MISSING THE DIVERSITY OF POSTAGE STAMPS

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.

SOUTH AFRICAN STAMPS: THE PROTEA SERIES

This first day cover features the Third Definitive Series of stamps for the Republic of South Africa that were issued on 27th May 1977. According to the Post Office, definitive stamps are issued here every five to seven years. These contain a set of designs in a full range of face values to provide for the country’s postal needs. This particular series is known as the Protea Series and depicts the wonderful variety of proteas that grow in South Africa.

The stamps were designed by Dick Findlay, who has done the protea family proud with these beautiful paintings.

Here is a list of the proteas:

1c: Protea repens – also known as the sugar bush. It was one of the first proteas described by the botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1753. The common name alludes to the copious nectar it produces, which used to be used as a sugar substitute as well as for medical purposes. There is an interesting reference to how this was made (including a recipe) at http://africanaromatics.com/sugarbush-protea-repens-syrup/. There is also a lovely traditional Afrikaans song that features the sugar bush (suikerbossie):

Suikerbossie ek wil jou hê

Suikerbossie ek wil jou hê

Suikerbossie ek wil jou hê

Wat sal jou mama daarvan sê

2c: Protea punctate

3c: Protea neriifolia

4c: Protea longifolia

5c: Protea cyneroides – also known as the King Protea because of its size. It was proclaimed the national flower in February 1976.

6c: Protea canaliculata

7c: Protea lorea

8c: Protea mundii – named after the 19th century German collector, Leopold Mund.

9c: Protea roupeliae – named after a flower painter of the 1840’s, Arabella Roupell. She is noted for an anonymous set of flower paintings published in 1849 under the title Specimens of the flora of South Africa by a Lady.

10c: Protea aristata – only discovered in 1928.

15c: Protea eximia

20c: Protea magnifica – also known as the Queen Protea.

25c: Protea grandiceps

30c: Protea amplexicaulis

50c: Leucospermum cordifolium – known as pincushion proteas.

R1: Paranomus reflexus

R2: Orothamus zeyheri – known as the Marsh Rose, it is a rare and endangered species.

Coil stamps:

1c: Leucadendron argenteum – known as the Silver Tree.

2c: Serruria florida – known as the Blushing Bride.

10c: Leucadendron sessile

The date stamp is appropriately marked Kirstenbosch, which is a world renowned botanical garden situated in Newlands, Cape Town.

NOTE: If you wish to have a clearer view of the stamps, click on the photograph and enlarge it.

OENOPHILE

It has taken me a long time to become something akin to an oenophile – not as a connoisseur you understand, but simply as someone who enjoys wine along with pleasant company. Although my parents were not regular wine drinkers, they introduced us to wine from an early age. At special dinners we were allowed what would amount to a few drops in a liqueur glass so that we could join in with the toast for whatever the celebratory occasion happened to be. I wrinkled my nose at it.

Even once I had reached the legal ‘drinking age’ and was at university, I eschewed wine in favour of beer – or a soft drink! Beer tended to be far more thirst-quenching, and therefore satisfying, after a weekend spent hiking in the Natal Drakensberg or having expended a lot of energy playing in a squash tournament.

I had recently begun teaching when we attended a work-related dinner. The brief look of shock on the face of our host has remained etched on my memory: I asked for a beer in response to his “What would you like to drink?” on our arrival. What a social faux pas! He politely handed me a beer in a tall glass with a narrow base and only then did I notice that the men were drinking theirs from beer mugs and all of the other women present were delicately sipping white wine! To my uninformed eyes it looked such an elegant drink. I felt very raw and unsophisticated and allowed my beer to last a very long time.

White wine still tends to have a sophisticated air about it. I entered the ‘adult’ social world when ‘wine rules’ were still strictly adhered to: white wine with fish and chicken; red wine with beef and lamb. The prevailing custom also seemed to be that women had white wine before dinner. My problem was that I simply didn’t like the taste of white wine!

I can no longer remember when I was introduced to red wine. For decades however, it has been my preference: robust, dark red, and not sweet. Believe me, I tried the white varieties now and then but, compared with red, I didn’t enjoy either its bouquet or its taste. Red was the way forward and that choice sometimes made me feel awkward during early adulthood.

An example of this is a formal dinner we had been invited to. Our hosts had spared no detail with either the table settings or the menus. I did not miss the slight lift of an eyebrow, however, as our host filled my glass with red wine – all the other women present had opted for white!

Happily, times have changed and now we can choose white, red, or rosé without anyone turning a hair. We can now actually enjoy being an oenophile [from Greek oinos (wine) and –phile (love)] without fear of falling foul of any ‘laws’ of etiquette.

Price and occasion still determine my range, although I admit to shifting the limit as I age and my palate becomes more appreciative of the intricacies of wine. I am also happy to choose wine according to the labels; I have become familiar with different types and brands; and I regularly take note of ‘good’ wines tasted elsewhere.

Last year the South African Post Office commemorated the local wine industry by issuing a set of five small international letter rate stamps on 6th October 2017, designed by Rachel-Mari Ackermann of the SA Post Office. I can only show you four of them: the missing stamp depicts Groot Constantia, the oldest wine estate in South Africa. The stamp on the top left shows the Groot Constantia wines, Duke of Northumberland 1791 and Grand Constance 1821; next to it is the famous South African Pinotage wine – the first bottled vintage Lanzerac wines 1959; below left shows workers collecting grapes at Babylonstoren; and lastly a collection of wine barrels.

White wine? I admit to only venturing down that path about four years ago. I still take tentative steps, many of them experimental, and take careful note of what works for me or not. I am gradually gathering a repertoire of white wine I can serve with confidence. To me, white wine is best enjoyed in summer – they still battle to find a place in my winters.