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?



La Belle France

Version 2I had intended to get on with the south-central-east Africa postal history overview, but suddenly I have been distracted by … la belle France. I promise to get back straightaway to the Africa overview. Indeed, I have a delectable presentation on Zanzibar all ready to go. Might as well start with the “Z”s, right? 

The Syracuse Stamp Club is really to blame for this digression. It was there that I “won” at auction a tasty selection of old French stamps. (I won’t tell you how little I paid for them — their catalogue value surely was a few dollars at least.) On examining them later at home, I realized I had acquired many values that were missing from sets in my limited collection. I started out by picking one set of definitives, from the 1930s, featuring a female allegorical figure representing Peace. I combined the new stamps from the fullsizeoutput_357aauction with those already in my stock book. (see right and below) The result was a pleasing display of many values in myriad hues, all bearing the classic design of “la France feminine” — fullsizeoutput_357dPeace bearing an olive branch. Good luck with that in the 1930s … 

This fun little exercise gave me an idea. I noticed how all my early French stamps were bunched up in the front of my display in the stock book that mainly  featured the gorgeous engraved landscapes, paintings and other multi-color stamp designs that make France so seductive to collectors. Some mint French stamps I swear are good enough to eat. Take a bite! Like an exotic leaf, a delicate fruit, or a sweetly etched wafer …

But these early French stamps aren’t beautiful, are they? What is it about them? They are just small rectangles, all featuring the same some allegorical figure. They seem to go on and on. Bo-r-r-ing …  

Stop right there! That’s one of the pleasures of stamp collecting, after all — to assemble these related items in order, then display them in their various colors and ascending values, as a harmonious whole — that is, if you are lucky enough to have the set complete. These French stamps often came in long sets, which offer the advantage of a pleasing display, but also the challenge of trying for completeness. I’ve never tried that hard with the early French stamps, because it’s not really my main collecting interest.  

However, now I am seized with a passing desire to assemble these sets from various places in my collection, and display them to advantage. I have a little stock book that is currently empty, so I’ll use it. Accordingly, I fill its pages with a special display of these early “French feminine” sets — not particularly valuable, but nevertheless historic, and colorful, elegant, inspirational … 

I hope you enjoy looking at these sets, which I present toward the end of this essay. Let them soothe your eyes with their harmonious colors. Enjoy the orderly rows of stamps, all sharing the same design, marching across the page as they rise in numerical value. Consider how many of these stamps were used for letters mailed more than a century ago. Share the quiet pleasure of the stamp collector, taking in this colorful pageant. 

fullsizeoutput_357fThere is at least one other area I would like to explore sometime, involving French stamps. It’s about those wonderful landscape engravings that France has been issuing since the 1930s. The artists and engravers Version 2behind these small masterpieces of line, color and composition deserve attention, and no doubt there are stories to tell …  (For example, I believe in every one of these landscape designs you will find the name of the artist/engraver in teeny-tiny letters along one side. In this example, it’s M. Cottet. See it in the enlargement at right?)

I gathered much of my French collection while I lived in Germany in my teen years. In the summer, my parents took us on driving tours of France, including Paris and environs, but mostly elsewhere. They charted circuitous routes through cities and towns and into the countryside —  Joinville, Troyes, Avignon, Chateau-Neuf,  Arbois, Mont St. Michel, Cahors, les Eyzees…   Grenoble, Montpellier, Cognac, Vannes, Chartres, Reims … Cherbourg, Val de Saire, Angouleme, Libourne, La Rochelle …

One village and town was as pretty as the last, and I spent happy times sketching houses on winding streets, church spires and village angles and arbors of one sort or another. Now that I think of it, I may have been communing with the  stamp artists whose beautiful landscape engravings of these same villages were on stamps I was fullsizeoutput_3584buying at the local post office. Indeed, I remember visiting Notre Dame du Haut, the church designed by Le Corbusier in Ronchamp, and buying the stamp, with the splendid engraving of the church,  that had been issued months before. (right) 

Q. Can you spot the artist’s name in the design abovet? Hint: It’s J. Combet. 

NOTE: Believe it or not, there is much more detail available on all of this in the Fiske annals. One rich source is JMF’s travel notebooks, in the archive at the University of Iowa. Another is FMF’s diary, which continued into the 1960s, and which I am beginning to review for more details about these wonderful, meandering jaunts  through France in the summers of 1960, 1962 and 1965 …

fullsizeoutput_358eDIARY EXCERPT:   August 15, 1962   … Got to border at 2 p.m. without big incident. Looked for place to eat, but couldn’t get out of cities! Finally at 3:05 had picnic at Joinville. Are now in Troyes after big dinner. Bed 9:45. FRANCE IS WONDERFUL! …   August 16, 1962 … Stopped at Cheateau-Neuf for stuff for lunch. Got going at 12:15. Stopped near Clery for lunch (picnic). Was fun. Stopped at fullsizeoutput_3590Blois and saw chateau. Got to Tours at 4. Walked around and saw cathedral til 6. Then went to the Blairs’ house for supper. Was great fun, cause there were so many there. Bed 12. … 


We stayed at picturesque inns, shopped for bread and cheese, then had picnics in the countryside, stopping by a stream, a shady spot or just a field, avoiding the cow paddies to spread a checkered cloth on the ground. 


Could it really be that JMF (above) is actually checking for cow paddies while JRF looks on? fullsizeoutput_556

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JMF served lunch — maybe pickles, always vienna sausage, cheese, bread, meats or other extras, limonade (or wine?), cookies … there was lounging on the tall grass, wading in the stream, a languorous ball game, perhaps a little accordion or guitar…  

fullsizeoutput_3595All three times we visited France,  we made it to Ile d’Oleron, an island off the coast of Aquitaine that you could reach only by ferry in those days. Oleron was very French, but in a way Fellini would have enjoyed. We stayed for a week or more at a
, dining in a small central courtyard with a cast of characters out of a Tintin cartoon book. Every lunch and dinner included bottles of red and white local Clapotis wine in the middle of our table. My parents saved a copy of the Priere D’Oleron, which runs as follo

Mon Dieu!  /  Donnez-moi la santé pour longtemps …  /  De l’amour de temps en temps …  /  Du boulot pas trop souvent …  /  Mais du CLAPOTIS … tout le temps

fullsizeoutput_3596Oleron had it all — wild waves for body surfing at Vertbois (la cote sauvage), shopping in St. Denis, St. Pierre  and Domino, and the quaint harbor of La Cotiniere, with fishing boats, the waffle maker (moule a gauffre!) and music and clowning around and oh! The aromas of sea and sugar and fried dough! 

fullsizeoutput_35a1DIARY EXCERPTS:  

August 28, 1962 …then we hurried to Vertbois for an hour, then to la Cotiniere, where I painted a quick picture and ate a crepe, all in time to be back for supper. ….

August 22, 1960 … In the morning went down to the beach. It was at low tide. Then we saw the water zoom up over us. After lunch went swimming, and there were huge breakers. At night we all went to a circus!! What fun!!!   August 23, 1960 … After lunch had a bad headache and went to sleep. Then others went to the lighthouse while mother read to me. Then my headache went away and went to beach. Got cotton-candy, and made an indestructible fort. Came home and had ARTICHOKES for supper!!!  August 25, 1960 … In the morning went down to the beach and started an indestructible fort. Then came home and had lunch, and came back to the beach and finished my fort, then built protective wall and all that stuff. Then I watched the fort. Johnny made a pyramid that stayed, but mine was gone.  August 26, 1960 … In the morning went to the beach, played in the sand, and then made a dam. Came home for lunch, then went around the island, then we went to Vertbois. It was damn fun with all the breakers. Came home, had dinner, and went to beach in dark. On second trip stopped at the “cassino” and had a high old time with the games.  August 27, 1960 … In the morning went to the beach. I made a Cathedral, but somebody jumped on it. Went for swim, then helped Jonny with a dam (PARDON ME, LADIES). Had lunch, then went and played at the amusement house. On the way home got some cotton candy. Then went to Domino. At night went to amusement house. …

After Europe, I lived two years in francophone Congo, so I’m fairly well acclimated to the French language and outlook. As a teenaged philatelist visiting  Paris in the fullsizeoutput_3f121960s, I managed to discover  and revisit the open-air stalls along the Seine, les bouquinistes, who featured stamps along with books, posters, maps and other artworks and esoterica. The stamps were displayed on big boards under plastic sheeting gripped by clothespins in case of rain. The gypsies, brokers and sellers seemed ready to make a deal. There was a whiff in the air that anything could happen. Is that accordion music wafting through the elms? C’est magnifique! I don’t think  I could afford to buy much, but I still had lots of fun looking.

My parents had strong connections to France. JMF wrote her masters thesis on Sasha Guitry, and lived in France after college, where she taught at a girls school just before WWII.  When we returned to France in the 1960s, we had dinner with a M. Dupuy, who apparently had a crush on JMF back in the day. He went on to become a successful commercant of some kind — possibly a wine merchant — with a fine house and great family we had fun with on our visit. In the afternoon the teenage children took us to the piscine where we splashed about with cosmopolitan hilarity. Dinner was a grand affair, three hours long, with at least a half-dozen courses and accompanying wines, including one at the end our host said was 100 years old. I took a sip. Sweet. 

My father’s great-grandmother, Anne MacMaster Codman, died in France and is buried in Pere LaChaise cemetery, in Paris. (LaFayette sent a condolence letter.)  Pa first visited France in the 1930s, when he stayed with his cousin Ogden Codman, the decorator and builder and notorious queen, outside Paris.  My father wrote a book-length manuscript about French language and culture, which I’m sure would have been well-received, had it been published. Seems another fellow came along with a similar ms. a little ahead of Pa …   Anyway, let’s not get sidetracked by unpublished manuscripts …

What does any of this have to do with stamps? Let me get back to the subject of la belle France and its feminine symbol. Did this start with the women who marched on Versailles in 1789? Who was la Marsellaise? Who was Marianne? France always has depicted strong women on its stamps as aspirational emblems of the nation. As Goethe would say, das endlich Weibliche zieht uns hinan.  (Notice how I use a learned quotation to get out of having to look up any of the answers to those questions. If you want answers, look them up yourselves!)

Here, then, are the sets depicting la Marseillaise, la Semeuse (the sower), la Liberte … The illustrated sets that follow are ones that I assembled from three sources: My original, limited collection; then, stamps added from the Syracuse Stamp Club auction lot; and finally, additions from my father’s collection, which I seem to have inherited. (lucky me!)

NOTE: Please carry on through the gallery that follows. At the end, there is more to the story!


fullsizeoutput_35a4fullsizeoutput_35a5This set, which started in 1900, depicts various feminine allegories — for liberty, equality, fraternity the rights of man, more liberty, and peace. I have included a number of color varieties, which are noticeable. Note also the subtle bi-color designs on the higher-value, wider rectangles. A couple of them are a bit rare.  

fullsizeoutput_35a6La semeuse, the sower, is the female allegory in this early design. The set started coming out in 1903, with new values released up to 1938. This classic design coexisted with another long set — of roughly the same design — which you will find fullsizeoutput_35a7on the next page. Why the two sets with the same design? Je ne sais pas, monsieurs-dames! I only ask that you agree with me that this allegory is an altogether pleasing figure. It is modeled after a medallion designed by Oscar Roty for the Department of Agriculture in the 1880s. The image appeared on French coins until 2001. An old Stampex pamphlet provides this “La Boheme”-worthy footnote: “The maiden who posed for the original of ‘The Sower’ on this stamp died in abject poverty in later years — a story with a tear drop at the end.”

fullsizeoutput_35a8Tfullsizeoutput_35afhis set (left) is an exception to the rule of the feminine — a depiction of Mercury on a definitive series. This one came out in 1938. After the Nazis invaded and occupied France in 1940, the collaborationist Vichy regime put out new stamps with a subtle change in the name — from “Republique Francaise” to “Postes Francaises.” (see enlargement below)

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Suddenly Mercury
begins to look like Satan with a pitchfork, don’t  you think? 








fullsizeoutput_35b2This set, depicting Iris, the Greek goddess of the rainbow and messenger of the gods, was issued in 1939. My catalogue says the stamps were in circulation until 1944, which means they were used during the German occupation. Hmm.

fullsizeoutput_35b3These stamps, with the bust of a helmeted Marianne (or is it Joan of Arc?), were issued in London during World War II by direction of the Free French government. Apparently they were never used for postage. There seem to be wild fluctuations in value for these stamps — I suspect mine are at the low end, but some varieties are priced in the hundreds. 

fullsizeoutput_35b4Hfullsizeoutput_35b5ere is the familiar postwar definitive set (1945-7), once again depicting Marianne. This beauty has a wholly Gallic expression — confident, alert, focused, slightly pouty lips, prominent nose, wary eyes on the future. Notice, too, the low-value designs (enlarged below) that incorporate the Ceres profile from the first French stamp of 1849 — about which more, shortly.






Without dwelling on them, I offer more examples of La Belle France on stamps over recent decades (see above and below)



Efullsizeoutput_358bxcept now, qu’est que c’est? What is this? Is it really Marianne, the emblem of France? She looks like a cross between Bardot and Barbarella, a Victoria’s Secret model with tresses casually arranged and sculpted eyebrows under her chic Phrygian cap. Is she really going to lead the next revolution?






fullsizeoutput_358cI mentioned Ceres a little earlier — another feminine allegory, the goddess of Earth and fertility. I invite you now to  the very beginning of French stamps. The first one had a profile of Ceres, and came out in 1849, a very awkward moment in French history. The Second Republic was in the second year of its short existence, having ousted Louis Philippe, France’s last king, after the confusing revolution of 1848. (I majored in French and German intellectual history at Harvard, and I still can’t explain it to you.) By 1852, the Second Republic had morphed into the French Empire under Napoleon III, who would soldier on until 1870 and the birth of the Third Republic, which endured until 1940. 

Version 2Version 3This explains why the first French stamps, in 1849,  depicted Ceres, an allegory, rather than a king, and why the design changed to a profile of the “president” Louis Napoleon in 1852, and after that   “emperor” Napoleon III (the same guy). After 1870, there was no more empire, so the Ceres design was used  again. These stamps, seen at the bottom of the page below, are the so-called “Bordeaux issue,” named for the Republicans’ provisional capital as they laid siege to Paris and prepared to overthrow the tottering empire.  

My father’s French collection was in his Scott album, printed in 1928. The first and second pages featured mint and used stamps from early France — including one from the first pair in 1849! As a reference point,  Victor Hugo’s novel “Les Miserables,” was published in 1860. (By the way, the fullsizeoutput_3599“uprising” referenced in that novel was a pretty minor skirmish in 1832.) 1860 was one year before the U.S. Civil War, the same year Abraham Lincoln was elected to his first term.


fullsizeoutput_359bThis next design, launched in 1876 and lasting until the turn of the century, depicts two more allegories — in this case, one male, one female. On  the left in the design is Peace, and to the right of the value tablet is Commerce. Pictured above is the set in fullsizeoutput_359emy father’s collection, with enlargements to the right. Some of these stamps are quite valuable: The 5f mint stamp from the 1870s catalogues at $400!  Wife Chris agrees with the suggestion to sell it.





Above is the set I collected on my own, with recent additions from the Stamp Club auction. I was going to add the ones from my father, but decided to leave his precious stamps be for the time being.  I like the way they look in the Scott album, which itself is nearly 100 years old. I expect I could sell some of the more valuable stamps on eBay, though I don’t really need extra cash …Maybe I’ll just keep enjoying them a while longer.         TO BE CONTINUED

Pilgrims, Boers and the Postal History of British Imperialism in Southern and Central-East Africa


Ancient map (1489) clearly depicts western and southern Africa, a few years before Columbus ventured into the Western Hemisphere.

There are two origin stories of European settlement in and eventual domination of a new continent that bear striking similarities. The Puritans from England and Holland, who landed at Plymouth rock in the 1620 and founded the Plymouth Colony, were seeking, among other things, relief fullsizeoutput_3467from religious persecution at home. Likewise, among the Dutch and German adventurers who landed near the tip of southern Africa in the same century were French Huguenots, fleeing persecution for their faith. Dutch navigators Jan van Riebeeck sailed to the Cape of Good Hope, found safe harbor for his ships in Table Bay in 1652 and went on to


What similarities! Upper right is the Mayflower, sailing proudly toward Plymouth Rock in 1620, while at right, the fleet of Jan van Riebeeck arrives safely at Table Harbor in 1652.

found what would become Capetown, capital of the expansive Cape Colony. We he that different from John Smith in Jamestown, or John Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony? fullsizeoutput_3485fullsizeoutput_345e

The fabled Table Rock Mountain towering over the Cape of Good Hope was a match for William Bradford’s Plymouth Rock and Winthrop’s shining city on a hill in New England.


Here are two scenes striking in their similarities. Above, William Bradford and the Pilgrims are landing, and below, Jan van Riebeeck and his party arrive. The South African stamp of 1952 is one of the few under the apartheid regime that actually depicted blacks (at right in stamp).



The Huguenots were long-connected to both southern Africa and North America. Three hundred years after the first arrivals, both South Africa and the United States issued stamp sets commemorating the French Huguenots (and in the U.S. stamps, also the Walloons). In both cases, the Huguenots were seeking religious freedom. Notice in the American stamps below how similar are the themes of this and the Pilgrim tercentenary set shown at the top of this essay. Also note the remarkable resonance between the blue 5-cent U.S. stamp (below right) and the 1d South African stamp (bottom) — the peaceful waterfront scene, the oval border, the sun rising over the horizon…









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European settlers on both continents moved on. Above, a ship arrives off the coast of Natal, to the east of the Cape Colony. A towering monument in Pretoria (right, below) commemorates the “Voortrekkers” — South Africa’s pioneers. Below left is a scene of trekkers on the move.  The catalogue description is, “Voortrekkers en route to Natal.” This stamp may look familiar to U.S. collectors. Why? Read on …








Wow! I guess the U.S. postal service liked covered wagons. Look at them depicted in statehood anniversary stamps for Utah and Oregon, as well as for the Minnesota territory and the “Swedish Pioneer Centennial.” These were the same years the Boers in their wagons were settling Natal, the Orange Free State and Transvaal. Natal dates back to 1843; the Orange Free State came along in 1854, the same year as ZAR/Transvaal.











Speaking of Transvaal, here is an unusual stamp from the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek (South African Republic), which was the name of the territory known to the British as Transvaal. The land switched hands numerous times as the Brits and the Boers jousted (sometimes shedding blood). I find the stamp interesting because it is an early commemorative — marking the inauguration of the “penny post” in Transvaal. Not many countries, including the United States, were issuing regular commemoratives as early as September 1895. There’s a lot going on in this oddly elegant stamp. In the center is the ZAR coat of arms — flags, an eagle and a shield depicting symbols of state, with the Afrikaans motto of the ill-fated republic, “Eendragt Maakt Magt,” which translates something like, “in unity there is strength.” At right, a vintage coach and team head out into the veld, while to the left, a sturdy train chugs out of a well-engineered tunnel.

The history of the past three-plus centuries turned out very differently for these  groups of settlers on two continents, for their indigenous neighbors, and for all their descendants. Over the decades and centuries of exploration, expansion and exploitation, the Europeans on both sides of the Atlantic did share a determination to dominate their environment.  European subjugation of the indigenous population of America mirrored that of native Africans. The tribunes of imperialism came from the same places — England, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Holland, Italy, Belgium —  and their drive, ambition, resourcefulness and self-reliance came from the same manual; also the bigotry, cruelty, trickery and violence they practiced to overwhelm the Indians and the Africans.  

Today, North America reflects the cultural dominance of that European legacy, for good and ill —  foremost the English and North European influence, but also the French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and others (not to mention African). To the extent that Indian tribes resisted European dominance and assimilation and clung to their traditions, they have been marginalized as a tiny minority, apart from America’s rich and diverse culture.

 Africa still carries audible echoes of the cultures of its European colonizers. It’s been more than a half-century since most of its indigenous peoples regained their sovereignty, albeit in nations whose borders were imposed by imperial fiat  in the 1880s. The mass European migrations that swept aside the Indians in North America never happened in Africa — partly due no doubt to health hazards. In America, it was the Indians who fell prey to the germs of the Europeans. In contrast to the fresh air and hospitable climate of North America. Africa’s viruses, bacteria, parasites and fungal diseases pierced every imperial defense. Of the 150 Europeans in the first expedition up the Niger River, 42 fell ill and died right away; 130 cases of fever were reported. As many as 55 may have died before the travelers made it back to Europe.  It would be more than 10 years before Europeans tried again. In the 1890s, an entire expedition into the far interior of the Congo was felled by disease. The group’s leader, 27-year-old Captain Grant Stairs, died of fever within earshot of the sea and succor. His second-in-command, Captain Bia, died soon after.  

The caucasian intruders in southern Africa, whether Brits or Boers,  never constituted a sufficient “tribe” to populate the land and displace the millions of resilient black Africans in their natural habitat. Only through deceit and the use of power  were the Europeans able to project, impose and sustain their power over their African subjects as long as they did — most enduringly in South Africa, where policies were refined in the last century under the subtly horrific policies  and practices of apartheid.

I have chosen to concentrate on the British colonial experience in southern and central Africa in the overview of postal history that follows. There is a parallel story to tell about the French, Portuguese, Belgians and others. My choice is guided by my decades collecting stamps of the British Commonwealth, particularly British Africa.  I have accumulated such a wealth of stories, along with stamps, that it will take some time to wrap my text and pictures around this sprawling subject — and keep things fun. I have collections from the other imperial powers in Africa, and hope to get to them later on. Meanwhile, this exposition can serve as a guide into the broader subject. 

How to square the evils of imperialism with the relatively bland history of postage stamps? I could try and argue that British imperialism was not all bad; that it grew out of the missionary zeal of David Livingstone, Henry Venn, David Hinderer, William Clark and others whose high intentions and aims included bettering the health and well-being of Africans;  bringing them blessings of European civilization, such as education and the rule of law; ending enslavement, twin sacrifice and other self-destructive practices; kindling the flame of a new faith based on Christian values. Alas, these better angels were no match for Stanley, Rhodes, Lugard and others bent on conquest and exploitation.  Every good deed of missionaries, altruists, philanthropists and enlightened administrators in Africa was undone by  the depredations of racism and exploitation. The bigotry and cruelty of  British colonial Africa mocked the high principles of the missionaries and their mission. 

fullsizeoutput_3463In the end, I would simply offer this rationale for my leap into these deep waters with the FMF Stamp Project; it is the justification for all historical study: to know how we got here. How did the “British South Africa Company” become Zimbabwe? How did the Cape of Good Hope turn into the Republic of South Africa? What happened to Transvaal, Natal, Zululand, the Orange Free State, the New Republic, Stellaland, Griqualand West? (Not to mention Griqualand East?) Why did Bechuanaland split apart? Answering these  questions, while sifting through the entertaining artifacts of philatelic history, does not mitigate the offenses of the imperialists. It does offer a calm space for contemplation. What kind of stamps did a person use


This 1857 beauty from Natal is a star of my collection. It’s embossed, the design pressed into creamy paper with no color. Hard to see? Look below for a sketch of the design. You should be able to pick out some of it. I paid more than $100 for this rarity!

who was living in 19th-century Salisbury, Kampala and Dar es Salaam?  Residents of Tanganyika would use stamps from seven different national postal administrations over the past century. Citizens of Zanzibar must have been mildly surprised in 1964 when they went to their neighborhood post office and bought stamps  from independent Zanzibar, after a “revolution” and coup; then from “Tanganyika and Zanzibar,” then “Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania,” until at last the stamps read simply, “Tanzania” — all by 1965!

 My views of British fullsizeoutput_605colonialism combine much of today’s conventional wisdom with another possibility. I agree the colonial enterprise in Africa  was  repellent — racist, exploitive, oppressive, frequently murderous. Yet it was hardly a monolith. Historically, it involved shifting alliances and jurisdictions, conflict and compromise. Administratively, there were corporate charters, crown colonies, protectorates and trust territories. The missionaries with their faith, zeal and good intentions, yielded to the swashbuckling entrepreneurs, who in turn bowed to the crown, the colonial bureaucrats, the capitalists and the skeptical mandarins of Whitehall. As the exchequer whinged about the the costs of colonialism, and the prime minister fretted over the political ramifications in Parliament, the royal family sailed serenely on.

It took decades for the British to organize their colonial empire, and in its warp and weave you will find strands of missionary zeal, profit-seeking, brutality and occasionally, sound administration. You also will find a postal system that was the envy of the world. British colonialism was a grim enterprise that resulted in the subjugation of vast populations. It  was never a juggernaut, but rather a lumbering rival of the Ottomans, Habsburgs and Austro-Hungarians and later on, the Germans, the Belgians and the Quai d’Orsay in Paris. I say: Fie on all empires and their racist ways! But I will add, the British colonies did manage to produce postage stamps of uncommon distinction and beauty. Please struggle along with me in this narrative, and enjoy the profuse illustrations!

What is to unfold in coming essays is an omnibus report, with commentary, on the postal history of British southern and central Africa. Each chapter starts with the first stamps of its jurisdiction. The illustrations are mostly of stamps from my collection. I’m going to set a leisurely pace,  because there are tons of stories and history and more to share — and pictures! 

Why focus on British southern Africa, when there also were early British settlements in west Africa — modern-day Gambia, for example, Nigeria or  Sierra Leone? (I must get around to an essay on Nigeria — and the mysterious stamps that disguise their name …)  My short answer is that southern Africa is where it all started, with those proto-Boers landing at Table Mountain in  the 1600s, not long after the Pilgrims set up shop at Plymouth Rock. Southern Africa ever since has been a focal point and the economic engine of sub-Saharan Africa. This is due to many factors — including the contributions of the Boers and the English.


I’ve been struck by this design ever since I first saw it, decades ago. It’s from the 1920s, the first pictorial definitive set from the Union of South Africa. What impressed me was the elegant government buildings that could have been in London, Paris or Stockholm. Is this really Africa? In the 1920s?


Now look at this beautifully engraved stamp of 1982, above, showing the same government buildings in Pretoria, nearly 60 years later. This high-value stamp comes from a long set with scene after scene of the impressive architectural heritage of South Africa, which has no equal on the continent. Too bad the regime was also racist …

Restless settlers and adventurers trekked north and east to Natal, then onward into the bush, steppes and savannas toward the Zambezi River and the lakes of the central and eastern regions. They fought tribal bands and rival imperial powers, signed treaties and eventually took over. Sound familiar? Across the Atlantic, descendants of the pilgrims and legions of new arrivals moved south and west across the North American continent, crossing the Mississippi, overwhelming indigenous tribes and nations. The two stories of exploration and exploitation, subjugation and development are oddly intertwined, each one with cautions and object lessons for the other.  

A NOTE ON THE ILLUSTRATIONS:  I plan to contribute generously to this omnibus project from my British south and central-east African collections, with multiple examples of stamps including such rarities as my Cape of Good Hope “triangles” fullsizeoutput_3464from the 1850s, and a hand-stamped emergency issue of 1900 from the Cape of Good Hope, overprinted “Mafeking Besieged.” So please — fullsizeoutput_3465read on!  I would only add that offering you little glimpses of my collection to enhance this effort does not mean I am relinquishing plans to resume a page-by-page, story-by-story review of my British Africa album — some day. That prospect is too delicious to give up. Please stay tuned for the long haul!


Bonus: Stamp Calamity!

The idea was to do a quick-and-easy essay for this month as I work on my upcoming foray into the stamps of British southern, eastern and central Africa. My idea was to offer “out-takes” as a follow-up to last month’s essay, “Stamps on My Wall.” That is, I would present the several framed stamps and sheets that have resided for the past couple of years in a box in my basement, because there simply isn’t enough room on my walls for all of them.

Imagine my consternation when I descended to the basement the other day and delved into the box holding the frames, only to discover that they had suffered from water damage.


Pictured above is some of the detritus from my efforts to salvage the ruined stamps from their frames. Notice some stamps are still stuck to a frame. Below is the box that held the frames, now flattened with other water-damaged boxes and ready to recycle.

Water! The bane of every mint stamp collector’s existence. Water is the arch-enemy of philately (except when it is used to soak off used stamps that date back to the days before pre-moistened stamps of today, which are difficult if not impossible to remove from their paper backing). Short of cutting, creasing, spindling or otherwise mutilating, fullsizeoutput_343enothing can ruin the value of a mint stamp quicker than a drop of water.

Living in high-humidity regions can be dangerous for mint stamps in a collection. A sticky climate can induce mint stamps to stick, forming a bond that usually cannot be remedied. Imagine the stamp collections  ruined by hurricanes and flooding. It’s enough to send chills up the spine of my stamp album. I come unhinged at the thought.

In my case, the culprit was not meteorological, but rather a burst hot-water heater in my house that left several inches of water in the basement. Like a real knucklehead, I had neglected to store the box with my framed stamps above floor level. Even worse: I thought I had it safely stored, so I took my time checking it. The cardboard absorbed water, some of of the moisture seeped through to contaminate the frames and the stamps inside. Eek!

As it happened, I was out of town when the water heater broke, so it was left to wife Chris to manage the emergency response. Restoration workers did a fine job of pumping the water out of the basement, installing a  new sump pump and saving what they could. A new hot-water heater was installed and we were back in business. By the time I got home, there was little more to be done than a final reckoning and mopping up. When I finally got around to examining the box with the stamp frames in it, there seemed no way to undo the damage. 

Just about my only consolation in this minor disaster was my decision to use the  mishap as the basis for this month’s essay! 


Here is the pile of damaged stamps I reclaimed from the waterlogged box of framed sets and sheets. Peeking out at the lower left is part of a complete sheet of gray, 1-pfennig stamps from the early days of the German Federal Republic. There also are three U.S. sets — a series of four bicentennial sheets from 1976, portraits of the (dead) presidents as of 1986, and a 20-stamp set from 2000  featuring different iterations of the American flag. At top left you will see one more sheet — the 1-cent kestrel from the lengthy, multi-year U.S. flora and fauna set (1990-2001).

My salvage operation began with an inventory. Nearly every stamp in the box had been affected. Some of the eight frames were still damp as I dismantled them — which occasionally proved beneficial, as the stamps and sheets were still movable. But any hope of retrieving mint stamps with gum intact was gone. Some stamps stuck to the glass and began to tear as I tried to free them. Others had dried to their paper backing, though it turned out more than a few stamps yielded to patient probing and came unstuck — without intact gum, to be sure.  

Since I no longer have an intact set of the bicentennial souvenir sheets, I must borrow an image of them, for your reference, from the current Mystic Stamp Co. catalog (see below).



The handsome paintings depict four scenes from the revolutionary era — the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Washington reviewing his troops in winter at Valley Forge, Washington crossing the Delaware, and the surrender at Yorktown.  The series was issued May 29, 1976. In July, the international philatelic exposition Interphil was held in Philadelphia, where I was living at the time. My friend George was visiting, and we spent hours on a stamp jag. Needless to say, it was an exciting time for this philatelist. Don’t ask me why, but the U.S. Postal Service had decided in fullsizeoutput_3453its wisdom to issue a four-stamp set July 4, displaying a wider view of the same painting that appeared on one of the souvenir sheets — signing of the Declaration — with the inscription, “July 4, 1776.” (see right). I took advantage of the situation by affixing that set, along with the souvenir sheet containing a detail of the same design, to an oversize envelope bearing  a “cachet” (engraved design), and stood in line for the coveted first-day cancellation,  creating the unusual cover you see below.


I know I have strayed from my account of the Stamp Calamity, but I just wanted you to know I didn’t ruin all of my bicentennial sheet paraphernalia. Accordingly, I  include two more  bits of data on that subject, just for fun.  First, here’s an odd cover fullsizeoutput_3456I concocted back in May 1976, when the Bicentennial souvenir sheets were issued (see right). First I broke up one of the “Yorktown” sheets, and must have used three of the five embedded stamps for postage on letters. The other two stamps, still intact with the sheet remnant, I stuck to a commemorative envelope, put my address on it and had it sent to me across town through the mail, complete with the first-day cancel. Any idea what a partial first-day cover is worth? 

Finally, I have  one more related cover to show you. It’s the bicentennial sheet with the well-known painting by Emanuel Leutze of Washington crossing the Delaware River Dec. 25, 1776, to defeat the British-allied Hessian troops at Trenton and  turn the tide of the Revolutionary War. Using an envelope with a special cachet, I attached the sheet to the cover. On Christmas Day 1976, I drove the 40 miles north to the tiny village of Washington Crossing, near New Hope, Pa. There I had the sheet specially cancelled at a local postal station set up for the occasion to mark the precise bicentennial of Washington’s Crossing at that spot. Lots of historical resonance in the resulting cover,  which you see below. It’s unusual, to be sure, and worth … not much, probably. (sjgh)


OK, back to my Stamp Calamity. Here I am, left with the detritus of what were once handsome frames of philatelic interest.  However,  “detritus” may not be the right word. True,  the mint stamps I was able to recover were no longer of much value — as mint stamps. Any added value over the ensuing decades since their release was gone as well. However, the stamps all held their “face value” — that is, an 18-cent stamp was still worth 18 cents, when used for mailing purposes. I could use a glue stick to “gum” the backs and stick them on an envelope. Three 18-centers and a 1-center would make today’s first-class postage rate of 55 cents.




fullsizeoutput_344fNow consider: I have recovered each of the five stamps on the bicentennial sheets (pictured above). Removed from their surroundings in the damaged sheets, they take on a whole different aspect. If you examine them one by one, you may conclude, as I do,  that some of them work better than others (Row 1, second from the right, fit pretty bad; also Row 3, far left and far right; or  any in Row 2). I imagine the painter Emanuel Leutze might take exception to having his classical portrayal of Washington crossing the Delaware dismantled into an awkward series of five stamps (see Row 4).

Here’s my idea: Use each of these stamps, in some combination, on letters I send to loved ones in coming days. As I frequently do when sending my indulgent loved ones unusual stamps as postage, I will note “please save” on the envelope, with an arrow pointing to the stamps. With any luck, I eventually will be able to accumulate a collection of these odd stamps in used condition. And they are odd. Let’s face it: Those bicentennial sheets were meant to be collected, not used for postage. Cancelled examples of the individual stamps probably are not very common. Indeed, if you check the current price of the sheets in the Mystic catalogue, you will notice the price for used examples is the same as for mint ones. 

Just a couple more items. You will recall I recovered a sheet of 1-pfennig German stamps that sustained a little damage. I kept it and stowed it away, not knowing quite what to do with it (I bought the 100-stamp sheet at the post office in Heidelberg, Germany in 1962 for 100 pfennigs — 1 mark, then worth a quarter). Today the stamp is hardly worth anything, so it’s no great loss, I guess. Below is another sheet of 1-pfennig stamps I bought at the same time, this one featuring the Brandenburg Gate. It’s also not worth much, and I don’t know its exact condition because I left it in the frame. One dispiriting hint is the appearance of puckering along the right side of the sheet.  (see below)


fullsizeoutput_3449The last two frames I offer for your inspection, at right, represent a considerable labor of love on my part. I patiently accumulated cancelled copies of each one of the 50 values in the 20-cent state-birds-and-flowers series of 1982. (Back then I was a newspaperman and had access to tons of mail.) Then I mounted the set, in alphabetical order of the states, on two grids and framed them. Cute, eh? At first the frames didn’t appear to have suffered damage, but when I started to lift the glass out of one frame, some of the stamps  stuck and fullsizeoutput_344dstarted to come apart. I stopped immediately, returned the glass to the frame and let it be. What to do now? Since these are used stamps, I suppose I could soak them off in water (!) and even assemble another two-frame display

On the other hand, I just might take these two frames, and the frame with the Brandenburg Gate 1-pfennig sheet, maybe even that other 1-pfennig sheet I stowed away, and … put them on all my wall! 















In conclusion, let’s not call this a major calamity after all. The face value of all the damaged stamps came to less than 20 bucks. None of them have grown appreciably in value. The stamps are still valid for postage, and I was able to recover most of them in usable condition.  

Still, it’s a humbling experience, and an embarrassing one for a guy who considers himself  such a big-deal collector that he presumes to carry on a blog called the “FMF Stamp Project.” 




Bonus: Stamps On My Walls

fullsizeoutput_3423My first memorable encounter with philately came when I was about six, in 1954, at The Pigeon House, a drafty converted coop-barn that my family stayed in for several summers near the south shore in Marshfield, Mass. It was part of the “farm” on Pudding Hill Lane that  belonged to my Cousin Wibbit, a descendant of Gov. Bradford himself. The Pigeon House (which once housed up to 10,000 pigeons, honest) was laid out with a great room at one end, including a galley, and a hallway with enough drafty rooms on either side to accommodate our family of six, plus guests, leading to a screen door out to the chicken coop. I think there was just one bathroom. A prior tenant — probably some eccentric Boston brahmin relative — had taken it into his mind to affix stamps to the bathroom walls. What a thing! I was fascinated by the colorful bits of paper with their intricate designs. Later I would be horrified to think someone should ruin perfectly good stamps by gluing them to a wall. I remember trying to peel off some of them, to no avail. Now I wonder if that memory has something to do with my pleasure in seeing stamps displayed — responsibly! — on the walls of my house.

fullsizeoutput_341cThe image at right is from the line-up of framed stamp sheets from Congo on the wall of my study (see above). The stamps originally were issued for the Belgian Congo, overprinted at independence — then overprinted again in subsequent years. This stamp started out as the 1f50 value from the flowers series of 1953, which was overprinted “CONGO” and became the first definitive set of independent Congo in 1960. In 1964 it was surcharged in black on silver, as Congo lurched toward ruin in the hands of Mobutu Sese Seko. 


fullsizeoutput_341dIn  this pair of images and the next pair you will find two examples of what was once the 20 centime stamp from the Belgian Congo 1959 animal series, overprinted “Congo” in the second definitive set after independence in 1960. Here the original 1959 stamp carries a silver overlay and tablet in 1964, with “Republique du Congo” and  the new value (1f) printed in black. 


fullsizeoutput_341eThis  example of the 20-centime stamp from independent Congo’s second definitive set of 1960 (right and below) displays the black “Congo” overprint, and also a silver tablet for the black surcharge of the new value (1f).  Are you still with me? We’re getting into one of the stamp collector’s favorite pastimes — playing the-same-                   yet-not-the-same …


fullsizeoutput_341fOK, let’s really get into it. If you like, run quickly through this pair of images and the next two pairs., then come back….  On first glance, all the stamps look alike, right?  Well, they started out being the same — the 6f50  impalas value from the Belgian Congo animal series of 1959. However, each of these three sheets of stamps is a different iteration of the issue; the same, yet not the same. 

In this first version, the name “Belgisch Congo Belge” and the old value are covered  over by silver bars, with the words “Republique du Congo” and the new value (5f) printed in black.



 In this next version, the value is surcharged in black on a silver tablet as before, but the stamp is overprinted “Congo” in black — which means it came from the second definitive series after independence in 1960.  






In this third version, everything is the same as the second, but the overprint “Congo” is in red, not black. Go figure. 




Are these sheets worth anything? I’m dubious, though surely there is some   “curiosity value,” doncha think? They cost very little at the post office in Kinshasa where I bought them on impulse in 1964, shortly before leaving my parents and sister to return to the USA and boarding school. What is most remarkable, perhaps, is that the sheets are intact and undamaged after all these years. I figured out years ago that the best way to preserve them from here on is to frame and display them. So far so good!

fullsizeoutput_3422Above my desk you will find a Stamp Map (above) — the world laid out before me, with stamps from many nations attached to their country of origin. Seems like it’s always been there on the wall … a bit like that bathroom at The Pigeon House, eh?  





Here’s a cute sheet of stamps, one representing each state. The set was issued in 1976, part of the Bicentennial issues, and this is a first-day envelope. It is not particularly valuable, though a set in used condition is offered today at only $4 less than the mint sheet. 



fullsizeoutput_3431This series (above and rifght) confirms the wisdom of my decision to frame and display my stamps. There’s just no other good way to handle these stamps! It’s from just a few years ago, an issue with 60 values, one for each state and a number of “generic” USA stamps.  Here is the puzzle for collectors:  the series consists of six strips of 10 self-adhesive stamps, fitted together in unbroken rows. To display and store them in an album would require folding or separating each strip, thus “breaking” the set. I didn’t want to do that, and cast about for a way to keep those long strips of colorful stamps intact. Then it hit me: mount and display them in a horizontal frame. I was able to fit two complete series in the frame. Isn’t it a magnificent display? fe

fullsizeoutput_341bHere is another enchanting exhibit. A few years ago, the USPS issued a series of low-value definitive stamps featuring vintage designs — jewelry and household furnishings. The charming, full-color vignettes had colorful backgrounds and common design features for each value — 1c, 2c, 3c, 4c, 5c and 10c.fullsizeoutput_343b

Needless to say, it was not a financial burden to acquire 20-stamp sheetlets of each denomination (The 1c sheet cost me 20 cents, for example). I hope you agree they make a pleasant sight with their vibrant colors and beautiful renderings in repeated patterns. 




Three questions for the ages: How much longer will we be seeing (or using) low-value stamps like these on our letters? How much longer will we be using any stamps on letters? How much longer will be be using letters? 







fullsizeoutput_3424These beautiful landscape paintings appeared in a series of 12 sheets under the heading, “Nature of America.” The sheets were designed and executed so that you could identify easily the essential information — “USA 33” — to locate the stamps within the sheet. You’d just peel off stamps as you needed them. If you look closely, each stamp has a design that stands on its own. Clever. Sort of like a loopy version of an advent calendar. Or a sticker book in reverse. 

IMG_7945At left are enlarged versions of a couple of the sheets, one featuring a Pacific Coral Reef, the other the Sonoran Desert. All the sheets are worth a look, and they are not expensive — about 60 bucks for all 12. Other scenes depict the fullsizeoutput_3438Pacific Rain Forest, the Great Plains Prairie, Southern Florida Wetland, Northeast Deciduous Forest, Alpine Tundra, Great Lakes Dunes, Kelp Forest, Hawaiian Rain Forest, Longleaf Pine Forest and Arctic Tundra.

fullsizeoutput_3425These final “stamps” on display aren’t really stamps at all, but rather my own fanciful designs for imaginary sets from exotic lands, concocted during my teenage years when I actually lived in exotic lands like Congo and Germany (but not Ghana or Australia). 



I have written elsewhere about these so-called “Cinderellas” (see blog post of August 2017). I just thought I’d offer another look, since the topic is stamps on my  walls, and these framed beauties decorate my front foyer.   






fullsizeoutput_342fFinally, here is my display (right and below) of the “state quarters” that started appearing over the past decade. I had no idea, when daughter Tanika and I crafted this display, that the US Mint would keep issuing quarters for all sorts of monuments and moments. I have more than a dozen waiting to be added to my collection — but how will I fit them in? And will the practice of churning out new quarters never end?fullsizeoutput_3439



Oh well. It still makes a nice display. And please notice how this stamp collector evidently collects more than stamps on occasion. How eclectic of me!


Bonus: Cut to Shape

fullsizeoutput_2fe6If you have paid close attention to my stamp blog, you know I have a nice copy of Great Britain No. 1 — the world’s first postage stamp, also known as the Penny Black. (see right)

Look at the second row of spaces in the illustration at right, though — empty spaces. Those are Nos. 5 to 7 — actually Nos. 7 to 5, since the one shilling value was issued first, in 1847, which coincided with the first U.S. postage stamp. In 1848 came the 10d. value, and finally, in 1854, the 6d. What sets these three stamps apart from nearly all other UK stamps — is that they are embossed labels. They look like what later were known as envelope stamps, which you still find at post offices around the world, including the USA. More on that later. 

Year after year, as I accumulated a respectable GB stamp collection, those three early spaces yawned at me in my British Europe album. (OK, you notice I don’t have expensive No. 2, either, but that’s another matter.)  From what little I knew, those three “stamps” — Nos. 5, 6 and 7 — also were pretty costly … valuable, rare. Not having much ready cash to spend on stamps, I figured they were out of reach. Plus, they somehow didn’t even look quite like stamps …

Then I discovered that when an embossed stamp like these, or an envelope stamp or a multi-sided imperforate stamp, is “cut to shape,” so to speak, rather than saved as a rectangle or square, there often is a dramatic drop in value. A cut-to-shape stamp usually is practically worthless, or worth comparatively little, according to the traditions of  stamp valuation. 

fullsizeoutput_2fd7Take, for example, this early two-color British India stamp of 1854, featuring an imperforate octagonal frame with a portrait of Queen Victoria (right, from the Internet). A nice copy like this pretty stamp (grabbed from the Internet) will sell for up to $450.





Just for kicks, I include an image of a rarity (below left): the 4-anna stamp with the portrait inverted. Even though the stamp is cut-to-shape, it’s still priced at more than $35k. 




fullsizeoutput_2fdcHere is an example, from the Internet, of the 4-anna stamp, cut to shape. It’s not cheap, but much below the cost of a rectangle. Get my point?

My quest for a copy of Great Britain No. 5, 6 and/or 7 was stimulated by an online offering I stumbled across. Before I tell that tale, however, let me just meander into the inviting field of cut-to-shape stamps …

fullsizeoutput_2fe4For starters, take a look at this beauty (right). It’s the famous British Guiana one-cent black-on-magenta, a fabled one-of-a-kind variety. And as you’ll notice, it’s cut to shape. That doesn’t prevent it being sold and re-sold, every now and then, for millions. 



Below is an example from the Internet of an early embossed stamp that carries a hefty price tag, despite being cut to shape. 


fullsizeoutput_2fdaMore common are examples like these, also from the Internet. Notice the relatively low price for these ancient embossed beauties. They’d be worth a lot fullsizeoutput_2fd9more if they were not cut to shape.

Please allow me to take this opportunity and share some of the embossed envelope stamps in my own collection. Below you will see a hodgepodge to start things off. Notice how many are carefully cut as rectangles — though I don’t believe any of them are worth much. 


fullsizeoutput_2fe0Whatever value the medallion-shaped oddment here had was decimated by the lame-brained stamp fiend who cut it to shape. (Was it a younger me?)


Version 2This is a cute enough collection, and they’re all nice rectangles. Not worth much, though.

fullsizeoutput_2fe7As I segue back to my quest for those early GB embossed stamps, I offer this: the world’s first “envelope stamp.” It’s from 1840 in Great Britain, and it’s known as the Mulready Cover — a one-penny foldable sheet you could write on, seal up and send through the mail. The idea never caught on. (This nice example is from my collection; I expect it’s worth at least the fullsizeoutput_2fe2$40 I paid for it.)  Here are two modern envelope stamps. At left is a clever retro design, harking back to those illustrated above. To the right is fullsizeoutput_339csome kind of holographic horror representing the space program or something like that.


The images above and below put the cut-to-shape issue in sharp perspective. Above is GB No. 5, the one shilling value — admittedly a magnificent example,  mint with original gum, offered on the Internet for nearly $6k. Below is the same stamp — heavily cancelled, clumsily cut to shape — offered for $1.99. 


It’s fun to look at nice examples of these early beauties, even though they are   beyond the means of this modest collector.




fullsizeoutput_339fIt was growing clear to me that if I ever wanted to fill those empty spaces in my album, I would have to settle for cut-to-shape. But I didn’t just want a “space-filler,” a crudely mangled example that is essentially worthless. Over the years, the Scott catalogue has upgraded its price for Nos. 5-7, cut to fullsizeoutput_2fddshape, from $1.50 to $10 or so. I searched the Internet and began finding cut-to-shape offerings that were well within my price range. There were flaws, though.fullsizeoutput_2fe3Finally I came across this cute little item: No. 5, carefully cut to shape, including nearly the entire design; no thins, tears or creases; offered for sale at $14.99.

I’ll take it!

In the miraculous global stamp marketplace of the Internet, I transacted my business and the long-sought collectible arrived in my mailbox a few days later. 

All that remains is to share with you the pleasure of filling one of those spaces in my album. Philately phorever!




Bonus: Jenny Loops through History

While doing some philatelic research for my friend Daniel, I came across this odd sequence of episodes in stamp history.


Don’t get exited. This is a picture from a catalog, not from my collection

Most everyone knows about the “inverted Jenny,” right? It’s the 24-cent US airmail stamp from 1918,  carmine rose and blue, with the single-engine Curtiss Jenny airplane in the center — flying  upside down. There are only a few examples of this kooky error, which seems to portray the fledgling US Airmail Service as some kind of daredevil barnstorming rumpus!



The first U.S. airmail set. This is from my Pa’s collection. The mint 6-cent stamp, left, catalogs above $85; the used 16-cent, center, sells for more than $40 (mint: $135); the heavily cancelled but otherwise fine example of the 24-cent, right, is valued at $100+ (mint: $160).

Inverted Jennys go for zillions of dollars these days — that is, when they go up for sale, which is rarely. The stamp comes from the first airmail set, which is quite valuable in itself — worth hundreds, not thousands.

IMG_1272In 2013, the US Postal Service issued a souvenir sheet depicting the inverted Jenny — the same engraving and colors as the accidental error back in 1918, as far as I can tell, only with a $2 value instead of 24 cents. It’s a beautiful, interesting sheet, full of information on the back. The stamps showing the famous upside-down plane are worth at least, well, two dollars each. 

I stumbled on the last episode of this mini-saga as I was researching the potential value for Daniel’s rare philatelic item. I went to eBay and began scanning US stamps, starting at the most valuable. I was down around $13k when I came upon this item (see illustration below): “The Un-Inverted Jenny.”  Bear with me, this takes some explaining. 


When the USPS put out its souvenir sheet in 2013, it printed a beautiful engraved replica of the classic error from 1918. All six stamps in the sheet feature inverted Jennys. So how come THIS stamp, clipped from that same 2013 souvenir sheet issue, depicts the Jenny flying right side up, as proudly as it did on the original issue of 1918?  Unraveling this philatelic mystery is similar to Sherlock Holmes’ M.O. in the Baskerville yarn — remember, the one about the dog that didn’t bark. In this case, the error is that the stamp is not an error.  The plane, in short, is not just flying right-side-up, it is also flying “un-inverted” (though it does look like it’s flying a bit lower in the frame than it should). 

Without caring to engage in more research at the moment, I will now speculate and reflect. This new error could have resulted from an unintentional skewing of the blue engraving plate. Some sheets inadvertently may have passed through before a correction was made. It could have been a repeat of what happened in 1918 — only in reverse, so to speak. But who’s kidding who? Was this really an accident? Did some malefactor create a secret stash of un-inverted Jennys? Is there a bureaucratic explanation involving specimens and proofs, alternate designs and essays, where something slipped through? Was a surrealist experimenting with concepts of “error”?

I prefer to think some folks at the USPS have a wry sense of philatelic wit. These four episodes in US stamp history — the original 1918 issue, the original invert, the 2013 invert, along with with “un-invert” — ring with irony and resonate in and out of symmetry. They take us from the dawn of air service well into the space age, on the wings of the steadfast — if not always upright — Jenny. And we have come full circle — with a twist. As T.S. Eliot might say, we have explored far to arrive at the place where we started. And we are seeing it for the first time, since now things are out of joint: 

Back in 1918, Jenny flew proudly. Then she tipped over. Oops. That was a philatelic accident, a misprint. Very embarrassing. It was a rare philatelic event that Made News, that became part of the broader culture — and cultural memory. It was an event worth memorializing in the USPS tribute sheet in 2013. On this sheet, the “error” is intentional, a historic reminder. Except now — this! Another error, you say? But how? The plane, she flies, right? Wrong! On this sheet, Jenny should be upside-down. That’s the whole point of the tribute. The “un-inverted” Jenny on this sheet is a mistake. Should the USPS now be embarrassed because it printed a stamp right side up? How has it come to this, that up is down, wrong is right, an error is not an error, a non-mistake is a mistake … ?  My brain is reeling.

OK, it’s not that dramatic. But interesting, no? Provocative, just a bit? Unsettling, maybe? That’s why they call stamp collecting “quiet excitement” (!)


Dear Fred: The right side up Jenny in the new $2.00 issue was intentional to create an artificial scarcity. See USPS explanation below.

I have saved several unopened sheets to sell to collectors who wish to gamble that the sheet includes the right side up version.  Wanna buy one?

Love, George


(USPS news release)  Postal Service Announces Very Limited Edition Stamps Circulated with Recent Issue of Famous ‘Upside Down’ Jenny Stamp

Customers who purchased Inverted Jenny stamps could have one of only 100 stamp sheets printed with plane flying ‘right side up,’ First recipient comes forward

October 02, 2013 

Postal Service Announces Very Limited Edition Stamps Circulated with Recent Issue of Famous ‘Upside Down’ Jenny Stamp

WASHINGTON – The Postal Service announced today that it printed 100 additional sheets of stamps of the recently issued Inverted Jenny stamp but with the plane flying right-side up. These very limited edition stamps were circulated with the recent issue of the most famous “misprinted” stamp.  Customers who have recently purchased the new Inverted Jenny stamp could have a very limited edition of the famous stamp. 

Unique to this stamp issuance, all sheets were individually wrapped in a sealed envelope to recreate the excitement of finding an Inverted Jenny when opening the envelope and to avoid the possibility of discovering a corrected Jenny prior to purchase.

“We are leveraging the incredible story behind the rare collectible as a creative way to generate interest in stamp collecting while highlighting the role the Post Office Department had in developing the commercial aviation industry,” said Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe.

Individuals purchasing ‘corrected Jenny sheets’ will find a congratulatory note inside the wrapping asking them to call a phone number to receive a certificate of acknowledgement signed by the Postmaster General.

Just days after the Postal Service issued the new $2 version of the most publicized stamp error in U.S. history — the 24-cent 1918 Curtiss Jenny airmail stamp depicting a biplane flying upside down, Glenn Watson of Newmarket, Ontario, Canada, purchased the new $2 version with the biplane flying right side up.

“I’ve been collecting U.S. and Canadian stamps for more than 50 years,” said Watson, who ordered his Inverted Jenny stamp sheet through the Postal Store on eBay. “By far this was a total surprise, and I can now relate to how stamp collector William Robey felt when he purchased the original sheet of 100 inverted Jennys in 1918. Clearly this right-side-up version will be the treasure of my collection. I hope this stamp will encourage younger generations to get involved in this educational hobby.”

The Backstory on Creating the Misprint’s ‘Misprint’

The idea for creating the “misprinted misprint,” came to light after the Postmaster General mentioned the stamp to customer groups shortly after it was previewed in January. 

“Our customers were enthusiastic about printing a new version of the most publicized stamp error in U.S. history as a great way to spur interest in stamp collecting,” said Donahoe. “Some jokingly commented that we should be careful to avoid repeating the same mistake of nearly a century ago. That was the impetus behind this initiative. What better way to interest a younger generation in stamp collecting?” 

Donahoe added the stamp serves to communicate the Post Office Department’s role in developing the nation’s commercial aviation industry.  Air mail turned out to be one of our most successful innovations.

“By showing that air travel could be safe and useful, we helped create the entire American aviation industry, which went on to reshape the world.”

Pan Am, TWA, American, United, Northwest and other airlines originated as air mail contractors before passenger service began. Additionally to help commercial aviation get off the ground and to speed the mail, the Post Office Department helped develop navigational aids such as beacons and air-to-ground radio. Today the Postal Service continues as the commercial aviation industry’s largest freight customer. Mail also flies on FedEx and UPS cargo aircraft.

The Jenny Story

Two eerie occurrences took place surrounding the nation’s first airmail flight that took place 1918. The pilot got lost, flew in the wrong direction and crashed. And due to a printing error of the 24-cent Curtiss Jenny airmail stamp created to commemorate this historic event, the biplane was depicted flying upside down on one sheet of 100 stamps that was sold to the public. 

In 1918, in a rush to celebrate the first airmail flight, the Post Office department issued the 24-cent Curtiss Jenny stamp. Because the design required two colors, sheets were placed on the printing press twice – first to apply red ink and a second time to apply blue ink.  This process was given to human error – as stamp collectors at the time well knew.

A Washington, DC, Post Office clerk – who had never seen an airplane – sold a sheet of 100 stamps mistakenly showing the biplane upside down. For nearly a century, stamp collectors have chased the Inverted Jennys and have accounted for nearly all 100 of them.

The 100 sheets were distributed randomly among the nation’s Post Offices and at the Postal Service’s Stamp Fulfillment Center which accepts stamp orders online at, and by calling 800-STAMP24 (800-782-6724). Additionally, some of the 100 also were randomly distributed at 


OMG George. This is very interesting — and a bit embarrassing. I mean, here I am, the guy writing the FMF Stamp Project commentaries, for gosh sake, and you fill in the blanks with a little astute research, after I just gamboled off into the glen of idle speculation, disdaining further research on the subject. I suppose I will have to add this tidbit to the growing oeuvre. for which I will give full credit to you and the USPS. 

Does this story strike you as a bit, well, anti-climactic? It was sort of a bureaucratic decision, it turns out, based on focus groups and a marketing plan — “to generate interest in stamp collecting.”  Kind of takes the drama and romance out of it. An intentional correction of a misprint apparently is not the same thing as the original boo-boo. There are only 100 sheets, so the scarcity factor makes all the difference. As you put it, an “artificial scarcity,” cynically (whimsically?) engineered by the USPS as a marketing gimmick. It reminds me of a couple of episodes from philatelic history. One was in the 1930s, when Postmaster Farley, a buddy of FDR’s and like the president a stamp collector, issued a slew of imperforate souvenir sheets and distributed them to his cronies and caused a mini-scandal that I believe resulted in much wider distribution of the sheets, which today have little value …  The other episode came in the 1960s with the stamp honoring Dag Hammerskjold, the UN guy killed when his plane went down near the Congo in 1961. The original US 4-cent stamp featured a startling error: some sheets had one color printed upside down, which created the specter of Hammerskjold sitting at a desk before the UN building in a world whirling upside down. When the postal service learned of its mistake, the powers-that-be decided to print millions more of the “error” stamp, thus turning “genuine scarcity” into “artificial plenty.” 

And speaking of artificial scarcity, some countries used to put out sets of stamps with a limited printing of one value in the set, resulting in higher prices to collectors. Among the offenders: Congo and East Germany 

George, your timely and on-point unraveling of the latest Jenny episode leaves untouched the ironic twists of the story. I like the postmaster’s term —  “misprinted misprint” — but his news release does get a little tangled between right and wrong. Example:  “Individuals purchasing ‘corrected Jenny sheets’ will find a congratulatory note inside the wrapping …”  Corrected, in quotes? An ironic reference in itself, no? Does “correct” mean correct, or something else?

Also …  “…  all sheets were individually wrapped in a sealed envelope to recreate the excitement of finding an Inverted Jenny when opening the envelope and to avoid the possibility of discovering a corrected Jenny prior to purchase.”  Wait a minute. Which is more exciting, to find the inverted Jenny, as expected, or a corrected Jenny? I should say, “corrected” … Or is the excitement level the same, only in reverse?  As for “recreated excitement,” I imagine that’s a term the late  Daniel Boorstin would banish to the realm of pseudo-events, don’t you think?  …

Love, FMF

p.s. I discover that I, too, have one of the sheets still sealed in its envelope. It could be one of the 100 sheets of “corrected” Jennys. If so, and if a single “corrected” Jenny is offered on eBay fort $13k, a full sheet of six might bring .. uh, let’s see … $78k. Wow!  Wonder how many sheets are still out there …


Clocwise, from top left: A cancelled example of the new $2 Jenny invest commemorative (I figure even a cancelled copy is worth saving); the souvenir sheet of six $2 Jenny stamps (worth at least $12, you figure); the front of the enevelope containing the sheet, with some key background info; and finally, a sealed envelope containing yet another souvenir sheet — could it be one of the rare sheets with “un-inverted” Jennys, worth as much as $70k?

ADDENDUM: When checking eBay for “Jenny sheet” and the like, it turns out there are more errors! The $2 stamps are being offered showing the inverted Jenny with “flat tires” — at least that’s the gimmick. Actually, it’s an inking error or a chip in the plate or something, such that tires on the upside-down airplane seem to have chunks missing. This doesn’t seem like a major error, though the stamps are selling for $30 or more. There also is a claim of a “red wing” error or some such — i.e. the ink on the red border bled into the blue of the airplane. Yeah yeah, big deal.  And there are imperforate sheets on the market, for sale on eBay at about $70. 


APPENDIX:  Only marginally Jenny-related, but still a good story …

The rarest cover in my collection is one addressed to my Uncle Reddy, in Needham, Mass. (see  below).

fullsizeoutput_5fb It bears the 24-cent “Jenny” airmail stamp, issued just three weeks before on May 13, 1918, cancelled with the message in the circular cancel: “Air Mail Service; New York; Jun 3, 1918; First Trip.” The return address is the “Aerial League of America,” 297 Madison Avenue. A rubber stamp in the lower left corner of the envelope announces: “VIA Aeroplane Mail.” Quaint! While the envelope isn’t in particularly good shape, a similar “first flight” cover was offered on eBay recently — for $250! 

The Jenny stamp itself, an excellent used example, sells for $100 or more. The cover has a story of its own. The letter was supposed to be carried on an  experimental flight June 3, 1918, that was aborted. But then, how did this cover reach my Uncle Reddy, then a lad in his 20s, at his family home in Needham? Or was Uncle Reddy, a stamp collector himself, living in New York by then? Hmm. Here’s some speculation: My clever Uncle Reddy found out about this experimental flight via the NYC grapevine. Perhaps as a game fellow, he was a member of that “Aerial League of New York.” He got hold of one of the colorful new 24-cent airmail stamps, stuck it to an envelope, addressed it to his Ma and Pa’s house in Needham, and had it cancelled for the “first flight” from New York to Boston.  (Presumably Boston — the plane surely did not land in Needham, the leafy western suburb where the Fiske lived.) Though the flight reportedly was aborted, my uncle still managed to get back his cancelled cover, whether or not it ever actually went through the mail.  Whatever happened, it’s quite a curiosity item …  (Perhaps my Cousin Phineas, Uncle Reddy’s son, has more details and can fill me in on this some time; perhaps he even will claim the cover!) 

For comparison purposes: A U.S. airmail cover from Otis Elevator in Washington, D.C., addressed to Otis Elevator in New York City, postmarked “first flight” 5/15/18, was offered on eBay for $750.

Also, a New York City to Washington, D.C. “first flight” was offered for $850.


Bechuanaland Becomes Botswana

fullsizeoutput_2e94Do you think it was magnanimous of the British to grant “internal self government” to its Bechuanaland territory in 1965  (see the commemorate set of stamps, above)? What’s that? Oh, you say the Tswana tribe of Bechuanaland had been self-governing all along? And the British handled — what? Foreign affairs? Kept Bechuanaland Protectorate from turning communist? How about extraction of resources and exploitation of labor? For whatever reasons, including sheer stubborn imperial pride, the British did not grant independence to Bechuanaland until 1966, long after most of colonial Africa disappeared. A year earlier, the territory issued its final set under British dominion — this odd duck you see above, where the word “protectorate” has been dropped. Why? Was Britain withdrawing its “protection”? Was Britain still handling foreign affairs for the Tswana? Should I stop asking questions for a while?

It looks to me like the crown was still in complete control of Bechuanaland’s external affairs in 1965. Just look at these stamps, with the queen’s vignette benignly presiding over a stylized landscape of farm and fields. The map shows Bechuanaland Protectorate, not “Bechuanaland.” Indeed, a colony called “British Bechuanaland” did exist, once upon a time. In 1885, it separated from Bechuanaland Protectorate (for reasons I have wrestled with in the last essay).   “British Bechuanaland” remained a Crown Colony only until it was absorbed into the Cape Colony in 1895, and thence into the Union of South Africa in 1910. This new, 1965-era “Bechuanaland” is a confusing entity — currently it is listed among the last issues of “Bechuanaland Protectorate”? It also could be seen as the first issue of the soon-to-be independent Botswana? Since it doesn’t include “Protectorate,” but clearly asserts British dominion, it could be considered a continuation of “British Bechuanaland” whose stamp-issuing days ended the 1890s!  Such a quandary!

Bechuanaland Protectorate continued to put out “omnibus” issues with other British territories over the next year — honoring the International Telecommunications Union, International Cooperation Year and the late go-go-imperialist Winston Churchill. But the bugler had long since played taps for the empire, and Bechuanaland Protectorate was just about done. 

fullsizeoutput_2ee0Then an odd little set came out June 1, 1966, commemorating the Bechuanaland Pioneers and Gunners. These were African “recruits” in World War II, as many as 10,000 Tswana in all. Some volunteered, others were pressed into service as laborers, anti-aircraft gunners and drivers. African troops traveled as far as Italy and Lebanon. This set marked the 25th anniversary of the Bechuanaland pioneers, formed in 1941 and disbanded in 1946. The designs include a British Hasler smoke generator truck with Bechuana operators, and a  Bechuana gun-site team in action. There is a depiction of the regimental cap badge (rifle and spade crossed under the crown, with the insignia “Labor Omnia Vincit,” which I would translate as “work conquers all.”) The five-cent stamp features a handsome young Bechuana pioneer bugler, his wide-brimmed military bush cap giving him a rakish look. It was said that many of the Tswana recruits adjusted well to military service — even under the command of white officers. One wonders how well they adjusted back to colonial life. The role of World War II in stirring nationalist aspirations in Africa and elsewhere is well-known. While some Bechuanaland Pioneers and Gunners were victims of a colonial enterprise, others eagerly  served the war effort and made genuine sacrifices.  The experience of being in that group may have helped nurture and train a generation of African leaders.  These stamps provide a suitably ambivalent coda as the last set issued by Bechuanaland Protectorate.   

fullsizeoutput_2e95Three months later, a new nation was born — philatelically speaking. The first set from independent Botswana was issued Sept. 30, 1966, and was clearly a rush job: Instead of designing new stamps for the new country, postal authorities simply overprinted the 1962 definitive set with “Republic of Botswana.” OK, so it looks kind of weird to have Queen Elizabeth smiling out from under the overprint. But hey, the stamps are valid enough. Lots of emancipated colonies did the same thing, starting with Ghana, which overprinted the Gold Coast set of Queen Elizabeth definitives in 1956.
fullsizeoutput_2e9dAbove is the first definitive set designed specifically for Botswana. An earlier  commemorative set, issued Sept. 30 (the same day as the set of overprints) marked Botswana Independence Day. I have always been partial to definitive sets. Why? Because they are stamps people actually use, not labels commemorating one thing or another that may not even get to post offices for use on regular mail. Definitive stamps are the People’s Stamps!  I acquired Botswana’s first definitive series as a first-day cover, evidently cancelled-to-order because there is no address on the envelope. In addition to 14 colorful birds on the stamps, the  envelope has snapshots of native animals, like an elephant on the move and a fat, shiny hippo. 

fullsizeoutput_2e96At right is a display in my stock album of stamps from several  subsequent definitive sets of Botswana, all featuring native fauna. I accumulate these stamps without much energy or fullsizeoutput_2e97intent— when they come my way, I take them. I still enjoy putting sets together, noticing common features as well as the obvious and subtle differences. Somehow, it just makes life sweeter. 

fullsizeoutput_2e99I must pass along a blow-up of this unusual Botswana commemorative from 1975. It celebrates the 90th anniversary of the  “establishment of protectorate.” The set includes two other stamps, one depicting tribal chiefs, another recording the chiefs’ visit to London in 1895. 

This map stamp  has got me scratching my head, though. First of all, why even make special mention of this colonial map-making in newly independent Botswana? So the British extended
“protection” to Bechuanaland. Big deal. It was little more than “protection” from the encroaching Boers and Germans. Oh yes, and protection from rival tribes in Matabeleland. This was no act of statesmanship and enlightened geopolitics. The British were motivated by greed and racism, along with the other colonial powers. A second puzzle: If you are going to honor such a colonial gesture, why not wait until the centennial, instead of the “90th anniversary”? That would seem a more resonant temporal landmark. Why the rush? A third puzzle involves the map itself, with the land labeled  “British Bechuanaland,” not “Bechuanaland Protectorate.” After 1885, British Bechuanaland was gouged out of territory south of the Molopo River, which eventually became part of South Africa. The bulk of Bechuanaland became the protectorate, more or less on the outline of modern-day Botswana. What this means is that the stamp honoring the protectorate actually portrays the status quo ante — what things looked like before there was a protectorate. What sort of sense does that make? 

fullsizeoutput_2e9bAbove is what we in the philately racket call a “hodge-podge.” It’s a catch-all page in my stock album for post-colonial Africa, my last page for Botswana. You will see some attractive animal stamps, and a crudely-drawn portrait of two nearly naked  children (boys?) standing awkwardly, as though waiting for a bus — or more clothes. Center right is a stamp with a striking landscape of plain and dry hillock set starkly against a blue sky. (Too bad the stamp has a crease in it!)

fullsizeoutput_2e9eThe set at lower left above (enlarged at right) commemorates a century of Bechuanaland stamps, carrying us back to where we began.  You can read much more about this set — and the stories the stamps tell — in my blog post of April 2018, Bechuanaland: Introduction. That is where my exploration of Bechuanaland/Botswana and its stamps began.

 We have come a long way, with some detours, and for me it has been a pleasure. I am thrilled to have been able to devote so much time and attention to my beloved Bechuanaland stamps, and share it all with you. While I hope to add more stamps to my Bechuanaland collection, now it’s time to turn the page and embark on new adventures. There is much more ahead — more stamps, more stories, more illustrations and speculations — more drama and fun!  Onward!



Back to Bechuanaland

fullsizeoutput_2e5dAt last! A consummation devoutly to be wished. Or should I say, a resumption long overdue. I think it was about 500 pages and two years back that I temporarily abandoned my original mission in this FMF Stamp Project — which was a leisurely ramble through the storied landscape of my stamp collection, starting with British Africa. I got through my collection from the British Colony of Ascension Island, and also the small southern African territory of Basutoland (now Lesotho). Then I went my merry way, with long diversions to Congo, other precincts of that vast continent, and into various fjords and flights that led eventually to a 150-page examination of so-called “Cinderella” stamps (that is, stamps that are not real stamps). That topic, by the way, is far from exhausted, though I needed a breather!

I’ve been circling back toward Bechuanaland, the next country by alphabetical order in my British Africa album. I got so far as to present a solid introduction to the topic (see Bechuanaland: Introduction blog post, April 2018). Then other subjects and stories drew my attention. There’s just so much of interest in the world of stamps, don’t you think? 

Continuing to circle, I touched on Bechuanaland in my tale of the elusive five-pound Victorian, then managed to work it into my short exploration of “Fiscals” (a branch of Cinderellas that goes on and on). The happy outcome of that short tale was that I acquired the Bechuanaland one-pound Victorian, which you will see again, shortly. 
Hooray! Here we are, ready or not. Just to recap: As I’ve already explained,  in the 1880s, the British divided Bechuanaland into a protectorate (Bechuanaland Protectorate) and a crown colony (British Bechuanaland). The protectorate survived until 1966, when it became the independent republic of Botswana. The British colony became part of the southern African nexus, and was absorbed into the Union of South Africa in 1910. Bechuanaland/Botswana has a colorful history  (see 4/18 blog post for more). Now it’s time for stamps!fullsizeoutput_2e5e

British Africa (continued), Bechuanaland, page one: 

Issues of 1886-7.  OK, here we go. Actually, this is a piece of stamp-cake. I figure the best way to proceed is to offer a kind of thumbnail view of the album page (right), then enlarge the stamp images and expound on them. 

  The first stamps from “British Bechuanaland,” shown below, are overprints of Cape of Good Hope stamps. There would be many iterations of these overprints in the next few years, both for British Bechuanaland and Bechuanaland Protectorate. I have a decent showing here. Let me tell you, the ones I am missing are not cheap!

fullsizeoutput_2e5fA word on the legend provided in my stamp album (see right). You may notice that it refers to British Bechuanaland as a “high commission territory” in 1960. This is nonsense. Bechuanaland Protectorate was indeed under British supervision in 1960 — independent Botswana was still six years off. But British Bechuanaland? It didn’t even exist after 1895, first merging with the Cape Colony, then the Union of South Africa. 

fullsizeoutput_2e60Version 2I believe I have rhapsodized  about this set (above) before — how the designs look like bas-reliefs profiles of the Queen carved into tablets of rose marble or granite. Drab, you say? OK, the lilac color doesn’t jump out at you, and it’s the same for the 1d, 2d, 3d, 4d and 6d, before changing to a decidedly unglamorous shade of green for the 1/- through 10/- values. And then, for the one-pound and five-pound values, it reverts to the same faded lilac color. Sigh.

But wait! I will have none of it! That lilac, to begin with, is worthy of Miss Haversham’s parlor, or the most delicate hydrangea in a garden at Wellfleet. Furthermore, the design consistency is a bedrock quality of this set, providing a sense of stability and order that can only have helped in the remote precincts of British Bechuanaland in 1888. 

fullsizeoutput_2e63Bechuanaland, page two: Issues of 1888-98. Just a few comments on this page. There is always something to say! IMG_6861Notice at right how the earlier set has been surcharged — with the same value spelled out in the tablets flanking the portrait! I guess too many postal customers needed to see a number …   

fullsizeoutput_2e64At right, top row, is a remarkable sequence that captures all the wackiness of British Bechuanaland bureaucracy. Here we have the overprints running across top and bottom, sideways left, and sideways right. Whew! Make up your minds! (As you can see, from the pencil notations, I paid good bucks for these — $13 for the 1/2d, for example.

The second row is a complete set of GB overprints of the Victoria sexagenary jubilee set. Not bad! 

fullsizeoutput_2e66Bechuanaland, page three: Issues of 1888-97. Notice the subtle difference in these stamps. The overprint has fullsizeoutput_2e67changed from “British Bechuanaland” to “Bechuanaland Protectorate.” It took me years to collect all of these…


fullsizeoutput_2e68Bechuanaland, page four: Issues of 1904-27. By now “British Bechuanaland” was just a memory — but “Bechuanaland Protectorate” would last 80 years. For fullsizeoutput_2e69nearly three decades, postal authorities made do with these undistinguished overprints of British definitives — through the reign of Edward VII and well into that of George V. What a missed opportunity!

fullsizeoutput_2e6aBechuanaland, page five: Issues of 1926-35. You  may be able to identify on this page, reproduced at right, a “postage due” set at the top, another one in the middle, and at the bottom of the page  the familiar “omnibus” set commemorating George V’s 25th anniversary on the throne, on the verge of his death in 1935. No need to dwell on them here.

What I want to swoon over is this gorgeous set of George V definitives that appeared in 1932. Aren’t they beauties?  fullsizeoutput_2e6bSorry I don’t have the higher values (yet). They are quite dear. Version 2However, please enjoy the delicate artistry of the engraving of a pastoral Tswana landscape that features grazing cattle and a venerable baobab tree. 





fullsizeoutput_2e74Bechuanaland, page six: 1937-45. The king is dead. Long live the king. That’s the way it was in the British Empire. George V expired Jan. 20, 1936, and after the business with Edward VIII, George VI was duly coronated in 1937. Without missing a beat, the engravers substituted a portrait of the young king for that of his late father, and the same beautiful design remained in use through the 15 years of his reign. Notice the exquisite color combinations for the upper values — black and olive green (1/-); black fullsizeoutput_2e6cand carmine (2/6); black and ultramarine (5/-); black and red-brown (10/-).  This complete set, mint, was selling today online for $42.50.

fullsizeoutput_2e77This set again! You may remember it from the Basutoland pages — same South Africa set, same patriotic themes, same white faces enjoying the end of World War II. 



fullsizeoutput_2e79Bechuanaland, page seven: Issues of 1947-9. No need to dwell on this page, which features “omnibus” issues for the Royals’ 25th wedding anniversary (which I don’t have), the Royal Visit of 1947, and the Universal Postal Union issue of 1949. Why do I bother to collect these stamps, which aren’t valuable? I guess I just like to keep striving for completeness …



fullsizeoutput_2e7aBechuanaland, page eight: Issues of 1953-60. Guess what happened after 1953, when Elizabeth II was coronated? The same darn thing: The engravers substituted her portrait for her father’s and before that, her grandfather’s, and the splendid design had another run — right up into the 1960s. 

Version 2








fullsizeoutput_2e85Here’s a little oddity (above). In 1960, British imperial powers took it upon themselves to issue this set of stamps congratulating the 75 years of their “protection racket” in Bechuanaland. They must have known by then that their time as colonial masters was rapidly drawing to a close — Ghana already was independent, Sierra Leone and the rest would follow quickly. Yet here we see the Dowager Queen Victoria of 1885, and the demure, fresh-faced Elizabeth of 1960, flanking a scene on the Tswana veld — as though everything were normal as could be, the past and present are of a piece, and the British “protectorate” is secure. 

fullsizeoutput_2e8bBechuanaland, page nine: Issues of 1961. Then bang! came decimal currency, a gift from South Africa. Postal authorities rushed to issue a set with decimal surcharges. When the news reached me, I was excited. These might be rare stamps. I quickly sent off a money order to Lusaka, asking the postmaster to send me a set. Then I sat back and waited … and waited … 

(You may wonder why I still lack to 12 1/2 cent value. Indeed, why not? I recently scanned the online market and couldn’t find it. I’m sure my patience and persistence  eventually will be rewarded.)


fullsizeoutput_2e8eBechuanaland, page 10, issues of 1962. 

Imagine my disappointment when the envelope finally arrived from Bechuanaland Protectorate — with this brand-new set (right) instead of the surcharges. As you might guess, I had to go out on the stamp market and accumulate the surcharged set over a number of years — somehow always missing the 12 1/2 cent value in the process. The set I received from the post office in Lusaka did not include the top value two-rand stamp. I used to think it was because that stamp was issued months later, but now I wonder if I simply didn’t send enough money to cover the whole set. In any case, as you see below, it cost me $11 to buy it and finally complete the 1962 set, which sells online (mint, never hinged) for a decent $75 or more. 


fullsizeoutput_2e92Bechuanaland, page 11, issues of 1961-3. More postage due and “omnibus” stamps appear on my last album page for Bechuanaland — though it is not the end of my collection. (Stay tuned for next month’s installment.)  Why don’t I have the “Freedom from Hunger” stamp in the middle? Laziness trumps completeness, I guess …