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South West Africa

Before starting to write this article, I went to have a look in our extensive reference library to see what had been written on South West Africa KG VI issues in the past. There was no section for SWA, and not even any clippings. The only reference I could find was a short item written by Graham Cooper on a ‘bantam’ War Issue with inverted overprint, in Geosix, the King George VI Collectors’ Society newsletter, some years back. Richard Lockyer has covered the plate varieties in depth in Gibbons Stamp Monthly; I have already given a potted view of the commemorative varieties when writing about South Africa in Sixth Sense, #s 51-3. Since they have already been detailed, I won’t go into the more minor plate flaws again, although the temptation is strong. Many of them are of a size which, had they occurred on another colony’s stamps, would dictate that they would have been catalogue-listed years ago.

South West Africa used the same definitive set from 1931 to 1954, almost a quarter of a century, an unusually long span even for those times. Although this rather splendid set is often neglected by KG VI collectors, it shouldn’t be; it’s no less a KG VI set than it is a KG V set. The challenge, for the collector of used, would be to find it with postmarks dated from 1937-52. The designs are particularly fine examples of the style in which British possessions liked to depict themselves – I especially like the 10/- Welwitschia plant, which looks as though you should be able to smell it. (I’m not entirely sure that that would be a pleasant experience, though.) Being inscribed alternately in English and Afrikaans, this set is best collected in horizontal pairs. The only value added to the set, in 1937, was the 1½d, which I understand is in thematic demand because of the train depicted. There are two good shades, the initial purple-brown and a deeper issue in 1952. Neither appears to be appreciably scarcer than the other.

The commemoratives closely follow the South African issues, mostly being simply overprinted on the basic South African stamps. Again this usually means collecting horizontal pairs. The 1937 Coronation set consists of 8 pairs and is cheaply available. Each value was printed in two panes, upper and lower, each with six rows of ten stamps. There are re-entries to be found, the best being on the 4d at R6/3 of the lower pane, where there is doubling of the leaves and frame at lower left – now listed by both SG and the Commonwealth King George VI catalogue. The 1938 Voortrekker Centenary Memorial set is fairly expensive, which is not surprising, given that only 10,000 sets were overprinted. Issued in the same year, the Great Trek set has one good positional variety on each value; the ‘third nut’ on R15/5 of the 1d, and on the bottom row of the 1½d, where all the stamps have the lower frame much paler than normal. Another expensive commemorative set is the Huguenot Landing issue of 1939.

The two War Effort sets have much of interest. The 1941 set gives many plate flaws, of which the 1d ‘stain on uniform’ (surely underpriced) and the 3d ‘woman smoking’ have made it into the catalogues. There are good shades of the ½d and 4d. The 1942-5 reduced size War Effort set, the ‘bantams’, gave rise to inverted overprints on the 4d, 6d and 1/- values, the 1/- in both overprint sizes. (Presumably the size of the original, large overprint on the 1/- was because of its dark background, but from 1944 the overprint was carried out in the same size as the other values in the set.) There are numerous plate flaws, such as the partially missing backgrounds on the ½d, 1½d, 4d and 1/- values; the 2d ‘2/6d’ flaw, and the 1/- ‘bursting shell’ and ‘smoking L’. As with the equivalent set for South Africa, the combinations of marginal inscription changes and good shades mean that this is a complicated set, ideal for specialist study. It is less complex than the South Africa set only because all the variations that exist for South Africa do not exist for South West Africa, but more difficult to collect because what does, and does not, exist, is not so well documented.

The 1945 Victory set was overprinted on the South African stamps. The 1d may be found with overprint inverted (I once found a single with inverted overprint – sadly not a pair – in a dealer’s throwouts. The embarrassing thing is that the throwouts were mine!), and also with the good R9/6 ‘barbed wire’ plate flaw. There are plenty of other varieties to be found; see my earlier South Africa article. The set could make an excellent subject for detailed study. Indeed, the same could be said for any of the subsequent commemorative sets. The 1947 Royal Visit set has abundant plate flaws, of which Commonwealth lists three; the King’s ‘sidewhiskers’ on the 1d value at R16/12, the ‘bird on 2’ at R10/6 of the 2d and the ‘blinded princess’ at R19/2 of the 3d. The 1948 Silver Wedding, the 1949 UPU, and the 1949 Voortrekker Memorial sets all have quantities of interesting positional pieces to collect.

The 1931 Postage Dues were not replaced until 1959. There is not much to note about them, save to remark that they are far from easy in used condition. There are numerous Revenue issues, some of which are so scarce that the extent of the overprinting carried out (on the current pictorial postage stamps) wasn’t fully realised until the dispersal of the printer’s archives. The Official issues, again overprinted on the 1931 Pictorials, are not quite as simple as Gibbons’ catalogue would have you believe. The 1½d of 1938 had a thin, tall overprint with an oval ‘O’. In 1945, a new overprint was introduced for all values, with an oval ‘O’ and in thicker type. In 1951, another new typeface came into use, this time with a round ‘O’. An even thicker overprint took its place in 1952, this time in deep vermilion, as opposed to red, ink. Commonwealth lists these. There is a nice constant overprint variety showing a broken ‘F’ in the overprint at R7/1. There is also the matter of transposed overprints, where the Afrikaans overprint appears on stamps with an English inscription and vice-versa. Commonwealth states that the transposed overprint occurs in two forms;

“(1) Each vertical row of 10 overprinted ‘Official’ or ‘Offisieel’ right down the column. This caused the stamps in every alternate row to be transposed…

(2)Top half of sheet set correctly, but row 6 across the sheet set as the row above it. This caused the lower 5 rows of the sheet to be set all transposed…”

These transposed overprints are collected either as pairs, or in blocks showing one pair normal and one pair transposed. The 2d errors are, speaking relative to the other values existing thus, scarce in used condition. I searched for a block for a much-valued customer for years, without success.

The ½d with the 1951 overprint was unrecorded until the used pair we offered in our first auction. This pair had transposed overprints. One can only surmise that this was from a trial sheet which was mixed in with normal stock.


Stanley Gibbons Commonwealth Catalogue (Part One),
2008 Commonwealth King George VI Catalogue, 19th edition