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Transvaal – A Very Interesting Philatelic Place!

The Voortrekkers were in large part Calvinist farmers, simple rugged God- fearing & poorly educated folk who considered themselves far removed from any Dutch or British administration based in Cape Town which did not understand them and their problems.

A long list of injuries, mostly real and occasionally imagined led to perhaps the last straw, the emancipation of their slaves, which occurred on 1st August 1834 throughout the British Empire. Slaves were a major asset and the British issued promissory notes in compensation which could only be converted by these simple farmers into cash if they presented them in London.

A move outside of British jurisdiction was called for and a vast, largely uninhabited area north of the Cape was seen as the Promised Land. The history of this movement northwards and eastwards is the subject of some amazing accounts of toughness and bravery, certainly not something I would attempt in this short article but the creation of Transvaal (or “Beyond the Vaal River”) is a tale of human endeavour rarely matched. I have been into a part of this area; it is vast, beautiful and forbidding.

Even the First British Occupation and the discovery of gold did not bring many incomers, but the discovery of the Main Reef in 1886 changed all that and the basic postal system, often manned by barely- qualified and poorly educated officers did it’s best to cope with stamp shortages by surcharging and even bisecting, making the area a goldmine for philatelists.

In our current sale we are offering a number of interesting stamps from Transvaal, amongst them many items and collections from the 1885-93 issue overprinted “V.R.I.” by the British during their second occupation in 1900. This issue has some wonderful errors and varieties. The overprint, applied and issued just 13 days after the British took Pretoria was required by the new administration as large amounts of stamps had been seized at the town’s post office. The British simply could not have their new postal system flooded with stocks of unpaid-for stamps hidden within the civilian population.

This overprinting was undertaken under the supervision of a printer borrowed from Cape Town – based “The Cape Times” and the stamps served two postal systems, military and civilian. Conditions and equipment were not perfect and many errors can be seen to have developed over time as materials deteriorated.

After this overprinted issue and with the introduction of British know- how, the stamps were chiefly printed by the London firm of De La Rue, so much of what was then issued became more recognisable to collectors of British Empire stamps!

Transvaal is a fascinating area to collect; these are stamps from a huge remote & underpopulated area which illustrate a postal system doing its best!

Vincent Green

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