I used to be an avid stamp collector – never serious enough to warrant being called a philatelist – from a young age. The range of subjects depicted not only on South African stamps, but the excitement of finding stamps from other parts of the world thrilled me in the days of no internet, no television – and no cell phones! As Christmas approached the pile of mail my father brought home increased in size and interest: Christmas cards were posted from so many places that piqued my interest enough to enjoy receiving a stamp album, hinges, as well as a magnifying glass as gifts. I would happily spend time carefully soaking stamps from envelopes, waiting for them to dry, and then sorting them. Like most beginners, I began by sorting stamps into countries – doubtless guided by the printed albums of the time.

Then I realised my real interest lay in themes. I sorted my growing collection into categories and gradually became aware of narrowing my interest to mainly environmental themes. Along with this came a desire to develop a set of themed stamps into a narrative, which the stamps would illustrate. I found some of these the other day which included the development of agriculture, how elephants have been used by humans, and the clan totems of the Tswana people as depicted on the stamps of the then Bophuthatswana. During the period we lived in that ‘independent’ homeland, I discovered a particular richness in the stamps of the various homelands that pitted the map of South Africa.

There used to be a rich diversity of topics featured on the stamps that adorned even the most mundane postal items. Look at the corner of this envelope franked in Port Alfred, a seaside town not far from where we live. We still regularly received mail in 2017 – alas hardly ever any more.

There is a mixture of two series of stamps on this envelope: of the eight stamps used, five come from a series launched in September 2010 that featured the Richtersveld conservation landscape. This area, in the north-west of the country, is the eighth World Heritage site in South Africa. The Richtersveld was returned to the Nama people under the land restitution programme and is maintained as a conservation area. The stamps were designed by Jolindi Ferreira, who was a student at The Open Window School of Visual Communication, in Pretoria, at the time. The ones here depict a Grey Rhebok, a Namaqua Sandgrouse and a Namaqua Chameleon.

The other three stamps, designed by Sacha Lipka, are of beadwork artefacts held in the Iziko South African Museum in Cape Town. They show a Zulu neckpiece of lion’s claws, a beadwork angel, and a beadwork cell phone.

With so little in the way of actual mail finding its way around the country, I have probably not purchased postage stamps for the past three years at least. Looking at these ones makes me realise how much we miss!

Note: Click on the photograph for a larger view.


    • “Sadly letters are a dying art”. You are right and I think we are the poorer for it. I used to have penfriends too: an interesting way of finding out about other countries; I doubt if many such friendships are developed these days. I stopped collecting stamps once they became the ‘peel and stick’ kind, which are too finicky to work with.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I send note regularly, mainly to elderly people or someone needing lift, so make sure the stamp is interesting and also my return address label. Right now I’m enjoying using stamps that commemorate that women have been able to vote in the USA (finally) for 100 years, and that the Mayflower arrived in the new world 400 years ago this fall.


    • That sounds perfect. Obviously the US mail service is reliable. Sadly, ours has become so dysfunctional and is no longer trustworthy in any case. Apart from electronic forms of communication, most people resort to courier services to get items delivered from one town to the next. Your comment about the commemorations on the stamps is EXACTLY why it is a pity so few people use the postal services now. Stamps are a wonderful way of educating or informing people about all sorts of interesting and useful things.


  2. I have recently been sorting through envelopes of old stamps collected by various family members over time that somehow I ended up with. I read a piece on stamp collecting where it was pointed out that these are accumulations rather than collections!
    It is a shame that proper letters in stamped envelopes are dying out – as is handwriting!


    • Accumulations rather than collections is a spot-on description! When I was still working there was a box in the office for the collection of stamps which our secretary would duly send off to one or other charity to be prepared and sold to collectors. The CNA used to sell intriguing packets of stamps, for example. I have boxes filled with first day covers, loose sheets illustrating the narrative themes I mentioned, as well as boxes of accumulations. What to do with them? I agree with you too about handwriting 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I have been sorting through stamps and separating the southern African ones from the rest, I have kept southern African stamps from prior to about 1960 and given the rest to a charity shop. I think the older stamps will end up going there too and I might keep a few stamps (reflecting nature) as souvenirs of times past.
        Oh yes, we did redecorate a table top with old stamps – a laborious process! You can get some idea of the result here:


  3. Beautiful, beautiful! I am a card sender and actually buy a fair number of stamps each year. Wonderful story of how your stamp collecting evolved. I could almost see and feel the excitement you felt as a child.


  4. Stamp and coin collections were big when I was a kid, too. It’s a pity that your mail service has become dysfunctional. People complain about ours, but it is pretty reliable for the most part, despite DT’s appointee trying to bring it down. Two months to go! 😉
    I think of blogging buddies as modern day pen pals… I still love the fact that delivery is instantaneous!


    • I was thinking about the nature of blogging the other day in terms of developing friendships with people I am unlikely to meet, yet feel I am getting to know better. We become ‘pen pals’ as you say. As to DT, I hope the transition will end up being a smooth one despite the present ugliness.


  5. The design of postage stamps is a very interesting art. I’ve also collected stamps in the past. I was discouraged when the envelopes started sealing with a machine stamping an ink stamp, a horrible stamp when compared to the colors of the paper stamp. Very good post.


    • Thank you, Walter! I have always admired the design of postage stamps – even more so when I had the opportunity to see for myself what an intricate business it is.


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