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.


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.


I have been meaning to write about trees for some time, especially as some growing in our garden are out of kilter with the seasons. This is probably because of the long summer drought accompanied by scorching heat and the late rain that arrived early in autumn. How fortunate I was then to find this First Day Cover of Ciskei indigenous forest trees in a box – alas, I see the fish moths have been nibbling away at it since it was issued in 1983! The Ciskei homeland doesn’t exist as an entity anymore as it has been incorporated into the Eastern Cape Province. I will discuss the trees from left to right as they appear in the photograph below.

The Common Cabbage Tree (Cussonia spicata) is widespread throughout this country. It is an attractive tree with a thick corky trunk and large, blue-green leaves borne at the ends of the fleshy branches. They bear small flowers that are densely packed in spikes, which gives rise to the epithet spicata. This one growing in my garden was given to me by a friend, who germinated it from seed.

These trees are said to grow quickly under the right conditions. I found these two self-sown ones in what was then our garden when they were only about 30cm tall. That was about twenty-five years ago. Since then, that portion of our garden has been subdivided and they have subsequently grown almost as tall as the double-storey house that was built next to them!

These particular trees were attacked by Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth caterpillars (Bunaea alcinoe), which chomped their way through the leaves in no time at all. I featured these in 2014. See https://somethingovertea.wordpress.com/2014/12/27/the-emperors-new-clothes/

The Curtisia dentata, commonly known as the Assegai, is an evergreen tree with smooth, dark glossy green leaves on the upper surface while underneath they are grey-green with conspicuous veins. It is usually found in climax forests and on grassy mountain slopes. The fleshy, bitter creamy white to red fruits are eaten by birds, which then disperse the seeds. Unfortunately, the future of these trees are threatened by over-exploitation by bark harvesters.

We are fortunate to have a beautiful specimen of the Cape Chestnut (Calodendrum capense) in our garden. This was planted as a small sapling at least twenty years ago, although it only began blooming about five years ago. The more mature specimens in town look stunning when covered with their large, pale pink flowers with darker centres.

What is interesting, is that these trees usually flower during the early summer, from October to December. Not a single blossom appeared this past summer, yet now in May the tree is sporting more blossoms than it ever has!

Another tree that is doing the same (not depicted on the stamps) is the Dais cotinifolia. They too are usually covered in beautiful pompon-like pink flowers from November to December. These ones were, for about two days last December, before their blossoms shrivelled in the searing heat. Now they too are blooming fairly prolifically.

The last tree depicted on the stamps is the Outeniqua Yellowwood (Podocarpus falcatus), which is said to be the tallest indigenous tree in southern Africa. In fact, the well-known Big Tree in the Knysna forest is one of these and has grown to over 36 m high during its lifespan of over 800 years!

NOTE: Click on a photograph for a larger view.


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 https://www.postoffice.co.za/philately/2017/sortingmachine.html  “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!


The Blue Crane (Grus paradisea) is the national bird of South Africa, which is why I was so excited to see this pair next to the road on our way to Bredasdorp.

Although their numbers have declined due to habitat loss and power-line collisions, the most robust populations are found in the Overberg region in the Western Cape. I first mentioned seeing them there in 2014.

Sadly, their numbers have been decreasing in the Eastern Cape, although I have seen some, both near Adelaide and, more recently, in the Addo Elephant National Park.

Blue Cranes have featured on South African stamps.

For years they were also featured on our 5 cent coins.

The Blue Crane population appears to be stable, but is still listed as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List.