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Varieties of the Air Mail Stamps of the Union of South Africa
by André du Plessis
First Set of Airmail Stamps
The Department of Post and Telegraphs decided to use a design of a bi-plane in flight without inviting designs from artists. An order was placed with the Cape Times, Cape Town for the printing of the stamps at a cost of three shilling per thousand stamps. This final design was drawn by Arthur Cooper, an engraver employed by the Cape Times. Printing was done under tight supervision of a Post Office official.
Three firsts can be associated with these stamps: They were the first stamps to be designed and printed in the Union of South Africa. For the first-time stamps were printed and issued with Afrikaans inscriptions. In 1925 Afrikaans replaced Dutch as an official language. "SUIDAFRIKA," spelled without a hyphen, replaced “ZUID AFRIKA” (Dutch) as printed on the first Union stamp and first definitive issue. These were the first definitive air mail stamps to be officially issued within the British Empire. Considering the fact that the Cape times did not possess the specialist equipment necessary for stamp printing, they did an astounding job and printing errors and flaws are few. Forgeries of these stamps exist and will be dealt with separately at a later stage. A summary of the known varieties are shown later.
Second Set of Airmail Stamps
The establishment of a regular air mail service in the Union of South Africa in August 1929 necessitate the amendment of the postal rates. Government Notice 1280 of 19 July 1929 reads: “A supplementary charge for the conveying of postal articles (exclusive of parcels) by Union air mail, 4d per ounce…” It was decided to issue two air mail stamps of the denominations 4d and 1/- that were placed on sale on 16 August 1929.
As for the 1925 stamps, no invitations were extended for submission for stamp design. A design by a staff member the Government Printer, who printed the stamps, were accepted.
A characteristic appears on every stamp of both values. It takes the form of an oblique white line through the air craft tail.
A summary of the known varieties are shown at the end of the article.
The 1½d Stamp of 1937
On every Afrikaans stamp a small curved dent appear near the right-hand end of the bottom frame line.
Issues 1 to 3
In all three issues only the exterior cylinders were screened. The first stamps of Issue 1 appeared with an inverted watermark. In later printings, it appears upright as well as for Issues 2 and 3. Printed in metallic-gold and slate green and yellow-buff and greenish slate. Shades of metallic-gold and slate green: pale, deep or brownish buff or grey-green. An English stamp appear as first stamp on the sheet.
The same multipositive was used to etch more than one cylinder. It follows that any flaw that had appeared on it during the preparation stage will be repeated. Also with each new use, the flaw would appear or be removed. A summary of the known varieties are shown later on. The language above a stamp in the variant listing indicate the language setting of the stamp on which the variety appears.
To endorse the 1925 experimental service, it was decided to print special presentation cards on which to
mount a full set of stamps. Cards signed by the Minister of Posts and Telegraphs or the Postmaster-General were presented as a souvenir to the pilots and other persons associated with the service. No official record was kept of the number used for this purpose, but it is believed that less than 30 of these cards were presented and are of very great rarity.
Official souvenir card inscribed in French dated April 1925, issued to members of the Universal Postal Union.
Map folder published by BCM/ AIRFIELD, LONDON to commemorate the Air Mail Service by the Union Government in 1929. The folder indicates the routes flown by the services in 1925 and 1929.
A full-dress rehearsal took place on Friday 23 February 1925 with three DH 9’s that left Durban at 05:00. No official mail was carried on this flight. J.T. Burrell wrote “Two of them carrying a pilot and dummy mailbags, while the third carried a pilot and a special correspondent of the Cape Times, Captain Bradley.” (pp. 46). Six dummy mails were transferred to relay airplanes at East London, Port Elizabeth and Mossel Bay. The flight arrived safely in Cape Town at 16:45, an hour and a quarter later than the scheduled time, due to inclement weather conditions at Mossel Bay. The trial run proved that it would be necessary for the airplanes to leave Durban on Thursday and proceeding as far as East London to leave for Cape Town via Port Elizabeth and Oudtshoorn the following day. This would leave ample time to reach Cape Town in time to connect with outgoing Union Castle mail ships that departed on Fridays at 16:00. It also confirmed the unsuitability of Mossel Bay as an air mail station because the prevalence of dense coastal mists and fogs. Steps were taken to abandon it as a station for the inland Oudtshoorn.
J.T. Burrell in "Par Avion in Southern Africa," 1986, page 45 wrote: “There is a story that Captain Bradley took and air bag label as a souvenir and handed it over to W.R. Morrison. Mr. Morrison was a well-known collector and at the time of the 1925 experimental flights used to write for the Cape Times” The label and explanation shown above is from the previous owners as it was found by the author on their display pages.
Permission from Spink to publish appropriate images from auction catalogues are acknowledged with thanks. Also to Morgan Farrel, Mike Tonkin, Peter Pannall and Moody Tidwell for their support. Please note that images are not according to scale.
Handbook/Catalogue – Union of South Africa Stamps, 1952: A. Kaplan, Sam Legator and William N. Sheffield, pp. 33 - 49.
South African Airmails 2008: N. Arrow: pp. 27 – 9.
The Airposts of South Africa, 1936: L.A. Wyndham (Aerophilatelic Society of S.A. Feb., 1980), pp. 17 - 28, 95 - 9 .
The Stamps of the Union of South Africa 1910–1961: Handbook Catalogue, Definitive Issue, 1986: S.J. Hagger, pp. 18–21, 83-5.
First Set Varieties 1d
First Set Varieties 3d
First Set Varieties 6d
First Set Varieties 9d
Second Set Varieties 4d
Second Set Varieties 1s
A further variety “Offset at back” is described in the Union Handbook for the 6d and 1/- and is not illustrated above. I have never come across one.
Headplate 6933: Frameplates 62: November 1936
ISSUE 2 and 3
Headplates 62 and 6930: Frameplate 15: November 1936
General 1½d Issue