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Those Confusing Rhodesians!

Rhodesia; Southern Rhodesia; Northern Rhodesia; Rhodesia & Nyasaland; Rhodesia again; Zambia & Zimbabwe.

A collector might be forgiven for some deliberate myopia when collecting the Rhodesian area as it can be difficult deciding where to begin and where to end. The confusion often sets-in when looking under “Rhodesia” in the Stanley Gibbons catalogue and finding stamps inscribed “British South Africa Company” which first appeared in 1892 and ended in 1924 with the name “Rhodesia” appearing after 1909 in combination with the Company name but never alone… only to reappear some 41 years later, this time with stamps solely inscribed “Rhodesia”!

The history and creation of what is referred to as Rhodesia cannot be separated from the creation and activities of the British South Africa Company, the Royal Charter of which came into effect on 20 December 1889. In the period leading up to this Cecil Rhodes had led the BSAC negotiations in London where the Company was granted powers to administer a wide but unspecified area of Central Africa on behalf of the British government. Cecil Rhodes was the Company’s famous founder and Managing Director and the term "Rhodesia" can be found used in newspapers from 1891, even before the first stamps were issued, and this novel name was made official by the Company in 1895.

Stamps inscribed “British South Africa Company” continued until the 1920s but given that the Company itself, the newspapers, politicians and general public did not refer to the “territory administered by the British South Africa Company” but instead to “Rhodesia” it is entirely reasonable to consider these stamps to be those of Rhodesia!

The territory of the British South Africa Co. (Rhodesia!) was naturally divided by the mighty Zambezi River which flowed eastwards to the Indian Ocean and was used as the border when the territory was split into the colony of Southern Rhodesia in 1923, with Northern Rhodesia becoming a colony in 1924. Stamps inscribed for these two separate colonies were issued between 1924 and 1964, and from 1925 and 1963 respectively.

At this point collectors of either Northern or Southern Rhodesia will notice a gap in stamp issues between 1954 and 1963 when the Central Africa Federation of Northern and Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland Protectorate was formed, so those wishing for some continuity in their collections might do well to add the stamps inscribed “Rhodesia & Nyasaland” to their albums! This Federation which did not affect the legal status of its three members began on 1 August 1953 and ended on 31 December 1963.

The first stamps for “Rhodesia & Nyasaland” were issued on 1 July 1954 and a pictorials- only policy with a slightly- industrial theme to emphasise the commercial rather than political hope for the enterprise gives stamp collectors the opportunity to complete the basic issues of a unique African experiment!

After the Federation ceased Northern Rhodesia issued one final ‘Arms’ definitive set & a Postage Due set both in December 1963 before renaming herself and her stamps “Zambia” in 1964; Southern Rhodesia did not return to using her old name as by that time "Rhodesia" commonly referred to Southern Rhodesia alone, so from 1965 to 1979 the stamps of Southern Rhodesia were inscribed “Rhodesia” with her 4th and 5th sets in 1965/1966 proclaiming Independence following the famous Unilateral Declaration of Independence. On 18 April 1980 Rhodesia (ie. the old Southern Rhodesia) became independent under majority rule and was renamed “Zimbabwe” with a set of stamps bearing the new name issued on the same day.

I do hope this helps makes sense of the stamp issues around this part of Africa, the use of “Rhodesia” as the part of, all of, or none of a country’s philatelic name can prove somewhat confusing and perhaps unnecessarily limit a collection when to follow an areas stamps and postal history might require a few name changes along the way!


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