|THE GREAT PHILATELIC OUTRAGE OF 1911|
|When I was a very young man there must have been very old stamp dealers who still remembered the shocking events of 1911. Like many things that shocked the English in those days, Paris lay at the heart of the story. Fifty years ago there was, perhaps, still a fading folk memory of the outrage perpetrated upon philatelic decency in 1911, but a hundred years on that memory no longer lingers.|
|So let us take ourselves back to the world as it was – at the start of 1911. The Boer War is still fresh in the memory, but the fierce political divide between those in England who supported it and those who opposed it has been overtaken by concerns about the continent of Europe. A Union of South Africa has just been created, but each of its provinces still issues its own postage stamps, and they have quite a large following among collectors – the Cape of Good Hope, and its triangular stamps, particularly. The complex history of the Transvaal (the former Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek) may be glimpsed through its stamp issues – some of which have appreciated to several times their original face value.|
|In the Boer “waggon with shafts” issue of 1894, nearly all the value attaches to the top value, the 1/- green, which is likely to cost the collector around 7/6 – a serious sum of money! Still less can the average collector stump up five or six times face value for the key 5/- value of the 1895 “waggon with pole” issue, regarded as the scarcer of the two top values of that set.|
|Alas, the philatelic universe is about to change forever! London is the largest city in the world and its commercial capital. In the last fifty years it has eclipsed Paris in most things, but perhaps the latter city is still pre-eminent in philately, as it has been since the earliest days of the hobby. And it is in Paris in this year of 1911 that a dealer called Mirza Hadi has somehow acquired a massive stock of the stamps printed for the Boers in Transvaal by the Dutch firm of Enschede. The total value of this stock, judged by the catalogues, runs into several million francs. All at once, the 1894 1/- is no longer a scarce stamp. For a few francs, Hadi will sell you one hundred complete sets of the 1894 issue: twenty-five blocks of four of each value stacked in a neat bundle and tied by cotton. Other sets or part sets are similarly available, though the £5 stamps, even as reprints, are touted at a premium over the rest.|
|The great majority of Hadi's sales seem to have been in blocks of four. Even now, a hundred years later, these old Boer stamps still turn up in blocks of four with great frequency. (You can often find them on eBay – and when you see blocks of four it is a near certainty that you are looking at reprints.) Blocks of larger than four are worth looking out for, but don't expect to find them with margins. When selling complete sheets of sixty, Hadi removed excess paper to save postage.|
|Collectors and dealers of the time were shocked – and furious as never before in the history of the stamp trade. It looked pretty clear that Hadi's stock had been reprinted from the original plates. In time this grew into a certainty undiminished by Enschede's insistance that the plates had been destroyed. There was no clear difference from the originals to be detected in the paper; shades were a hazardous and often subjective basis for judgement; and all the reprints were perf 12½ – the gauge used by Enschede since 1887. Collectors feared that their Transvaal collections had been reduced to less than a penny in the pound of their former worth.|
|Earlier printings of the 1885 Arms definitives with perfs measuring other than 12½ could be assumed to be genuine but, that aside, distinguishing between reprints and originals was a task beyond the average collector. Experts tried to reassure collectors that genuine original stamps could be distinguished, but so far as most collectors were concerned Transvaal was henceforth to be avoided – except by the schoolboy collector for whom the possibility of securing a mint set to ten bob for the outlay of sixpence seemed too good an opportunity to miss. Wholesale stocks of the reprints were to be around for years to come and dealers found a ready market for the stamps.|
|The stamps concerned here are all those printed by Enschede between 1885 and 1897 showing arms and flags and inscribed “Z AFR REPUBLIEK”, plus the provisional surcharges on them, plus the V.R.I. and E.R.I. overprints made by the British; also the 6d rose “ZEGELREGT” fiscal stamp. (Not all of the surcharges are known as reprints – at least not to me. See which you can find!) Postmarks were faked – so “used” stamps can also turn out to be reprints. However, this is an area where some expertise can prove useful, for a relatively small number of fake postmarks seem to have been created, and these few are to be found over and over again. Postmarked blocks of four provide interesting scope for research.|
|A hundred years on from their first appearance, the Transvaal reprints deserve some respect for their sheer antiquity. They were, after all, printed from original plates made by Enschede as long as 125 years ago. They make an attractive array and have an interesting story. It should be possible to pick up most of the stamps in mint never hinged condition for £15 to £20, but locating the last half dozen or so may require some scouting around and will take the cost higher. Or why not try to hunt them all down in blocks of four?|
Dick Lloyd Thomas, 2011.
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