Isn’t this typical: on the 9th October 2017 the South African post office issued these stamps to commemorate World Post Day as well as the 50th Anniversary of Mail-sorting by Machine – today (2nd May 2018) is the first time I have been able to purchase them. I haven’t seen them on any envelopes in the interim either!

As you might be able to make out in the fine print, the artwork was done by Marli Grobbelaar, then a student at the Cape Town Creative Academy. The installation of the Siemens machine at the Pretoria sorting office in 1967 was so successful in speeding up the sorting process, compared with the manual sorting, that it was not long before machines were installed in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. One of the touted benefits of the time was the reduced number of returned items due to the greater accuracy when compared with manual sorting. Bear in mind that postal codes were only introduced in South Africa on 8th October 1973.

According to  “A proficient hand-letter-sorter could sort up to 1 800 letters an hour, whilst each sorting unit of an automatic letter sorting system could sort from 90 000 to 150 000 mail items per hour, depending on the proficiency of the letter coding staff of 30.”

The second stamp depicts one of the Toshiba sorting machines currently in use at the Tshwane Mail Centre in Pretoria.

Mail-sorting machines are not the most scintillating objects to depict, so hats off to the artist. Does the less-than-attractive aspect of the stamps have something to do with the tardiness of them reaching outlying post offices? It is great that the post office has something to celebrate. Now, if only that could extend to actually delivering the mail – ALL of it – on time!


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