This article first appeared as three parts in Gibbons Stamp Monthly, January 2020 (pages 46-49), February (pages 76-79) and March (pages 50-53). A few typographic errors have been corrected by the Editor (Transvaal Philatelist), but the three articles are brought together here.
The early Transvaal Arms stamps (strictly speaking stamps from the first Zuid Afrikansche Republiek often abbreviated to ‘ZAR’) are notoriously difficult to deal with. There are a lot of fake stamps around and the genuine stamps were printed by five different printers all of whom used a range of different papers.
To correctly identify each stamp for what it is can be difficult, but it is certainly not impossible. This article is meant to be a help and provide a guide on how to go about identifying your stamps – well at least your ZAR 6d stamps. I have chosen to focus on the 6d value as this is the most ‘common’ of the early ZAR stamps and thus the value you are most likely to possess a few copies of. However, many of the points made for the different 6d issues are also valid for the other values. The article deals with the un-overprinted stamps of the first ZAR. The subsequent issues of the first British Occupation overprinted “V. R. / TRANSVAAL.” or “V. R. / Transvaal” are quite a bit easier to deal with. The papers are more straightforward and forgeries are fewer (fake overprints on ‘Goldner’ forgeries from the same illicit plates as the un-overprinted issues). For the overprinted issues the challenge is the different overprint settings.
There are two different designs of Arms 6d stamps: the ‘spread wings’ and the ‘folded wings’ types. Printing plates for both designs were made by Adolph Otto of Güstow, Mecklenburg-Schwerin (Germany).
The position of the wings refers to the eagle situated on top of the oval of the coat of arms. On the original plates from 1869 it has the wings spread out, whilst on the 1874 plate the design is redrawn to show the eagle with wings folded along the body (as on all 3d stamps). The head of the bird is also redrawn and looks a lot more like the head of an eagle.
The Folded Wings 6d – One plate (Genuine and Fake)
Frederich Jeppe, the ZAR Postmaster General, was never happy with the appearance of the eagle on the original plates. When stamps with a new face value (3d) were required in 1870 Jeppe insisted on having a redrawn design (plates were produced in 1870 even if the stamps were not supplied to ZAR and issued before 1871). Later, Jeppe also asked Otto to produce a new plate for 6d stamps in the improved design. The result was a new single plate with 40 electros of the folded wings design arranged in five rows of eight.
Otto only made the one delivery of stamps printed from this plate. The stamps were all printed on medium softish opaque paper and were rouletted 15½ (fine roulette). The colour is always ultramarine, ranging from matt to bright ultramarine.
The pitfall for this stamp is to distinguish the genuine stamps from the forgeries. Otto never handed over the 6d folded wings printing plate to ZAR. He continued using it for his own gains by printings stamps that he sold off to philatelic customers in Europe. Not only did Otto use the original plate he also printed a fair part of his illicit production in equivalent colours (ultramarine). The paper for these stamps is similar to the paper used for the genuine stamps but is a fraction harder leading to slightly sharper printing.
For mint copies it is virtually impossible to distinguish most of these fakes (or, strictly speaking, unauthorised reprints) from the genuine copies, but for used copies the cancellation can give very strong indication of what is genuine and what is fake. The few copies I have seen cancelled with a date stamp have all been genuine. The typical cancellation for the issue is the 3-ring numeral canceller. On the genuine stamps strikes are mostly partial and normally slightly unclear. On the illicit stamps the cancellation is always neat and more often than not the strikes are full or nearly full. It appears to me that the 3-ring canceller coded ‘3’ (Rustenburg) is overrepresented on the forged stamps. There are other illicit stamps printed from the original plate which are much easier to identify. A part of Otto’s production was printed in clean blue shades (as opposed to ultramarine). Easier still to identify are copies printed in a pale yellow-brown colour (always grainy print seen under any kind of magnification) or a brownish ‘venetian’ red (typically on a thicker paper toned slightly yellow/buff).
Otto’s small plate (outwards-curving ribbon)
Considering that Otto had at his disposal the original plate of 40 of the folded wings 6d, it is strange that he also produced and used another much smaller plate. This was a plate of four electros arranged as a horizontal strip. At first glance the stamps from this plate are no different to those printed from the original plate, but there is a distinct difference in the design at the bottom right where the ribbon carrying the motto runs towards the right panel.
On the stamps printed from the original plate the ribbon ends running more or less parallel with the panel. On the stamps from the small plate the ribbon curves outwards and (almost) touches the right panel.
The outwards-curving ribbon on the small plate is very much like the ribbon on the 3d stamps. This may suggest that the small plate was a trial plate leading up to the plate of 40 (with revised ribbon), but there is no proof for this.
Stamps from Otto’s small plate are not plentiful. They are printed in ultramarine on thin paper and all known copies but one (mint) are cancelled with 3-ring numeral cancellers. Most copies are rouletted 15½ -16, but a couple of imperforate copies are known.
There are not many outright forgeries of the folded wings 6d. I have knowledge of only one type of unknown origin. I have it as a pair mounted on what pretends to be a piece of an envelope. The drawing is significantly coarser than on the stamps originating from Otto, but otherwise it is a fairly good representation of a genuine stamp and might be mistaken for one was it not for the fantasy cancellation: a “Natal” style obliterator coded N.T.
The Spread Wings 6d
When it comes to classifying the 6d stamps of the spread wings design the main issue is not to distinguish the fake copies from the genuine ones. This is quickly learned. The main issue is to differentiate between five different printers and the 16 different papers they used between them.
Fake Spread Wings 6d Stamps
The original spread wings 6d printing plate was prepared by Otto in 1869 together with plates for the 1d and 1s values. He supplied ZAR with printed stamps and also furnished ZAR with the original printing plates and all equipment needed, printing press included, to set up local production of stamps. To finance the bill, Otto was instructed to supply stamps to dealers in Europe.
Otto eyed an opportunity and made various printing plates of ZAR stamps for his own use. Since Otto had made the original plates it is not surprising that his fake plates produced good imitations of the genuine stamps. For the 6d value (spread wings) he produced, in addition to the two genuine plates supplied to ZAR, four different plates: one small plate (the “surreptitious 6d”) that is presumed to be relatively contemporary, and three plates used much later for printing the so called ‘Goldner forgeries.’
Stamps printed from the small early plate are more difficult to recognise, whilst the Goldner forgeries are easily separated from the genuine stamps.
The Surreptitious 6d
There are still a lot of outstanding questions about this plate and the stamps printed from it. The size of the plate is not known and it may be a plate consisting of only two electros. The stamp is relatively rare (rarer than most genuine 6d stamps). It is printed in matt ultramarine shades and the known copies are neatly cancelled across one corner with the 4 concentric rings mute obliterator. The stamps are always seen showing fine rouletting (gauge 15½) normally running quite close to the stamp design.
Older listings (Yardley, Luff and Curle & Basden) catalogue a 6d stamp printed from a plate with closely spaced electros, together with the genuine 1d and 1s printed by Otto from narrow set plates. It is most likely the surreptitious 6d that these writers have erroneously taken for a genuine stamp.
The surreptitious 6d is difficult to identify. Similar to the genuine stamps, it shows a thin diagonal scratch in the hatching lines left of the wagon in the oval, the ‘D’ of EENDRAGT touches the upper edge of the ribbon and the flag poles in the lower part of the coat of arms do not touch the outline of the oval. The subtle identification features are:
- Larger eye on the eagle.
- Thickening of the outline of the ribbon below ND of EENDRAGT
- Thicker hatching lines than on the issued stamps
It takes some practice to identify this stamp and it can be mistaken for a stamp printed by Borrius. However, the typical clean corner cancellation and a matt ultramarine colour are good reasons for having a second look.
Otto was officially contracted to make printing plates and print stamps for the ZAR. He will have had good reason to prepare various trials, and proof material from Otto’s hands does exist. It is possible that the stamps printed from the surreptitious plate are not that surreptitious after all, but are the result of early trials. However, until this theory can be substantiated, the 6d printed from the surreptitious plate is considered an early Otto forgery.
The Goldner 6d Forgeries
Julius Goldner was Hamburg stamp dealer active for four decades until his death on 16 January 1898. He was behind the Heligoland reprints and he partnered up with Otto to flood the market with fake ZAR stamps. The Goldner forgeries are more plentiful than the genuine stamps, but luckily they are easily identified for what they are. There were three Goldner plates: one of four electros arranged vertically, one of 40 electros arranged as the genuine stamps in five rows of eight, and one of 40 electros where the first vertical row of stamps was inverted, giving rise to five tête-bêche combinations. The stamps from these plates share the following identification features:
- The eagle looks more aggressive with the eye set higher than on the genuine stamps (often merging with the outline of the head) and the beak is more eagle-like. The upper beak curves more than on the issued stamps, where the beak is more parrot-like.
- The anchor is redrawn and much more elegant.
- There are no diagonal scratches in the hatching lines left of the wagon in the oval.
- The ‘D’ of EENDRAGT is of equal height to the other letters and does not touch the upper edge of the ribbon. All letters of the motto are clearer and thicker.
- The flag pole at the lower right of the coat of arms touches the outline of the oval.
The stamps printed from the small Goldner plate (four electros arranged vertically) furthermore have a rounded top left corner, the anchor is cruder than on the other two plates, and the pole on the wagon is not a solid line but two thin lines even if this can be difficult to see.
The Goldner forgeries are almost without exception very well printed. On rouletted copies the rouletting is placed with equal distance from the design on all four sides and used copies have always neat full cancellations. The stamps are simply far too perfect to be genuine.
The stamps come imperforate, rouletted 15½ and perforated 12 on a large variety of paper ranging from thin transparent to thick almost carton-like paper. Equally, they were printed in every possible kind of blue. Many were printed in a clear bright blue that does not resemble any colour used on the genuine stamps and the perforated variety is printed in a greyish blue not looking at all like the colours used by Davis for his perforated stamps. There are copies printed in fantasy colours: red, violet and mauve. There are also Goldner stamps printed in shades of ultramarine that do match the colours of the issued stamps.
The forgeries are found both unused and used. Otto used his full range of duplicate cancellers to satisfy the market’s demand for used stamps. Otto is known to have used 3-ring cancellers with the following numbers: 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 15, 16, 17, 19, 20, 21, 26, 27, 31, 33 and a fantasy ‘52’. In addition, he also cancelled stamps with ‘TE LAAT’ and ‘GEREGISTREERD’ hand stamps. Otto’s duplicate cancellers have rings that are slightly finer than those of the originals and the Goldner forgeries are neatly cancelled, more often than not with the full cancellation on the stamp. Goldner forgeries are also seen with larger 5-ring numeral cancellers that do not resemble the genuine cancellations.
Spiro and other Forgeries
The Spiro Brothers made their own forgeries of the ZAR Arms stamps. These are in all respects very crude imitations and should fool only the most novice of collectors. Likewise there is a forgery of unknown origin which is very easy to recognise. Note the lumpiness of the eagle and the very indistinct representation of the Boer in the coat of arms.
GENUINE SPREAD WINGS 6d STAMPS
It takes (a lot of) experience to correctly identify a ZAR stamp for what it is. To gain this experience it is advisable to look at the stamps in a systematic manner evaluating all the features of the stamp with regards to: paper, separation, colour, quality of printing, gum, cancelation, …….
One should expect that a guide to identification follows the same systematic approach rigidly and describes all variations of paper before moving on to discussing separation etc. It is a reasonable expectation, but it does not work. The various aspects must in many cases be considered jointly and the reader is left with too many unanswered questions if ignoring this reality. I will therefore start with a general description, and a description of colours of the different stamp issues (by printer) before I, with the risk of some repetition, turn to each philatelic aspect: paper, separation, etc.
Two Printing Plates and Five Printers
Otto’s first deliveries were followed by stamps printed locally by four different printers: Viljoen, Borrius, Davis and lastly Celliers, under the supervision of the Stamp Commission.
They all used the same printing plates of the spread wings design: two plates of 40 electros arranged in five rows of eight. The 40 electros were fixed in their position, i.e. the plates were not made up by 40 loose electros that could be moved around for cleaning or (easily) be replaced if damaged.
The two plates are referred to as the left plate and the right plate respectively, but only Celliers printed with both plates simultaneously. All other printers used one or the other plate for each of their print runs. Over the period of use the plates were subject to wear and tear. As one would suspect the plates had more definition in the early stages of printing. With the use of the plates the definition gradually reduced and stamps from the later printings show more ‘rounded’ edges in the frame and panels of the design, and less detail in the fine areas of the coat of arms. However, the sharpness of a printing is also, as we shall see, influenced by the paper, inking and the capabilities of the printer.
Stamps printed by Otto
The stamps printed by Otto are fine in definition and detail. Look for instance at the outline of the eagle and feathers of the wings of the eagle. The stamps were printed in appealing and clean shades of ultramarine ranging from a somewhat matt ultramarine to bright or even dark ultramarine. Otto used only one paper: a thin semi-transparent paper without any webbing. About two thirds of Otto’s 6d stamps were finely rouletted (15½); the remainder was left imperforate.
Stamps printed by Viljoen
Viljoen was not a trained printer. The job was forced on him and he did not like it. For the short period (three months) he was in charge of printing the stamps of ZAR, he continuously did what he could to get rid of the obligation. It shows. The stamps printed by Viljoen are rarely of good quality. In spite of receiving new and clean plates for the job most of Viljoen’s stamps look as if they were printed from worn and dirty plates. Uneven printing, under- and over-colouring are typical features of Viljoen.
Viljoen printed stamps on three kinds of paper thin, thick and medium. The first of these was the paper delivered by Otto, and was of the same quality as the paper Otto himself had used for his printing. The latter two papers were locally obtained.
Viljoen printed using the ink supplied by Otto. In principle the colour should match the one seen on stamps printed by Otto, but Viljoen stamps appear duller and ‘dirty’ in the colours. He may well have stretched the supply of ink by mixing in some black ink. Under-inked copies look as if they are printed in a light shade, and over-inked copies look as if they are printed in a dark shade. However, these variations are solely a result of the amount of ink applied.
It is predominantly the stamps printed on thin paper that are under-inked, whilst the over-inked copies are found printed on the medium paper. Viljoen’s stamps on thin paper are either imperforate or rouletted 15½.
Stamps printed on the thick and medium papers are all rouletted 15½ and often show uneven printing where areas with fainter colouring (or almost uncoloured (‘white’) areas) show in most compactly coloured areas of the design – especially the frame panels. The paper referred to as thick in fact varies in thickness, ranging from medium to thick and can in practise be difficult to distinguish from the subsequent stamps printed on medium paper, which also varies in thickness, but is softer. The gum is the best indicator. The stamps printed on thick paper were applied unevenly with a streaky yellow-brown gum. The stamps on medium paper have a colourless ‘white’ gum. The yellow-brown gum was very strong and on occasion traces of the streakiness show even on used stamps.
Stamps printed by Borrius
Borrius was an experienced printer. He might not have had experience with printing stamps but he was the owner, publisher and printer of the “Potchefstoomer” newspaper.
He used six different papers and the stamps printed by Borrius are the most difficult to deal with.
His second delivery (the first delivery of 6d stamps) was on two types of medium soft paper: white, and toned slightly pink, then followed deliveries on thin papers: transparent and opaque, and his last deliveries were printed on thicker paper, either unwebbed or webbed.
The stamps printed on the medium soft papers were printed in dark colours: indigo and dark blue. The quality of the printing is good, but most copies (especially the indigo copies) show a slightly generous inking that has been somewhat absorbed by the soft paper. The printing is clear but is not fine in detail. Stamps printed by Celliers on coarse paper are found in similar colours and could be mistaken for being the early Borrius stamps. However, the Celliers stamps on coarse paper are not as well printed and show very little or no detail, due to wear, inking and in particular the coarseness of the paper.
The thin papers used by Borrius are soft and have both a distinct webbed grain not seen on the thin paper used by Otto. The stamps are all printed in shades of ultramarine (not blue). Stamps on thin transparent paper are found in three main shades: greyish ultramarine, clear ultramarine and dark ultramarine. Stamps on thin opaque paper are found in very much the same shades as well as in a special dull, pale ultramarine shade. These latter stamps are particularly sharply printed. For the other colour groups the quality of the print is not overwhelmingly good and does by no means reaches the standard of Otto.
Some of the Borrius stamps in greyish ultramarine on thin transparent paper have small transient spots of colour in the lettering of the panels and in the uncoloured frame lines of the stamp design.
The stamps printed on the thick papers are either dull ultramarine (both papers), clear ultramarine (unwebbed paper) or a very typical bright blue (webbed paper). Stamps in the latter blue colour have an almost velvet and very inviting appearance. They are well printed, but not as well printed as the Otto stamps (also the colour is blue, not ultramarine) and to some degree the printing ink has been absorbed by the paper. Nonetheless the stamps remain clear in print and details show well. (Almost) all the stamps printed by Borrius were rouletted (for more detail see under the heading ‘separation’).
Stamps printed by Davis
Davis was a professional printer situated in Pietermaritzburg, Natal (thus not quite a ZAR local printer). He had been commissioned to print postal stationery envelopes before he was trusted with the printing of the ZAR stamps. Considering he was a professional I am not particularly impressed with his efforts. His stamps are often overinked and rarely show much detail. Frederich Jeppe, the Postmaster General, may have shared my opinion because Davis only ever made one delivery of stamps.
Davis was the only printer to deliver his stamps perforated 12½. He used two different qualities of thin paper: transparent and opaque. The stamps were printed in dark blue (and rarely in light blue) and are generally poorly centered. In contrast the perforated Goldner forgeries are always well centred, printed in a dull greyish blue, and they are perforated gauge 12, not 12½.
Stamps printed by Celliers
Celliers’ first deliveries were on thin paper (thin opaque followed by thin transparent paper) and come in two main ‘qualities’. There are very well printed stamps with perfectly distributed ink which show a lot of fine detail, then there are stamps with blotchy printing looking less than perfect.
The stamps printed on both kinds of thin paper fall in two main groups of shades: pale bright blue, normally referred to as ’milky blue’ and dark/black blue.
After the thin papers Celliers turned to supplies of a medium-hard surfaced paper. This is the most common of the first ZAR 6d stamps. By this time the printing plates start to show the effects of long use and of being handled by several different printers. Several varieties not previously seen appear for the first time on this issue.
Considering that the paper is surfaced one would have expected to see only very well printed stamps. This is not the case. Equally often one finds poorly – blotchy – printed stamps. The blotchy printing may well be a result of a particular (poor) type of ink used for those printings.
One, presumably more, deliveries of stamps on surfaced paper had a brown gum. A feature of this gum is that on used copies which have been submerged in water the gum has coloured the reverse of the stamp distinctly brown-grey. All stamps showing such a coloured reverse are printed by Celliers on his surfaced paper. There is no risk of confusing with another issue.
The colours of Celliers stamps on surfaced medium paper (both those with normal ‘white’ gum and those with brown gum) are shades of dark blue.
The last deliveries of First Republic stamps were printed by Celliers on coarse paper. The stamps overprinted “V.R. TRANSVAAL.” under the British Occupation were printed on the same paper. The overprinted 6d stamps can therefore be used as fool-proof references for this paper.
The 6d stamps on coarse paper show very little detail partly due to inking and partly due to the uneven nature of the paper. Most of these stamps are printed in blue/dark blue shades very much like the colour of the stamps on surfaced paper. Less frequently they are found in a light blue shade.
The vast majority of Celliers stamps were delivered imperforate. A small fraction was delivered fine-rouletted (15½) and a still smaller fraction wide-rouletted (6½). Rouletted stamps are much more frequent amongst the Celliers stamps printed on the thin papers than for the stamps on surfaced or coarse paper.
It is necessary, as done above, to discuss the various ZAR issues by printer. Each printer has features typical to him and the sequence of printers also represents a timeline. But at the same time it is useful to analyse the various aspects of the stamps separately to gain understanding of differences between printers.
In the below text the different qualities of papers (thin, medium, thick/coarse) are compared across printers.
All printers printed on thin papers.
Otto and Viljoen used only semi-transparent paper, whilst Borrius, Davis and Celliers all printed on both thin transparent and on thin opaque papers.
A supply of the thin paper used by Otto was also delivered to ZAR and was used by Viljoen.
The paper used by Otto is thin, transparent and without traces of machine marks or webbing. Otto’s stamps are distinct by their fine lines and clear definition. Stamps printed by Viljoen are known for their poor quality, unclear printing, over- and under-inking. However, the stamps Viljoen printed on the thin paper supplied by Otto are his best effort and some of them really are of quite good quality.
The Davis stamps are, as described, readily identifiable as the only perforated stamps.
Borrius and Celliers both printed stamps on either thin transparent and on thin opaque paper, but they are different papers. The thin papers used by Borrius are softish and show a distinct webbed grain. The thin opaque paper used by Celliers is also soft, but Celliers’ thin transparent paper is hard and crisp.
Most of the stamps printed by Borrius on thin papers are only of average print quality, but substandard compared to his preceding production on medium soft papers and his subsequent productions on thick papers. The colours are shades of (greyish) ultramarine whereas the stamps printed by Celliers are printed in blue.
Some of the stamps printed by Celliers on thin papers display very fine print quality, there are others that are of poor quality, but there is not really a group that is of ‘average quality’ as with the Borrius stamps.
Thin Transparent Paper versus Thin Opaque Paper
There are stamps printed on papers that are clearly transparent and stamps that are clearly opaque. Unfortunately, there is also a middle category of stamps on paper that fall in between the two.
A practical method of distinguishing between transparent and opaque is to place the stamp (front up) on a printed text. If the letters of the text are legible through the paper in the uncoloured areas of the stamps (‘corners’ between the frame of panels and the coat of arms) then it is transparent paper. If not, it is opaque paper. To reduce the subjectivity in this test one could operate with a text written in a range of saturation (Word offers as standard: 5%, 15%, 25%, 35%, 50%, 65%, 75%, 85%, 95%, 100%) and set the criteria for transparency that text in 35% saturation should be visible (individual letters identifiable). Some stamps printed by Celliers on thin paper show, when seen from the reverse, a clear (mirror reflected) image of the stamp design. These stamps are evidently printed on the thin transparent paper.
Viljoen, Borrius and Celliers used medium papers for part of their production.
The medium papers used by Viljoen and Borrius were ordinary (not surfaced), soft and absorbent. The medium paper used by Celliers is surfaced, is hard in comparison and has a much smoother surface.
The stamps printed by Viljoen on medium soft paper are the worst he produced. It is normally not possible to see any detail in the stamps. The colour is ultramarine with significant variation due to under- and in particular over-inking.
The stamps printed by Borrius are well printed, sometimes with slightly generous inking and are in appealing dark colours of either blue or indigo. Borrius used two different medium papers: a white paper, and a variety of medium soft paper with a hint of pinkish toning. It is very difficult to make the distinction without comparison material. Note the medium paper with pinkish toning is not currently listed by SG.
The stamps printed by Celliers on medium-stout hard-surfaced paper come well printed but more often the printing is somewhat blotchy. The colour does not cover homogeneously but is, seen under magnification, divided into islands of colour, which at a distance does form an acceptable image.
Celliers’ medium paper is the only surfaced paper used for the 6d.
Thick and Coarse papers
Viljoen and Borrius both used thicker papers for part of their production, and Celliers used a coarse paper which collectors often mistake for either of the thick papers used by Borrius.
Viljoen’s stamps on thick paper can hardly be mistaken for stamps printed by Borrius or Celliers. The Viljoen stamps are poorly and unevenly printed often showing paler colouring in areas that normally should be compact colour surfaces (especially in the text panels of the frame). This is a feature not seen in either the Borrius nor the Celliers stamps. Due to the paler areas the Viljoen stamps printed in (dirty) ultramarine appear lighter than the Celliers stamps on coarse paper and are certainly different to the blue and well-printed Borrius stamps on thick paper.
The Borrius stamps are printed in lighter colours than the Celliers stamps and while it is hard to see any detail in the stamps from Celliers, the Borrius stamps on thick paper reproduce the design in fine detail. The Celliers stamps are also printed in much darker colours than are the Borrius stamps.
The stamps on white paper overprinted “V.R. / TRANSVAAL.” are all printed on Celliers’ coarse paper. These overprinted stamps can, with benefit, be used as reference for identification of the coarse paper.
The difficulty is to distinguish the Borrius’ thick unwebbed paper from the thick webbed paper. The latter has a fine pattern of very small indents in the paper seen from the reverse. If held up against light this pattern will show as fine dotted vertical lines. The unwebbed paper tends to be slightly thicker and does not show such marks. The stamps on the webbed paper come in a typical light blue colour that has a unique velvety appearance.
USED OR UNUSED
If the stamp you are investigating is unused it is likely to be a stamp printed by Otto, Viljoen or perhaps from the Borrius printing on medium soft paper. It could of course be any of the ZAR issues, but all the issues not mentioned are much less common unused than used.
Stamps printed by Otto are only rarely found used. If your stamp is unused, sharply printed with no over- or under-inking, with the finer details (e.g. the shading of the wings of the eagle) clearly visible, and is printed in a clean ultramarine shade – then it is a stamp printed by Otto.
Otto printed on one type of paper (thin semi-transparent unwebbed paper) and all that remains is to determine if the stamp is imperforated or with fine rouletting.
If the stamp is used, it can be cancelled by either a dumb canceller with four concentric rings, a 3-ring numerical canceller or a circular date stamp.
Circular date stamp (cds)
Stamps were not supposed to be obliterated by circular date stamps (‘town canceller’), but on occasion it did happen. If you have a stamp cancelled by the cds you can with a bit of luck read the date/year and this should give a pretty good indication of which issue it is. It certainly rules out stamps issued after the date/year. I have recorded stamps of all printers except Borrius cancelled with a cds.
Dumb 4-ring canceller
The dumb canceller was the dedicated obliterating device at all post offices up to September 1874 when the 3-ring numeral canceller was introduced. However, Potchefstroom, which previously had been the location for the General Post Office, had lost this status to Pretoria and as a consequence were allocated number 2 (number 1 going to Pretoria). Potchefstoom never really accepted this demotion and chose to continue using the 4-ring canceller. It means that all ZAR stamps potentially are found cancelled by the dumb 4-ring canceller. The Potchefstroom 3-ring numeral canceller coded 2 was only used for a very short period immediately after receipt, i.e. it is only seen on stamps printed by Davis and the early printings from Celliers on thin paper.
Considering that Potchefstoom was alone in using the 4-ring canceller after September 1874 it is more likely than not that a stamp showing this canceller is printed by Otto, Viljoen or Borrius.
Stamps printed by Otto are rarely found used, but if found they are cancelled in either blue or grey-black. Stamps printed by Viljoen are mostly seen cancelled in grey-black, but stamps printed by Borrius on the thin papers (transparent or opaque) are often seen cancelled in grey-black, bluish black or even clear blue. Celliers stamps are only seen cancelled in black.
3-ring numerical canceller
The 3-ring numerical cancellers were distributed to the post offices in September 1874. The numbers 1-36 were distributed in 1874, numbers 37-46 were added only after the British Occupation and are not found on stamps from the First Republic.
The first stamps to be found with the numeral cancellers are Borrius printings on thick webbed paper. It is of course possible that earlier issues were used long after they were put on sale, but stamps of ZAR were consistently printed in very small quantities ‘as and when needed’ and stocks never lasted long. This said, it is clear that the turnover of stamps was much bigger at the larger offices, especially Pretoria, and for some of the smaller offices a sheet of stamps would go a long way.
Stamps printed by Davis and Celliers are almost only ever seen cancelled with the numeral cancellers, the main exception being, as mentioned above, the dumb 4-ring canceller used by Potchefstroom.
All cancelling devices were subject to wear. This is most noticeable for the 3-ring canceller coded 1 of Pretoria, which handled by far the largest volume of mail. However, the true signs of wear show first during the first British Occupation. Nonetheless, obliterator wear is still something to pay attention to. The cancellations were rarely applied delicately and virtually all stamps showing full and sharp 3-ring numeral cancellations are forgeries.
The stamp can be imperforate, perforated or rouletted: either fine rouletting (gauge 15½-16) or wide rouletting (gauge 6½).
Only Davis perforated stamps 12½. Perforated Goldner forgeries imitating the Davis stamps are gauge 12. If the perforation is different to this and/or very uneven/rough, the stamp is a copy printed by Celliers on thin paper which has been privately ‘pin-perforated’. These pin-perforated stamps are rare and come in different gauges: 11, 13, 14, 17 etc., but due to the roughness it can be difficult to establish the exact gauge. Most pin-perforated stamps originate from Pilgrim’s Rest and are cancelled with the 3-ring obliterator coded 14.
Stamps with wide rouletting (6½) are products of Celliers. None of them are common though.
The SG catalogue listing includes for Borrius a 6d on thick webbed paper with wide rouletting. The Curle collection includes what presumes to be a copy of this stamp. I have my reservations with regards to the authenticity of this stamp. After 20+ years of looking I still have to see another copy of a Borrius stamp wide-rouletted and I start to doubt that I ever will.
Finely rouletted stamps
All 6d stamps printed by Borrius were finely rouletted (15½). Allan Drysdall’s collection and the Curle collection both included/s copies described as imperforate. However, for none of the copies there is absolute certainty that they are not just stamps trimmed of rouletting and I have never seen a pair or any larger unit. The only Borrius printed stamp that exists imperforate with certainty is the black 1d, confirmed by a block of six and strip of three in the Curle collection.
About two thirds of the 6d stamps printed by Otto were rouletted. Viljoen’s 6d on thin (‘Otto’) paper also come both imperforate and rouletted. Viljoen stamps on thick paper and on medium soft paper are all rouletted, and as argued above, so are all the 6d stamps printed by Borrius. Only a fraction of the stamps printed by Celliers were rouletted 15½-16. The later printings on coarse paper and hard surfaced paper are uncommon/rare with fine rouletting. Copies on surfaced medium paper are also difficult to come by. Only the printings on the thin papers are found with fine roulettes with any frequency .
The gum of the stamps can be of use in identifying correctly the First Republic stamps in two incidences. The two locally obtained papers used by Viljoen for the 6d can be virtually impossible to differentiate. They might be described as thick hard paper and medium soft paper respectively, but they both vary in thickness from medium-thick to thick. The key difference is the gum. The thick paper has a yellow-brown streaky gum and the medium paper has colourless gum. The yellow-brown gum was strong and used copies can be found showing traces of a streaky pattern left by the gum. Most copies printed on the medium paper with colourless gum show a ‘ghost’ image of the stamp design seen from the reverse. It is the gum that has penetrated the paper and created this effect.
One (presumably more) of the Celliers printings of 6d on medium-thick surfaced paper was applied with a brown gum. This gum contained some component that gave colouring to the paper on washed stamps. The reverse on these stamps is coloured brownish grey.
The early ZAR stamps offer a scope for study that is not rivalled by many other countries. There are probably many collectors who are frightened away from ZAR philately by the challenge, but for those who have the stamina to get over the first learning issues there is much philatelic entertainment to be had from collecting and classifying the stamps. The entertainment does not have to stop with correctly establishing the correct printer/paper. Plating of these stamps offers another avenue of study that supports the identification of printer/paper. The printing plates were frequently used and were handled by different printers who did not all apply the same due care. Over time several of the electros developed visible signs of wear and tear, especially as from the Celliers printings on medium surfaced paper a large number of varieties have developed and almost all stamps are platable.
REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING
General on the identification of First Republic stamps:
Alan R. Drysdall (1996). A listing of the stamps of the First South African Republic and a guide to their identification, Memoir No. 2, the Transvaal Study Circle in association with B.P.A. Expertising Ltd and the Expert Committee of the Philatelic Federation of South Africa.
General information on the identification and plating of 6d Arms stamps:
Lars Jørgensen (2017). The Transvaal ‘Spread Wings’ 6d stamps 1870-1878, Transvaal Study Circle, UK.
More (including plating) on the 6d folded wings:
Fernando Torres and Alan Drysdall (2001). “Otto’s 6d ‘improved’ eagle”, Transvaal Philatelist v.36 no. 1 (2001), whole number 137, pages 1-12.
Detailed study of the “surreptitious 6d”:
Barry Larking (2011). “Otto’s “atypical six-pennies”, Transvaal Philatelist v.46 no. 4 (2011), whole number 180, pages 73-85.
More on the Goldner forgeries and other Otto plates:
J.N. Luff (1913). Otto’s printings of the Transvaal stamps, The Philatelic Record, London, UK.