Jameson Raid of 1896, and Kruger had a strong ally and protege in his bright young state attorney, Jan Smuts. 

In 1898, Kruger and Smuts became enmeshed in negotiations with the British in Bloemfontein that broke down over seemingly intractable differences between Boers and the disenfranchised


Jan Smuts

uitlanders. Though Smuts thereby helped to precipitate the Second Boer War (1899-1902), which brought a permanent end to the ZAR, Smuts also saw to it that the Boer people emerged from the fighting in a strong position. Over the years he would serve twice as prime minister of the Union of South Africa. He became an intimate of Winston Churchill and a  statesman of international stature. Suave and polished, unlike his mentor Paul Kruger, the durable Smuts was the only delegate to sign the peace treaties ending both World Wars I and II. He was a member of Britain’s war cabinet and helped establish the RAF. His vision shaped the League of Nations. He wrote the first draft of the preamble to the United Nations Charter. And yet, his racist policies laid the foundations of apartheid. But I digress.


In this turn-of-the-century cartoon, a dour Queen Victoria plays a game of chess with wily opponent Paul Kruger, while Lord Kitchener looks on grimly. “In the lower spheres of diplomacy Mr. Kruger was a master,” E B Iwan-Müller asserted. “He was quick in detecting the false moves made by his opponents, and an adept in turning them to his own advantage; but of the large combinations he was hopelessly incapable. To secure a brilliant and conspicuous success today he was ready to squander the prospects of the future, if, indeed, he had the power of forecasting them. He was what I believe soldiers would call a brilliant tactician, but a hopeless strategist.”

By the time the Second Boer War was declared Oct. 11, 1899, Paul Kruger had became a popular figure internationally among critics of British imperialism in Africa. By now 74 years old, Kruger no longer led commandos — though he sent four of his sons, six sons-in-law and 33 grandsons. True to form, the Boers started out fighting for their homesteads with pluck and luck. They won early victories in Natal

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Enter Kruger, accompanied by his secretary Madie Bredell, leaves Africa. Soon after Kruger’s death, Smuts told the British humanitarian campaigner Emily Hobhouse: “He typified the Boer character both in its brighter and darker aspects, and was no doubt the greatest man—both morally and intellectually—whom the Boer race has so far produced. In his iron will and tenacity, his ‘never say die’ attitude towards fate, his mystic faith in another world, he represented what was best in all of us.”

and the Cape Colony, and laid siege to the strategic cities of Kimberley, Ladysmith and Mafeking. But the superior forces and resources of the British soon prevailed — Kimberley and Ladysmith were relieved in February, 1900, and Mafeking two months later. The British were in Johannesburg by May 30. Many demoralized Boers simply went home. An unyielding Kruger abandoned his capital, Pretoria, and settled with his family in the “Krugerhof” at Waterval Onder. Britain’s Lord Kitchener formally annexed the Orange Free State May 24 and claimed the ZAR Sept. 1. New stamps appeared in the ZAR with the overprint “V.R.” to re-confirm Queen Victoria’s dominion. Kruger was unbending and declared Kitchener’s decrees “not recognized.” On Sept. 11, he left the ZAR/Transvaal, crossing into Mozambique on his coveted railroad. Ultimately he went into exile. He died surrounded by his family in Clarens, Switzerland in 1904.





Erratic fighting continued through 1901. On the philatelic front, Queen Victoria died Jan. 22, 1901, and the “VR” overprint (above) was replaced by “ER” (below) for her son and heir, Edward VII.

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I recently acquired this collection of “Pietersburg” stamps. All of them are the same denomination — 4 pence — yet there are three varieties. I’ll talk more about this in Part III.

The ZAR government, now re-located to Pietersburg, was running short of stamps by March 1901. The besieged Boers issued a new series, crudely type-set and hand-signed. The stamps were only in use for a matter of weeks — the British captured Pietersburg April 9. Because of this short time span, the desperate cause represented, and the varieties of production that resulted in subtle design changes, the “Pietersburg” stamps are catnip to specialist collector-cats.  More on this later. 


French graphic from the era depicts the horrors of “les camps de deconcentration”

While the Boers were holding out, Kitchener adopted a punishing “scorched earth” policy, burning and razing Boer farms and homesteads. Thus died the Boer dream of the good life, the lekker lewe of limitless land and divine blessing. The British set up “concentration camps” that over time held as many as 115,000 people,  mostly women and children. Almost 28,000 died, including 22,000 children — 10 percent of the Boer population. Approximately 20,000 blacks also died in camps. The appalling toll sparked international outrage. Irish nationalists sympathized with the embattled Boers, and sympathy surely spread in the United States, where the plucky Boers taking on the  Redcoats kindled memories of the revolutionary wa

fullsizeoutput_4e13This “stamp,” or Cinderella label, at left is quite a puzzler. (The image is from the Internet.) It pays tribute to Paul Kruger — in Spanish and Latin. (“Glory to Kruger — The Transvaal for the Boers”) The best I can figure is that this was a propaganda label put out around the time of the Second Boer War. A number of settlers from the Transvaal had relocated to Argentina. There they formed a close-knit farming community and outpost that has lasted to this day.




I include this set from my collection (above and right) just to show off. It’s the second Edward VII set, issued shortly before his death and the creation of the Union of South Africa in 1910. The set catalogs at about $30, so it’s not rare. It’s neat to have a complete set, though, don’t you think? As you can tell from my notations, it took me more than nine years to assemble it — patience is a virtue for stamp-collectors. Filling out sets over time is one of the deep, glacial satisfactions of the hobby. Reaching completeness is soul-satisfying. Besides, these stamps have a certain elegance, and the contrasting color combinations are gorgeous, don’t you think?


Smuts is second from the left in this line-up of South African presidents. South Africa almost never put a black face on a stamp until after Nelson Mandela became president in 1994.

Jan Smuts strengthened the Boers’ position in early 1902 by seizing the copper mining town of Okiep, demonstrating Afrikaner  resolve. Although the Boers’ way of life would be forever changed, the negotiated peace protected  their rights in Transvaal. The Boers would become full partners in the future Union of South Africa (at the expense of black South Africans). Smuts, Kruger’s brilliant protege, would go on to help found a political party for the Boers, and serve as South Africa’s prime minister for two long stints (1919-24, 1939-48). 


BONUS: Stamp collecting during the Covid19 shutdown, or: Philatelic phun in the pandemic

Stamp collectors know that theirs is not an intensely social hobby. True, there are stamp clubs, stamp shows, exhibitions and visits to the post office. Trading stamps — one of the most basic pastimes of philatelists — necessarily requires that you have at least one counterpart to haggle and bargain and carry on with. Yet much of the time it’s just you and your stamps. 

Sorting stamps, arranging stamps, mounting stamps, reviewing them with pleasure and satisfaction in their colorful, orderly, venerable rows — all these are by nature solitary activities that can be pursued happily under quarantine.  Today’s stamp collector who is active in the thrilling world of online sales and auctions, is also pursuing this pleasure all by himself (or herself). Yes, you are negotiating with a dealer or private seller, but usually at a safe remove — across the country or somewhere else in the world. When the envelopes containing stamps arrive in your mailbox, you are pretty much on your own in admiring the thick little packages,


Just look at the selection of collectible stamps arrayed on both sides of this envelope one seller mailed to me in April. 

often festooned with an exotic array of fractional postage stamps affixed by playful or well-supplied dealers and sellers. Certainly my spouse has no interest in this mail, or in any other aspect of my hobby really. Most of the time she tolerantly leaves me alone to indulge my
fullsizeoutput_50f6philatelic proclivities, only occasionally sighing or intervening when my spending habits start to deplete the family treasury.

For these reasons, there is no reason why something as terrifying, isolating and bothersome as a Covid19 epidemic should interfere with a stamp collector’s happy hobby.

Sure, I miss my biweekly meetings of the Syracuse Stamp Club in the basement of the Reformed Church. I miss the diverse lot of stamp collectors who show up with their quirky personalities, peculiar collecting habits, interesting stories, strong opinions, good humor, enlightening programs and intriguing stamps to sell or trade. Our monthly auctions are exciting to collectors like myself. You can pick up some unbelievable bargains, often for no more than “a buck.”  I look forward to the resumption of club meetings.

Recently Larry, our club VP, invited members to write short essays on “How I Spent My Covid19 Vacation,” with particular emphasis on stamps. It’s a fun idea, and it was the spark that ignited this little essay. I’ve also been thinking of other ways to stay engaged with the stamp club. For example, how about a Zoom meeting where one or more of us sits in our study, displaying prized stamps from our collections? It’s something we can do in this time of isolation that we normally wouldn’t when gathered together as a group.  Maybe we can save that one for the next epidemic. 

Family expenses of late have limited the discretionary cash available to spend on stamps. That changed after wife Chris and I received our double dose of Covid stimulus checks, or whatever they are called. The sudden influx of $2,400 was quite a windfall, particularly since we retirees weren’t in financial need. After making large donations to the Central New York Food Bank and our church’s Ministerial Discretionary Fund, there was still plenty left for me to satisfy my  philatelic phishing impulses. So I cast out my line into the cyber-sea  and came up with some beauties. 

As my intimates know, I maintain a stamp blog with monthly posts that I hope are of interest to the general reader, not just the avid or casual philatelist. (To sample the blog, search “FMF Stamp Project.”)  By the way, the blog is another solitary activity unaffected by the epidemic. As I compose my monthly posts, which generally touch on stories about my own collection, I use them as an excuse to scan the online market for stamps to fill gaps in sets that are under review. Lately I have enriched my Natal and Transvaal collections as I explore the postal history of southern, eastern and central British Africa. As I shop and buy online, one thing leads to another and my attention inevitably wanders to  stamps from other countries, usually early British Africa, Europe or America. 

Today, for example, three envelopes greeted me in the mailbox — from Arizona, Virginia and Washington State. Oh joy! They contained 19th century,  Victorian-era


Here are two of the envelopes I received today, along with the contents of a third, already opened.

stamps from St. Christopher, Grenada, St. Vincent, Trinidad, and Trinidad and Tobago. The task of opening the envelopes, examining, sorting and arranging the stamps, mounting them in my album, filling gaps , adding appropriate notations, is a delicious prospect indeed — not dependent on either the presence or absence of Covid19. 


As you can see here, I have gotten as far as arranging my precious new acquisitions on a stock card. Some of the stamps date back to the 1860s. I paid $70 to three sellers for all of them.

Some might raise the question of viral risk concerning these envelopes arriving from all over.  Could they be contaminated? To which I reply: not bloody likely. Though there are lugubrious guidelines about how long the virus can survive on paper, plastic and the rest, I have never heard of anyone contracting the virus from handling stamps. Until I hear otherwise, I’m not worrying about it. Aren’t there enough other things to worry about? **

My buddy George, a San Francisco lawyer and on-again, off-again stamp collector, recently sent me two copies of the classic stamp-collecting book, “Nassau Street: A fullsizeoutput_50fbQuarter Century of Stamp Dealing,” by Herman Herst Jr. One copy was a signed first edition, the other a standard hardcover reprint. (I think George   just wanted to get them out of the house.) I started reading, and it’s quite an eye-opener. (Hey — this is something else you can do during the Covid19 shutdown: read about stamps!)  While I haven’t gotten very far, I would like to share a glimpse of the high-energy world that stamp collecting used to be. In the mid-1930s, the Stamp Center Building at 116 Nassau St. in Manhattan housed 40 stamp dealers. That didn’t include other dealers ranged up and down the block. I remember my old Pa, an enthusiastic collector, loved making solo side trips to “Nassau Street” during our infrequent family visits to New York City in the 1950s. I was too young to get much exposure to that zesty, colorful arena of stamp collecting in its heyday.  I do remember, however, a couple of visits to Gimbel’s department store in the 1960s, where I mooned over the displays at the stamp counter. 

There were stamp magazines of many varieties starting in the 1930s — Mekeel’s, Philatelic Gossip, Linn’s, Stamps, International Stamp Review, Stamp News, Kaw Chief Stamp Journal, Chambers Stamp Journal, Stamp Land. “It seemed that everyone who ever collected stamps and had a printing press was publishing a stamp magazine,” Herst wrote. One of them, Western Stamp Collecting, became so popular it started publishing twice a week, up to 16 broadsheet pages, “and in the process developed the largest circulation a newspaper had ever experienced,” Herst claimed.

Stamp clubs, back then, were wildly popular. “Every night in the week you could attend a stamp club in New York,” wrote Herst. “Each week The Sun would chronicle the founding of a new club. … The Bronx County Stamp Club was the largest club of all. Seldom did less than 150 members show up for a meeting. It occupied extensive rented quarters in Vasa Temple, a lodge meeting hall, at 149th Street and Third Avenue in the Bronx. It is safe to say that nowhere in the stamp world was more business transacted in a three-hour period than at the Bronx Club. …”

Those were the days, eh? Stamp collecting sounds like quite a sport back then, doesn’t it? Very different from the rather moribund affair of today. Imagine what Covid19 would have done to the strenuously interactive stamp business of the 1930s! 

Philately may be a comparatively quiet enterprise today, but it is not extinct. As stamp collectors know, the Internet has infused new life into the hobby,  stabilizing values and stimulating demand. The future may not bring a return to the halcyon days of “Nassau Street,” but at least there is a future. Because of  the nature of philately, there is no reason to fear that the current Covid19 unpleasantness will change any of that. 

** NOTE: Regarding contamination and stamps, this email arrived in my box today from a stamp dealer, who is either from the Philippines or has many customers living there, under the heading, “Corona Virus and Philippine Post”:

Dear customer,  …  I know some of you have received some orders but not all. I was talking to our Post Office staff again yesterday when I delivered the recent orders for mailing. They advised that Philippine Post is not processing international mail again — no reason given. This is all very frustrating for you I realise and I thank you for your patience.  Your orders will arrive eventually. …                   


ZAR/Transvaal: The Story Begins

fullsizeoutput_4deaEDITOR’S NOTE: The third stamp-issuing authority in British South and Central-East Africa, in 1869 (after Cape of Good Hope in 1853 and Natal in 1857) was not in British territory. The ZAR — Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek — was into its 14h year as an independent Boer republic. Today there is no map reference to the ZAR, or Transvaal. Much of the high veld territory comprises the province of Gauteng in the Republic of South Africa. The postal history of ZAR/Transvaal is such a rollicking tale that it will take three installments to get it all out …

The ZAR was a loose but durable association of Boer farmers and other settlers who trekked or otherwise made their way beyond the Cape Colony, beyond the Orange Free State (another Boer republic), beyond British Natal, across the Vaal River fullsizeoutput_3460intothe tribal frontier. “Trans-Vaal,” or Transvaal, is another name for the territory that became a battleground between imperial Britain and the indigenous “tribe” of Boers. When the fighting was over in 1902, the carnage was considerable. The Boer death toll was about 25,000, while the British lost  22,000; 12,000 blacks also perished. Politically, the biggest losers were the indigenous blacks, as Boers and Brits joined forces and in 1910 formed the white supremacist Union of South Africa.

For the Boer pioneers back in the 1830s, the fertile plain of southern Africa was a vision of milk and honey. You can hear it, practically taste it in the Boer mantra of fullsizeoutput_4e28the sweet life — lekker lewe. The settlers did make for themselves a  good life in Africa. A typical Boer head of household  would be self-reliant, simple and practical in his daily life; deeply religious, loyal to kith and kin; a resourceful frontiersman; a shrewd negotiator; a robust “family man” with many children (see right). The Boers were successful farmers and ranchers. They thrived in the seemingly endless supply of arable  land and grazing grasses, and took maximum advantage of the indigenous population as cheap labor. 

Were the Boers racist? Yes by today’s standards, though during the 1700s and 1800s they did not treat indigenous blacks more harshly than other societies.  Great Britain’s abolition of slavery in the colonies in 1833 helped precipitate a  migration of Boers beyond the reach of Cape Colony law and the British Crown. The Boers as a rule were not sadists or tyrants, but they never countenanced equal rights for blacks, as Natal preached and the Cape Colony actually practiced for a while. The Boers trained primitive Bushmen for domestic service, in cahoots with the British, some of whom honored equality as much in the breach as the observance. Early trainees among the Bushmen and “Hottentots” became Fingoes, skilled fighters, guides and scouts.  The Boers claimed that their system of indenture was not really slavery, but their constitutions never allowed blacks to become citizens — unlike the Cape Colony, which enshrined equal rights for all property owners from the 1830s to the fullsizeoutput_4e1c1870s.  The Boer leader Jan Smuts (1870-1950), who helped create what became the Union of South Africa, grew up working side by side with blacks as a farmhand  and cowherd. Though he endorsed the racist Boer hierarchy until nearly the end of his life, Smuts also respected tribal ways, which he saw eroded by the Cape Colony’s efforts in earlier decades to establish equality between blacks and whites.   “The old practice mixed up black with white in the same institutions,” he wrote, “and nothing else was possible after the native institutions and traditions had been carelessly or deliberately destroyed.”

fullsizeoutput_4e02Among the early trekkers was Paul Kruger. Born in the eastern Cape Colony in 1825, he relocated with his family as a child in 1836.  Kruger would become leader of the ZAR, an embodiment of Boer values: stubborn, proud, clinging to the Bible to the bitter end.  As early as the 1840s, many Boers considered themselves an indigenous African people. They traced their ancestry to the likes of


That’s van Riebeeck (1619-1677) on the right. To the left is his wife, Maria (1629-1664). Originally from a family of French Huguenots, Maria has been revered as the ancestral “mother” of the Afrikaners. She reportedly was a charming hostess and an able diplomatic companion to her husband; she also was involved in finance and indigenous relations.

Jan van Riebeeck, who settled Capetown in 1652. Their forebears were pilgrims and pioneers, much like those in the “new world” of America. Two hundred years later, the Boers were as much a tribe as the Zulu, the Tswana or the Swazis …

The Boers’ orneriness and independent streak hindered their ability to self-govern. Their burgeoning families and communal settlements were so self-sufficient and zealous in their pursuit of the lekker lewe that they had trouble trusting outside authority and ceding their individual autonomy to a government entity — not to mention paying taxes. This clannish fullsizeoutput_4e20chauvinism led to all kinds of administrative and political problems through the years, not only in the ZAR, but in the neighboring Orange Free State and in smaller enclaves like Stellaland, Lijdenburg, Utrecht and Goosen (Goshen). 


The Boers’ strengths lay in their resourcefulness, industry, productivity, faith in God and loyalty to family and clan. They were effective fighters when called upon to defend hearth and home, but less successful as an organized army and bureaucracy. Their assembly or Volksraad was short of cash and long on argument, and struggled to maintain its mandate; besides, everyone had a farm to run. 


Notice how this philatelic tribute to Andries Pretorious has to be on two separate stamps, one in English, the other in Afrikaans. It’s an odd doppel entity, which was embodied in South African stamps for decades. FYI, the flag is from Pretorius’s short-lived Boer Republic of Natalia. “Reaffirmation of the vow” refers to Boer aspirations, translated as “Werbevestiging van die Gelofte.”

Andries Pretorius (1793-1853) was instrumental in the creation of the ZAR, though he died just as his dream was about to materialize. Tall and barrel-chested, his was a commanding presence. He led the Boers in battles against indigenous rivals — allying with one tribal king against another, slaughtering great numbers of Zulus while suffering few

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Though Martinhus Pretorius led the Orange Free State and was ZAR’s first president, he never seemed to live up to the standards of his famous father Andries. Notice the family resemblance — the same sad eyes, the same long face and strong chin.

casualties on his side. His republic of Natalia was short-lived, displaced by British Natal. Pretorius pushed north as the British grew more entrenched, and with allies including the young Paul Kruger, he began working on the outlines of a new republic across the Vaal River. First the Boers had to defend themselves. They bested the British in bloody skirmishes, most notably the Battle of Blood River. The Sand River Convention in 1852 ended what became known as the First Boer War, with casualties in the hundreds, not thousands. Britain signed treaties recognizing the Orange Free State in 1854, and two years later acknowledged the independence of
the roughly 40,000 Boers who had settled north of the Vaal River. Andries Pretorius’s son Martinhus became the ZAR’s first president, with Pretoria as his capital, named in his father’s honor.

In ensuing years, Paul Kruger emerged as the ZAR’s strongest leader.  The Boers built a dynamic, self-sufficient society, yet faced constant pressure from displaced tribes, as well as from English settlers and business interests. These  uitlanders” chafed at a ZAR constitution whose long residency requirements curtailed their political rights. The ZAR also suffered because so many of its own Boer constituents resisted strong central authority of any kind. 

Version 2From the beginning, all ZAR stamps bore the same design — the ZAR’s coat of arms, official badge of the Boers. As you can see from the title page of my collection, I don’t have any of the costly first stamps from ZAR/Transvaal. There’s one down toward the bottom of the page — No. 21 — that I took a risk buying. (More about this later.) 




fullsizeoutput_4e29The first set, printed in Mecklenburg, Germany,   was


quite handsome (see left — this image of No. 3 is from the Internet, since I can’t afford the hundreds of bucks it would cost to buy). 








Subsequent sets produced in the ZAR were not as polished.



These are two early ones — Scott No. 21, printed in Potchefstroom, ZAR, and No. 31, printed in Pretoria, the ZAR’s capital. They didn’t cost me much, as they are not in top shape. The sloppy printing job is still pretty evident. The stamps may be counterfeits — there was a lot of that going around — but I suspect they are genuine. (More about this later.) They fullsizeoutput_4de3sure are curiosity items!





Year after year, the Boers kept power to themselves, as was reflected in their Afrikaner-centric stamps  as well as their  restrictions on voting rights. By 1878, the ZAR administration was so besieged by its critics that Boers and settlers alike were relieved when Britains’s Theophilus Shepstone from neighboring Natal stepped in on behalf of the Queen.     

Relations between Boers and Brits had
waxed and waned over the decades. Between 1779 to 1879, white settlers from both groups fought nine distinct “wars” with indigenous tribes — the Xhosa Wars, once labeled “Kaffir Wars.” (Kaffir, which gradually morphed into a slur, originated in the Arabic word for “infidel.”)  The first three confrontations involved  Boers pushing
beyond the boundaries of the Cape Colony.  Great Britain assumed a greater role in later conflicts and the resultant carnage, with Boers fighting by their side. Sir


Why don’t I have any of these 1878 Victoria “V.R.” overprints on Z.Afr.Republiek stamps? For one thing, they are expensive; for another, they are quite dull-looking.

Andries Stokienstroem, lieutenant governor of the Cape Colony’s eastern province, managed to establish peace and build trust with the Xhosa for a period of 10 years in the mid-1800s. But the relentless pressure for land from Boers and other settlers inevitably led to renewed confrontatikon.    

In 1878, Shepstone annexed the ZAR, christening the new British territory  Transvaal. A number of ZAR stamps were immediately overprinted with “V.R.” to assert imperial authority. It seems a little insolent, if you ask me. Soon enough, the Brits would put out an original set of stamps featuring a profile of the mature Queen Victoria (see below).

fullsizeoutput_4de9Isn’t this a handsome series? Yes, I’m missing the pricier 1/2d and 2 shilling values, but this late-Victorian set nevertheless resonates with subtle colors in its consistent design; a refreshing change after all those years of coats-of-arms. These  elegant stamps seem to assert once and for all the Crown’s ascendancy in Transvaal. In fact, quite the opposite occurred. It didn’t take long for the Boers to rediscover their love of self-government and re-assert their aspirations for independence. As historian John Laband put it: “British occupation seemed to be fomenting a sense of national consciousness in the Transvaal which years of fractious independence had failed to elicit.” A key figure in that heightened consciousness was Paul Kruger — who will loom large in the next installment.


Bonus: The Art and Craft of Soaking Off Stamps

IMG_8494Nowadays, I doubt you will be able to find a stamp in your local post office that has gum on the back that you must lick in order to produce a sticky surface so you can affix the stamp to your envelope. (Did I really have to use all those words to explain how one used to put on a stamp?) Instead, today’s stamps are  “self-adhesive,” that is, with sticky gum already part of the stamp. You just peel the stamp off its paper backing and it’s ready to go on the envelope. It’s a rather nifty system — convenient, hygienic, up-to-date. It’s not so great for collectors who want to add “used” (cancelled) stamps to their holdings, since it’s near to impossible to get the stamp off the envelope once it’s been placed there. I’ve taken to collecting used self-adhesive stamps simply by cutting a tight square or rectangle around them and saving them in my stock book as-is. It’s not as aesthetically pleasing, and a bit more bulky, but what can you do? 

Self-adhesive stamps got an early start in Sierra Leone in 1964. The idea was to produce stamps that would not stick together in the humid, tropical climate of West Africa. The die-cut self-adhesives also allowed postal authorities to issue stamps in unusual shapes, such as a map of Sierra Leone. The first U.S. self-adhesive came in 1974. It was a10-cent Christmas stamp, and I bought a sheet of 50, thinking it would become an unusual collector’s item, perhaps even something of a rarity. (Instead, the rubber-based gum proved unstable and ended up staining and discoloring the front of the stamps, and they have not gained value.)  (I could present pictures of all these stamps, but this essay is not about self-adhesives. Maybe I’ll write more about them later. Meanwhile, if you want to see these stamps, look ‘em up on eBay or somewhere.)

By the mid-1990s, the process had improved and self-adhesives were re-introduced and proved popular with the public. Today, I believe all new U.S. stamps are self-adhesive.  People who collect only modern stamps may soon forget what “dry gum” even is, or was. Whether or not this is a loss to civilization is not a matter under consideration at the moment.

For those who collect “vintage” stamps — that is, stamps issued before the pre-gummed era, removing the stamps from the paper they are on is not difficult. Since the gum is water-soluble, you just dunk them in water for a few minutes and they should float right off, or slide easily from their paper backing. When you are working with a lot of stamps, the following tips may be helpful.

IMG_8505A while back I acquired a substantial accumulation of German stamps from my buddy George. They were in three stock books, and more than half of the stamps were “cut squares,” still on their paper backing (see illustration, top). IMG_8510

I assembled them into a big pile, and poured myself about two inches of water in a wide salad bowl. Then I dunked all the stamps in the bowl and went about my business for 15 or 20 minutes. 

It’s important to use enough water to loosen the gum without turning the whole solution cloudy with residue. You also don’t want to leave the stamps in the water too long — I’ve noticed some waterlogged stamps pick up colors from other stamps (or ink from the cancellations or from the backing paper!) if they are allowed to soak and soak.

IMG_8514When it’s time, start picking the backing-free stamps out of the water. But where do you put them to dry? One suggestion is to use paper towels. Place the stamps face-IMG_8517down, since some residual wet gum could stick to the paper towel, thus defeating your purpose. Don’t let any stamps touch each other or they may  dry stuck together. IMG_8518




You will be left with a pile of wet paper that used to hold your stamps. Dispose of the paper mash responsibly — it’s recyclable!

The soaked stamps dry quickly, and can then be assembled into a colorful pile of collectibles, ready for sorting and storing. 

IMG_8546Some collectors prefer special soaking books with porous paper that will dry stamps flat. It strikes me, however, that those books keep out the air, and thus it must take quite a bit longer to dry the stamps than using the en plein air method.  True, stamps that dry on paper towels may not end up as flat as you’d like. Indeed, some of them may curl like tulips. You can easily press them under a book or other weight overnight to iron them out. Feel free to stack them on top of each other — they’re dry, after all, so they won’t stick together. Be careful, though, not to crease or fold the curled stamps when you are pressing them. A damaged stamp is no good to anyone.

Brother Jonathan, who started collecting stamps when I was dimly aware of what a stamp was, has been a stalwart co-philatelist and companion in a lifetime of pursuing the hobby, sharing his indefatigable enthusiasm about philatelic esoterica, exotica, minutiae and aesthetics. During a recent phone conversation on the occasion of his 75th birthday, talk inevitably turned to philatelia. During his professional life, Jonathan served as director of a major office of Rotary International based in Zurich. He said he was the only stamp collector supervising a staff of more than 30, in regular communication with Rotary contacts in more than 20 countries. “Going through the mail for stamps became almost a real job,” he said. Accumulating sizable quantities of stamps cut from envelopes, he devised an efficient technique for removing them from their backing paper: After soaking them in water, he would array them, gum side down, on the flat surface of a plastic screen. With air circulating both above and below the stamps, they would dry extra-quickly — faster than if they are laid out on, say, paper towels, and much faster than sticking them between the pages of a blotter-book, where they would not be exposed to the air. 

Warming to his subject, Jonathan added: “I even thought at one point that I might devise a machine to accomplish this task.” A machine? Sure. The plastic screening would be stretched on a roller that moves very slowly — kind of like those hot dog roasters you see at highway rest stops. Above the roller there might be a light to aid the drying process, and below it a fan to speed up the circulating air and move things along even faster. By the end of the roll, the stamps would be dry, and a flexible arm would “flick” them off the screen nto a container, where they could be stored and recovered for future sorting. 

My own contribution to this Rube Goldberg-like device was to suggest that it might be powered by a solar cell; alternatively, one might rig up a set of pedals and a seat, such that one could power the roller, the light and the fan while getting some healthful exercise. By this time, I had a pretty good idea what this might look like. d

And what would you call it, I asked my brother. “How about Dave?” he proposed. I include an illustration of the device (see below).




Version 2 








Bonus: Stamp Map Update!


A while back Paul, a stamp collector, retired geography teacher and lecturer living in Wales, sent in a nice email about the FMF Stamp Project blog, including much interesting personal background. At the end of his long note, Paul mentioned my World Stamp Map, which is displayed above my desk and which I used as an image in  one of my blog posts. The idea of the stamp map is to try and find a stamp for each country and attach it to the appropriate spot. 

Paul wrote: ” … In finishing, as a geographer, I was very impressed by the world map on your study wall. Of course, I instantly honed in on my part of the world. The fullsizeoutput_4d34map is not in focus on the web page, but it seems the UK has a red Machin on England and if I am correct a 3d National Productivity stamp from 1962 above it which buries Scotland. Living in Wales, with the Celtic sensitivity that brings, I don’t think I can see an Irish stamp or any recognition that Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own definitive stamps. Please! This is by no means a criticism, just an observation, and I would be more than pleased (on receipt of postal address) to send you stamps to address this matter. I think Scotland is beyond help, but I can certainly offer you an Irish and Welsh stamp to enhance your wall map. …”

What a thoughtful offer! Far from resenting his critique of my stamp map, I welcomed the attention! I also was touched by Paul’s chauvinist pride in Wales, and his loyalty to Scottish and Celtic sensitivities. Paul was absolutely right — the UK region of the stamp map definitely could be enhanced. I immediately sent Paul my address, and in due time a letter arrived — actually a card decorated with a beautiful linocut of the Welsh rock formation Craig y Fan Dhu.  Out of the card tumbled a delectable selection of stamps, arranged on a stock card. 


The note Paul wrote on the card succinctly explained everything, so I will include a slightly adapted version, along with enlarged illustrations of the stamps he describes.

Dear Fred                     13/9/19 (sic, that’s Sept. 13, British-style)

UK and Ireland stamps as promised. In order from the top left: 

Version 2

#1/2  Wales definitive 1999 with the Welsh dragon which features on the country’s flag. 1af is ‘cyntaf’ = 1st in Welsh language. Ideally, the dragon would be red, so the 19p (1988) version might be preferred.


Version 3



#3 Scotland definitive 1999 with the Rampant lion, red on gold, as featured on the unofficial flag of Scotland.




Version 4


#4-5 Ulster definitives 65p (2000) and the 3d design from the first country definitives 50 years ago. Both show the hand of Ulster, but usually this would be red.


Version 5




#6 Victoria and Elizabeth profiles 1990  Penny Black anniversary — simple but striking design.



Version 6



… or #7 The Lord Mayor’s Show, London, 1989 which features both the Union Jack and St. George flag of England. I have to come clean, Fred — the National Productivity Year stamp you have currently on UK is a dreadful design. Either #6 or #7 would enhance your map!





Version 7


For Ireland either #8 Padraig mac Pairais — Patrick Pearse and the 1916 Easter Rising anniversary stamp (1975) with the allusion to the Marianne stamps of France, but here she is holding the Irish tricolor.  


Version 8





… or #9 1972 Christmas stamp illustrating the Book of Kells, one of the glories of the Celtic Christian world.







And of course the Channel Islands and Isle of Man issue their own stamps (in profusion). So included are 4 of these. 

Version 9

Crikey, this part of your map is going to be crowded. As with all approvals, there is no obligation! So if you have better designs, discard these and no offense (sic) taken. It was an enjoyable exercise.

Regards, Paul

Below is my new-and-improved UK section of the World Stamp Map. As you will notice, I have removed that dreary “National Productivity Year” stamp, along with the run-of-the-mill Machin definitive of Queen Elizabeth. This opened up space to use some IMG_9928of Paul’s stamps — for Scotland, England, Wales, Ulster, as well as the Channel Islands Guernsey and Jersey, also the Isle of Man. Since things were really getting crowded (crikey!), I substituted a small Irish stamp from my own supply instead of using one of Paul’s offerings. Yes, it’s surely a busy corner of my stamp map today. Anything wrong with that? 

fullsizeoutput_4d38Let me just add a word about the charming stamps Paul used on his mailing envelope, which are reproduced here. At right is another Welsh definitive, this one
depicting the humble leek, a vegetable long representative of Wales. Below are three scenes of Wales on UK issues. I have begun to have a hankering to visit this quaint and scenic land sometime (better not wait too long!). Wife Chris is mildly interested. I floated the idea to Paul in an email, and he said I would be welcome. You never can tell where stamp-collecting will lead you …

Version 2



The Portuguese navigator Vasco de Gama sighted the coast along what is now Durban on Christmas Day in 1497 and named the country Terra Natalis, after the Portuguese word for Christmas.  (Wikipedia)

fullsizeoutput_4cf9What were the local overseers or the poobahs in the British colonial office thinking when they decided on the first postage stamps for Natal, in 1857? Designs and values embossed into cream, blue-, pink-, green-, rose- and buff-colored paper? What if you didn’t speak English, or did not read at all? If you could “read” these embossed images in the first place, would you know what to do with them? Did customers have  access to accurate renderings of the embossed designs? I include catalogue illustrations, for your reference, right and below. They enable the viewer to pick out some of the details in the stamps. Perhaps back in the 1850s the fresh fullsizeoutput_4cfeimpressions were  sharper and easier to see. Today the rare examples that survive are flattened with age, the impressions harder to read. (The illustrations here are from the internet, by the way; I could never afford to buy these weird stamps, much as I’d like to …)

1857 was just 17 years after the appearance of the first postage stamp — Great Britain’s “Penny Black.” (Bavaria also happened to issue its first stamps in 1840.) Postage stamps were still a novelty in 1857, though many nations already had them, including small German states like fullsizeoutput_4cfcMecklenburg, Wurtemberg, Hamburg, Hanover, Oldenburg and Thurn&Taxis. Switzerland’s first cantonal stamps and Brazil’s “bulls-eyes” came out in 1843, four years ahead of the United States. The world’s rarest stamp — the sole surviving one cent black-and-magenta from British Guiana — was issued in 1856. 

Natal’s short-lived experiment with embossed stamps was not the only misfire in the early days of philately. At the very beginning, in 1840, the Mulready Cover in England turned out to be a dud with the British public. Its letter-gram format was fullsizeoutput_4d00savagely caricatured in the public press (abetted by stationers who saw their market encroached on and threatened by the Post Office letter). India tried a semi-embossed stamp in 1854 and promptly abandoned the practice. The Cape of Good Hope’s triangle stamps, issued between 1853 and 1863, were a novelty few copied. Argentina’s first stamps in 1858 were so crude they looked like children’s drawings. 

Now, a few words about my own rare and wonderful Natal stamp. The most I have spent yet for a stamp is $105, a princely sum which I paid in 2013 for Natal No. 1, 3 pence, rose, 1857 (pictured at right below, larger fullsizeoutput_603than actual size). The stamp has a catalog value of $500+, but that is for a copy with 4  clear margins, whereas mine is 3+. I have no certificate of authenticity, and there are known to be reprints with bogus cancellations. Nevertheless, I am satisfied this is the real deal. If you are just skimming over the pages of my British Africa album, you might be tempted to dismiss this rarity. It looks like a smudged square of colored paper with some bumps on it. Look more closely, though, and you will see a clear impression saying “THREE PENCE,” much of it picked up by the black ink fullsizeoutput_605smudge of the cancellation. Actually, the margins are unusually large for this variety: just in at the bottom, clear the rest of the way around. Compare the faint embossing on the stamp with the design outline below it, as presented in the Scott catalogue, and see if you can discern these details on the original: 1) as stated, the number THREE PENCE is clear under the postal strike; 2) also visible are the circular border and the letter “A” from  Natal at top; 3) the large “V” is visible at left, and a faint “R” at right. Can you see it? Now think of this odd stamp, embossed  more than 150 years ago, placed on an envelope in the new south African colony of Natal (founded circa 1843) for the outgoing mail. Today that stamp is in my collection. As you might suspect, I have examined it in great detail, and confess to be being hypnotized by it — something about the fleshy color, the tattoo-like embossing, the nearly hidden letters and symbols, then imagining this artifact making its way from that African postal outpost, circa  1857 …   philately just boggles the mind!”

I suspect this will be my one-and-only Natal embossed stamp. I salivate over other examples, like those pictured above, but the prices are more than my wallet can bear. I suppose I’m lucky to have the one that’s already in my collection, and hope it keeps growing in value. Meanwhile, I seem to have accumulated quite a Natal collection over the years. I was spurred on more than a decade ago by a mini-collection I bought for $50 from Ed Bailey, pillar of the Syracuse Stamp Club and the indomitable proprietor of Suburban Stamps&Coins in North Syracuse (until he retired, that is). It was a diverse and extensive selection of Victorian and Edwardian stamps that I used as a basis for expanding sets, filling gaps and enlarging my collection. 

I note the dates of my acquisitions, so I have a chronology of that expansion, including my recent online purchase of the 4 shilling from the first Edward VII set — a key value for me, as it fills a strategic gap and in a long set that is now complete from 1/2 penny through one pound. (The stamp cost me $35, more than any other stamp in the set; worth the price, but still … ouch! I also filled a few other gaps with four stamps for about $15 more.) 

As I dive headlong into my Natal collection, the task at hand is to locate Natal in the history of the stamps of British south and central-east Africa. In previous essays I have focused on British Africa’s first stamp-issuing authority, the Cape Colony (Cape of Good Hope, or COGH), with a little excursion into the Siege of Mafeking. There also was an essay on Zanzibar, for various whimsical reasons. Chronologically, Natal was the second British territory in Africa to issue stamps, in 1857, after only COGH in 1853. The history of southern Africa was turbulent, often violent — particularly for the increasingly oppressed indigenous population. However, Natal enjoyed a long and relatively placid philatelic and political history through 1910, when the colony was incorporated into the Union of South Africa.

I say “placid” because unlike its neighbors, Natal was not often the scene of open warfare between Boers and Brits. Those battles were fought in the Transvaal, across the Orange Free State and other enclaves, and in the Cape Colony. There were no rude Boer overprints on Natal stamps. Friction occurred at the margins, to be sure, with considerable slaughter of Boers, Brits and Zulus. Natal’s vexing troubles with its neighbors led to the eventual annexation of Zululand, as well as the New Republic. 

fullsizeoutput_4d02Sets of early Natal stamps carried the elegant (and flattering!) Chalon portrait of the young Queen Victoria.



You may notice that some of the stamps in these two sets (above and below) look the same. The sets have different watermarks — first “CC” (Crown Colonies) from the 1870s, then “CA” (Crown Agents) in the 1880s. Do you really want an explanation for the change? I haven’t been able to find one yet, but I’ll make a guess. Maybe the term “Colonies” had become a little old-fashioned in late-century imperialist circles … Or perhaps it was strictly for administrative reasons. In any event, I include both these sets proudly because they are complete —with shades. Neither set is particularly rare or pricey.

Later sets with the stolid Victoria profile  succeeded one another at a stately pace, giving way at length to the next monarch. Edward VII  finally succeeded his mother in 1902, and reigned for the rest of Natal’s existence. In 1910, King George V succeeded his father. A portrait of the fresh young king appeared on the first stamp of the new Union of South Africa.  

The first permanent British settlements in Natal were established by Lt. Francis Farewell fullsizeoutput_4d06in 1823. For years he lobbied the Cape Colony and Whitehall to make Natal a colony. After passive resistance from Capetown and London, the Boers took over and established the Natalia Republic, a regime so disorganized and incompetent — and oppressive of the indigenous people — that the British felt obliged to move in. By 1843, the Boers were out. After a final compromise on borders, many Boers trekked to neighboring Orange Free State or Transvaal. Over the years, Natal continued to play a role in regional affairs. In 1897 it annexed the Zululand protectorate, doubling its size. With gold and diamonds to be mined, the region thrived, and Natal’s port of Durban grew into an economic hub. In the 1890s, Natal won the right of “responsible government,” meaning local self-government. In contrast to the Cape Colony, where there was a historic commitment to universal suffrage, in Natal the voting laws were always skewed to exclude most black Africans and Indians. A 1904 census listed  904,031 blacks (81.53 percent); 100,918 Asian (9.10 percent); 97,109 whites (8.75 percent);  6,686 colored (.60 percent) 


Oboy, here’s phulphillment of a philatelic phantasy, pholks. First, look above at the nice set of Edward VII definitives from 1902-3. Notice a major gap where the 4 shilling stamp should be. That’s the stamp I just bought online for the fair but still considerable price of $34.99! It’s way more than I paid for any other stamp in the set. There it is, below at right, getting ready to join the rest; next image — it’s in its place. Ahh. Finally, there is the set, now complete from 1/2d to 1 pound. Wow!

During the Second Boer War, the Afrikaners in neighboring Orange Free State set their sights on the rich province to the south. Natal resisted Boer incursions that culminated in the Siege of Ladysmith, a key garrison city and supply depot in northern Natal. The
siege lasted from Nov. 2, 1899 to February 28,1900, when forces under Redvers Bullers (what a name!) relieved the city.  Soon after, Boer fullsizeoutput_4d0amilitants left Natal for good. (Unlike the Siege of Mafeking, in the Cape Colony, which was going on at the same time, no stamps were issued from besieged
Ladysmith, as far as I know; nor are there stories of derring-do like those attached to Col. Baden-Powell in fullsizeoutput_4d0eMafeking; for that story see December’s blog post, “Mafeking Besieged!”)

Natal and the Cape Colony were the British nexus in the Union of South Africa. fullsizeoutput_4d10Transvaal/Zuikafrikaansche Republiek and the Orange Free State/Orange River Colony were contested  Boer strongholds. By 1910, the oppressive models of the British in Natal and the

Boers in Transvaal had  long since prevailed over the more inclusive councils of the Cape Colony.  While the Brits and the Boers had fought bitterly and viciously for dominance in southern Africa,  from 1910 on they worked together. The sturdy nation they created — bilingual, white-supremacist — would endure for 80 years, exploiting the vast mineral resources of the region while holding in thrall the black African majority. 



Mafeking Besieged!

Before we get to the siege of Mafeking, which is quite a yarn, I must present some preliminary information. Our story picks up long before the siege in 1899. Back in the 1880s, the Cape Colony asserted its prerogatives over mineral-rich Griqualand West, a Boer stronghold, and in addition Stellaland, a Boer “republic” created for the sole purpose of forestalling British ambitions, as far as I can tell. 

This was happening as diamonds, gold and other resources were being discovered in nearby Kimberly and environs. The land of the Griquas was smack in the center of things. The mining rush that ensued, engulfed the areas known as Griqualand East and the considerably larger Griqualand West, with Boer and Brit interests clashing, often violently, until the eventual outcome — more an entente between white supremacists than a true reckoning. 

In any case, both Griqualand West and Stellaland, which only was in business for fullsizeoutput_4ab0about a year, issued stamps. In the case of Griqualand, the stamps were simply Cape of Good Hope rectangles overprinted “G” in myriad ways. (See illustrations here from my collection). Stamp collectors beware: collecting all 102 Griqualand overprints could get expensive.  



















In the case of Stellaland, a set was issued under Boer authority displaying a coat of arms like a “real country.” Just one set — three stamps —  but there you have it. And the stamps aren’t cheap. (I  paid
$25 for these three in 2005.)



The fortunes of the Boers and the Brits rose and fell from the 1870s on, culminating in the brutal Second Boer War of 1899-1902. Early on, the Cape Colony usurped the Boers in Stellaland and took over in the mid-1880s — but not before there occurred an odd philatelic pas de deux. Check out the two so-called “Vryburg” stamps presented at right, named for the capital city of Stellaland.  One stamp is a replica of fullsizeoutput_4ab5an extremely rare Boer stamp overprinted  “V.R.: (Victoria Regina) for the British occupiers. The other is a Cape Colony rectangle overprinted “Z.A.R.” for the Boer occupiers (Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek). And wow! Check out the price. What we have here, then, is both European forces asserting their fullsizeoutput_4ab4primacy by cancelling the stamp y of their enemy with the overprint of their own] side. Who was really in charge here? Did it matter as far as the local black population was concerned? It certainly mattered as far as it resulted in black lives lost during the fighting between the white “tribes” — the Boers and the Brits! 

By the way, if you think this is confusing, wait until we take up the subject of Tansvaal/Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek. There we face alternating Boer and British authority, as well as local overprints and who-know-what-else. Ah well, that is for another day …


fullsizeoutput_3465Now take a look at this stamp (right). It is quite extraordinary. The overprint “Mafeking Besieged” on the Cape of Good Hope half-penny stamp identifies the desperate straits faced by the inhabitants of the Cape Colony’s inland city and strategic railway town. Stamps with this Mafeking overprint sell for a premium — I bought this average-quality one for L19.25. Other Mafeking stamps are much more valuable. My example has a somewhat rounded corner, upper left. But really, considering what a rarity it is, I’d expect you to be on my side on this.

When I showed this stamp to my Syracuse Stamp Club buddies, one of them came up with an obvious, if incisive, question: If British Mafeking was indeed besieged by the Boers, how come there is this cancelled stamp, indicating that the mail got through? If it was a siege, how could letters reach their destinations?

I hadn’t confronted this obvious question before, but it led to further inquiry into the Mafeking siege — in particular the heroic eccentricities of British scion Col. Robert Baden-Powell. Much of the following account is drawn from Wikipedia, and is well-sourced. There is no good reason to doubt the authenticity of this narrative. If anything, it may be overly Eurocentric, that is, glossing over the multi-racial nature of the campaign.  

First, though, an editorial comment — a prologue to the dramatic tale of the Siege of Mafeking. This story could should be made into a movie — there are  many cinematic episodes in a compact narrative crammed into a mere seven months. The backdrop is the standoff between the Brits and the Boers, between Col. Baden-Powell and Gen. Piet Cronje. The screenplay could be constructed as drama, tragedy or farce. As farce, you might cast John Cleese — at least a young, supple version of him — as the languidly energetic and boyishly resourceful Baden-Powell. Gen. Cronje might be Cpl. Klink from the TV show “Hogan’s Heroes.”  Then you’d enlist a veritable Monty Python cast to concoct and carry out the various pranks and tricks Baden-Powell pulled off to hoodwink the stolid Boers, who might as well be Keystone Kops in their dim-witted and ineffectual rage. 


Here is one of the two locally produced Mafeking stamps. the image is from the internet — I couldn’t afford the hundreds of dollars it would cost to buy either one. (Plus, the catalogue warns, there are “excellent forgeries.”) It seems the plucky designers used a photographic technique in reproducing the image of Col Baden-Powell — though his collar makes him look decapitated! The banner on top reads, ”Mafeking Siege 1900” — an oddly celebratory touch. To be sure, Col B.-P. put a lot of emphasis on maintaining morale, and may have encouraged his troops to keep these stamps as souvenirs. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn he was a stamp-fancier himself. 

The siege of Mafeking may have had its farcical qualities, and the actual number of deaths was not large. However, the Boer War — actually there were two wars, about 10 years apart — was no picnic. Casualty estimates later put the total number of dead at 22,000 on the British side, 25,000 on the Boer side. At least 350 British soldiers perished in the Battle of Spion Kop alone (the Boers suffered 300 casualties), and 7,000 Brits were killed or wounded during the relief of Ladysmith, a city in Natal besieged by the Boers. Many of the Boer dead were women and children penned up by the British as prisoners in the deplorable conditions of new “concentration camps.”  The Brits’ scorched-earth policies, and their appalling treatment of prisoners, helped bring about the Geneva Conventions, ratified in 1904.

The siege of Mafeking began Oct. 13, 1899, with a shelling by the Boers. It  ended May 17, 1900, with the arrival of British reinforcements — including Baden-Powell’s brother, Baden Fletcher Smyth Baden-Powell (played by Hugh Grant in the movie, I suggest.)  Though initially outnumbered four-to-one, the plucky British held out for 217 days.

Here are a few cinematic examples of Baden-Powell’s schemes;

*** He devised a series of interlocking trenches to allow his troops to circulate  without being seen.

*** He had his men conspicuously place “mines” around the perimeter, all of which were fakes.

*** Troops went to elaborate lengths to mimic avoiding (imaginary) barbed wire while moving about.

*** Col. B.-P. transferred his limited supply of guns from one place to another so Boer spies would overestimate his arsenal.

*** Using an acetylene lamp and a biscuit tin, he concocted a search light that would be displayed in multiple locations to suggest numerous beacon emplacements. 

*** He noticed that while the Boers had cut telephone lines and stopped the trains, they had not damaged the tracks; so he commandeered an armored train from Mafeking’s rail yards, loaded it with sharpshooters and sent it careening into the heart of the Boer camp — and back safely. 

*** A makeshift howitzer was built in the Mafeking rail workshops; rail workers also repurposed a century-old cannon.

*** Troops cross-dressed as women when doing chores or moving about the camp to increase enemy confusion.

Day after day, week after week, Baden-Powell and his stalwarts taunted and defied the Boers. One after another, the hijinks and stunts of the British confounded the would-be attackers. A final Boer assault in May was thwarted by Baden-Powell’s strategic counterattack. The toll in that encounter was 12 dead, eight wounded on the British side, most of them blacks; the Boer toll was 60 dead or wounded and 108 captured. Days later, the Boers threw up their hands and went home. (British reinforcements were arriving anyway.)

Two days after the siege was lifted, an American agent reported to The Times: “Baden-Powell is a wonderfully able scout and quick at sketches. I do not know another who could have done the work at Mafeking if the same conditions had been imposed. All the bits of knowledge he studiously gathered have been utilized in saving that community.”


This popular stamp was the other local issue, known as the “1d Cadet Sgt-Major Goodyear ‘Bicycle’ “ stamp. How to break that down, I don’t quite know. The stamp reportedly portrays a native Cadet cyclist, aged 12, who was among the boys carrying letters and news across enemy lines. If you examine the design closely, you will notice that the bicyclist is black.

Yes, there was drama in the derring-do of the besieged in Mafeking — including the young black cyclists and runners who crossed through enemy lines to carry the mail from Mafeking, complete with duly cancelled stamps overprinted “Mafeking Besieged.” Eventually there was a pair of locally designed and produced postage stamps. The drama continued after the siege of Mafeking was relieved and news reached Mother England, to great jubilation. A new verb was coined, “to maffick,” meaning to celebrate extravagantly. The home country made a great fuss over Baden-Powell: there were parades, honors, etc. etc. He was named the Army’s youngest major general, then ennobled. Lord B.-P went on to found the Boy Scouts — mindful of those scrappy African boys who risked their lives doing their duty. 

And yes, there was tragedy in the siege of Mafeking. It was supposed to be a battle between whites — Boers and Brits — so why were so many of the casualties blacks? The majority of fighters on the British side were white, but Baden-Powell recruited hundreds of blacks to guard the city’s perimeter. No matter which side won the siege, or the larger Boer War itself,  black Africans had little to gain. The dream of multi-racial self-government, envisioned by Prime Minister John Molteno in the Cape Colony 20 years earlier, was fading. The racist policies of the Boers and the British Crown were on the ascendant. While Britain may have subdued the Boers, the outcome ensured that the future of South Africa would be built on white supremacy, not equal rights.   


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 …)




Palace of the sultan. This 50-rupee stamp is priced in the mid-$300s. The set from 1908-9 also includes a 100-rupee and 200-rupee value. This is evidence of Zanzibar’s prowess as a trade portal. The Scott catalogue notes that the two top values “were used only for fiscal purposes.”

Zanzibar has an exotic sound to it … conjuring images of minarets fringed by stately palms, caressed by trade winds carrying the tang of spice and sea. In “The Scramble for Africa,” author Thomas Pakenham constructs such a vision of 19th century Zanzibar: “Out of a sapphire sea rose a coral island of incandescent green, studded with groves of coconut and mango, and orchards of cloves, the palm forest decked with pink convolvulus, a thin line of creamy surf beating languidly on the milk-white sand. Approaching across the shimmering lagoon, one saw a city that might have been summoned from Aladdin’s lamp, its arches and colonnades, towers and turrets, flags and flagpoles, refracted upwards in the frenzy of a mirage.”

Reality never came close to the fantasy. Zanzibar may have been blessed with a mild climate, fertile soil and verdant landscapes. (It’s also where Queen’s Freddie Mercury was born, incidentally.)  But its ruling sultans were far from enlightened. The small island archipelago off the central-east coast of Africa might look out-of-the-way on maps, but Zanzibar played a major role in two key areas of the global economy: trade, and enslaved people. For the century of British involvement, the big island


Here are stamps from Zanzibar’s first set, issued in 1895-6. Before using these overprinted India stamps, Zanzibar made do with plain Indian stamps — which didn’t make much since, given that India is nearly 3,000 miles away.

Unguja and its neighbor island of Pemba thrived as suppliers of the world’s demand for cloves. Even greater was its success as a trading hub, accommodating caravans from the mainland and exporting ivory, rubber, hides and other raw materials; importing fine woven cloth, brass, knives and other manufactured goods from England. All this was done to benefit imperial overseers, the sultan and his tribe, not the struggling population of Zanzibar.

The sultanate originally was established in the mid-1700s by a dynastic clan from Oman, in the Persian Gulf. Zanzibar remained a center of the slave trade long after


Sultan Hamid bin Thuwain lasted only three years on the throne, from 1893 to 1896. Slavery continued on the sultanate’s clove plantations until 1-, a year after his death. An ugly succession battle between upstart Khalid bin Barghash and the British led to the deaths of hundreds before Barghash fled to the German consulate and exile.

1834, when slavery was abolished in the rest of the British empire. Without enslaved people, the sultans feared their clove industry would collapse, and with it the prosperous trade routes. Under British pressure, the sultan curtailed the slave trade with the mainland, though slavery continued on the royal clove plantations  until 1897.


The British eatablished a protectorate in Zanzibar in 1895, more to ensure their primacy over the Germans and the French than to provide succor to the people. Let it be said, however, that the imperialists did improve sanitation and other living conditions, such that the milk-white sand beaches no longer were defiled by the decaying waste and decaying carcasses that had befouled Stone Town for so long.


Hamoud bin Mohammed (above) was the British choice to succeed Hamid bin Thuwain in 1896. By an agreement going back decades, the British had the final say — and veto power. What a deal. This set was issued in 1899-1901, with a top value of just 5 rupees. Notice the way the margins are decorated with parallel red lines that run right through the perforations. This is the last set displaying the oddly distinctive design element.



Zanzibar has the distinction of hosting The Shortest War in History. It occurred in 1896, after the death of Sultan Hamid bin Thuwain. The British were ready to anoint Hamoud bin Mohammed the new sultan when a cousin, Khalid bin Barghash claimed the throne. One source suggests he was a national hero who wished to establish independence from Britain, but in allying with the Germans he seemed willing to trade  one oppressor for another. In any event, the Germans had little leverage. For two days Khalid defied the British, who then started shelling the royal palace. The sultan surrendered after 38 minutes — but not before some 500 of his protectors had been killed. He first escaped, then was captured and exiled to St. Helena — the same place Napoleon ended up. Eventually he was released and allowed to live on the African mainland, where he died in Mombasa in 1927.


The solemn-faced — and nearly clean-shaven — gent above is Sultan Ali bin Hamud, who reigned from 1902 to 1911. I don’t really have much to say about any of these guys, because it seems their chief distinction was to let the British have their way and preside with them over the systematic process of plunder, exploitation and extraction that was the colonial enterprise.



















Above is a stamp from the first set featuring Sultan Khalifa bin Haroub, issued in 1911. I’m just guessing, but I think the fellow had a big streak of vanity. For one thing, the bust of Comus or whoever above his head is quite a flourish, don’t you think? Then consider the following: The two stamps below were issued 10 years apart — 1926 and 1936 — yet they show the same portrait. Indeed, stamps featuring a vigorous, dark-bearded sultan continued in regular use until 1952, when a new set displayed an updated portrait of the by-now-73-year-old monarch (see image, below left). For anyone who hadn’t seen the sultan recently, it had to be a shock. He aged so fast! Why, on the stamps I bought just yesterday, he didn’t look a day over 47!

Khalifa bin Haroub, who took over as sultan in 1911, age 32, is notable for his durability and longevity. He remained sultan until his death 50 years later, on Oct. 9, 1960, age 82. He was said to be more popular than his successor, Abdullah bin Khalifa.  To be fair, Abdullah  didn’t have much of a chance. Already  50 when he became sultan, he seems to  have been in fragile health indeed. By the time of his death two years later, the sultan had lost both his legs.    fullsizeoutput_34c1

 It’s understandable, then, that Khalifa bin Haroub would have been comparatively popular: such a familiar figure. During his long reign, roads had been fullsizeoutput_34c2built, the port was developed, sanitation and living standards improved. It’s not as though the people had anything to say about it, though. The British overlords deserve at least as much credit as the sultan for any  improvements and honest administration.  






















Two stamps from the long definitive set issued in 1957 (see below) show an aged but pretty darn benign-looking sultan. The engraved pictorial set itself is gorgeous, with black borders holding the portrait, and centers in a soothing variety of colors. Alas, the sultan would succumb just three years later. His successor was the ill-fated Abdullah bin Kalifah. As mentioned above, Abdullah would survive only two years on the throne. To save time and take advantage of all the work done on the 1957 set, designers simply engraved a portrait of Abdullah and substituted it for the one of the late Sultan Khalifa (see further below). The new set was ready to go in 1961. By 1963, Sultan Abdullah was dead.


fullsizeoutput_349dThe sultans and their British masters had been in cahoots for more than a century, lording it over the people. It’s sadly predictable that a month after Zanzibar gained its independence (“uhuru”) in December, 1963, a bloody insurrection overthrew Sultan Jamshid bin Abdullah (pictured at left). The last sultan was able to escape into exile. At this writing, he is 90 years old and living in Portsmouth, England, where he settled with his wife and seven children.

The revolutionaries had to use the old Abdullah definitive set (example below) with the overprint ”Jamhuri” — republic — because the fullsizeoutput_3491last sultan, Jamshid, didn’t have time to put out an updated definitive set using his own portrait. The fullsizeoutput_34b9stamp at right is a record of unfolding history — “uhuru” in 1963 and “jamhuri” in 1964. How Is a republic an improvement over a constitutional monarchy? Discuss.





Citizens of Zanzibar must have been confused in 1964 when the fourth “new nation” appeared on stamps in their local post offices. Just months before, their stamps had carried the name “Zanzibar,” the way they had since 1895. There was the matter of independence, and a month later, the Zanzibar Revolution that sent the sultan packing. But the name on the stamps stayed the same: Zanzibar. 






Not for long. Suddenly there were stamps from “Tanganyika and Zanzibar” …..










… then “Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika and Zanzibar” …








… then “Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania” …











… until finally, just “Tanzania” — all by 1965! 


Possibly there were stamps available in Zanzibar post offices from three for four postal authorities at the same time. Can all these stamps be valid? Is it OK to put any or all of them on an  envelope? Is this a collector’s dream, or nightmare?

Here’s another oddity: Tanzania was proclaimed in 1964, to unite Tanganyika and Zanzibar — phonetically, geographically, politically and one would presume, philatelically. Yet Zanzibar continued to produce its own stamps, including this  set in 1965 (examples below) commemorating the “first anniversary of the revolution”    that is, the bloody coup that kicked out the sultan, one month after Britain granted Zanzibar independence.  

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fullsizeoutput_3492Later in 1965, revolutionary postal officials finally acknowledged Zanzibar’s official merger with Tanzania, though they brashly stuck their islands’ name ahead of the mainland in the ungainly title   “Zanzibar  Tanzania.”  Stop a moment and consider how bizarre is that name: After all, “Tanzania” was meant to combine “Tanganyika” and “Zanzibar,” wasn’t it? So to call your nation “Zanzibar Tanzania” is sort of … redundant, isn’t it? 

fullsizeoutput_4a88At right is a stamp from a short set of 1966, celebrating the second anniversary of the Zanzibar Revolution. Notice the rifle. Notice at the bottom of the stamp is the name “Zanzibar Tanzania.” Is Tanzania implicated in the Zanzibar Revolution, or what? Would the merger have happened without the revolution? Discuss.








This stamp (left), also from 1966, celebrates the second anniversary of the union between Zanzibar and Tanganyika, soon to be Tanzania. Sorry the black-and-white reproduction is so fuzzy, but I think the stamp itself is a bit fuzzy. It pictures Zanzibar President Amani Karume and Vice President Abudlla Kassim Hanga. By this time, Tanzania had been in existence for more than a year, Zanzibar was part of Tanzania, in name and in law. Yet Zanzibar stamps continued to be issued. In the image at left, you can just make out the name “Tanzania,” roasting in the flames rising from the chalice of sovereignty. I don’t see the name “Zanzibar” anywhere on this particular stamp; nor do I see an image of Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere. So what exactly are we celebrating? The second anniversary of a revolution in a country that no longer exists? See what I mean by fuzzy?

For better or worse, the “Zanzibar Tanzania” gambit petered out — possibly due to sheer semantic illogic. A cryptic note in the Scott catalogue clarifies, maybe: “All Zanzibar stamps were withdrawn July 1, 1968, and replaced with current Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania stamps.”  **

fullsizeoutput_3496**Note:  Perhaps the following will help explain the sentence above, which leaves the impression that you also could buy stamps from Kenya and Uganda in Zanzibar. In 1961, the East Africa Common Services Organization was formed as a kind of common market. The idea went back to an imperial arrangement that began in the 1920s. Among other things, the new organization allowed for the circulation of postage stamps within Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Since the 1920s, the British territories had been issuing stamps with multiple names — first “East Africa and Uganda,” then “Kenya and Uganda,” and from 1935 to 1964, “Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika.”  After 1964, a few stamps were issued for “Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika and Zanzibar.” Starting in 1965 it was, “Kenya, Uganda and


Here is an image of a stamp from the last set issued by the consortium of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, in 1976. It marks the 30th anniversary of East African Airways. Unfortunately, the design makes it look like that airplane is never going to get airborne, hemmed in by the bent edges of the triangular stamp. Sad to say, the “common market” between these countries had long since crashed and burned in a quagmire of corruption and mismanagement.

Tanzania,” which continued until the commission collapsed in 1976.  The reasons for the end of this noble experiment in cooperation should be obvious to any student of the appalling corruption and mismanagement that continue out of control in much of Africa. No self-dealing leaders want their schemes exposed in a common market. No one wants to share the loot. I’ll end with an idle philatelic question: I wonder how many of these stamps actually made it to local post offices in Zanzibar? 




Mon dieu! Qu’est-ce que c’est? The French? In Zanzibar? Well, not exactly. It seems the French were no more likely than the Germans to prevail as imperial rulers of that land. Here’s what the Scott catalogue has to say: “Until 1906, France maintained post offices in the Sultanate of Zanzibar, but in that year Great Britain assumed direct control over the protectorate and the French withdrew their postal system.”
How civilized.


I must include for all our viewing pleasure (above) this image from the Internet of the high values from the 1913 definitive set. The elegant engraving of a dhow is printed in black, with richly colored borders. The stamps are priced in the hundreds ($3,950 for the set, online).

fullsizeoutput_4a72Here is an example of why stamp collectors get a reputation for being kind of … kooky. Look at this envelope (right). The colored labels are postage-due stamps from 1931, carrying nothing more than the value and the message, “Insufficiently prepaid postage due.” They don’t even say “Zanzibar.’ The cover is selling online for $3,674. OK, it’s rare. But hardly in demand. And they sure aren’t very pretty.

fullsizeoutput_4a7fHow to summarize the 50-plus years of Zanzibar history after 1964? I’ll just say a few words. The stamp at left shows an inverted “Jamhuri” hand overprint from 1964. Looks like someone acted carelessly, perhaps in haste. You can buy these inverts online for $10 and up. The errors seem fitting, considering the upside-down story  of Zanzibar since 1964. The “revolution” itself was short and violent. My research suggests thousands were killed, mostly ethnic Arabs and Indians, and that there were few casualties among the revolutionaries. Abeid Karume, Zanzibar’s first president, was assassinated in 1972, by which time Zanzibar had been part of Tanzania for seven years.


In 2014, Tanzania issued stamps commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Zanzibar Revolution. The stamp pictured at right shows Sheikh Abeid Karume in 1964, looking spiffy in a coat and tie, surrounded by a rough-looking bunch of hombres in fatigues, identified only as “some of the revolution’s commanders.” I expect there would be some hair-raising stories to tell about each commander’s role in the blood-soaked revolution.


OK, for one brief, shining moment in 1964 there was hope for Zanzibar, right? Just look at these hopeful stamps — never mind the one in the corner with the guy holding a rifle. Uh, pay no attention to the bow and arrow, and hatchet, and scimitar. Hmmm. But look at the guy whose chains are breaking. Look at the unshackled arms with fists clenched … Come to think of it, what this aspirational set celebrates is the end of the sultanate, which had recently become a constitutional monarchy, like the UK. Down with the sultan! Down with imperialists! Oh wait. Zanzibar already had celebrated “Uhuru” — independence — back in December 1963. The imperialists already were gone. Overthrowing the sultan did bring an end to centuries of dynastic rule. Things could only improve under the republic, “jamhuri,” right? Right?