Cape of Good Hope Edward VII Postage Stamps 1902-1910

All but the most recent issues of adhesive revenue stamps, had featured the head of Queen Victoria, but the postage stamps had only featured the figure of Hope, usually seated, but in the more recent issues, standing. So, these would be the first postage stamps to bear the head of the Sovereign.

Queen Victoria died on 22 January 1901, and hardly a week later, on the 30 January 1901, De La Rue received a cable from the Cape Government asking for a ‘Good selection photos of king for revenue and postage stamps and also any designs for such issued or prepared’.

De La Rue replied saying ‘It is impossible to do anything in the matter until his Majesty the King has intimated which portrait he wishes to have followed.’

The Cape Government had obviously not considered that the King may want to ensure that he was satisfied with the image or images of himself that would be most proliferated around the Empire. De La Rue also wrote to the Agent General of the Cape of Good Hope in London on 31 January 1901 saying:

The English Government have not yet heard which portrait his Majesty the King wishes followed in the English stamps. As soon as we receive any intimation of the subject, we will place ourselves in communication with you. We hardly think that his Majesty is likely to deal with this question for a week or two.

It is interesting to note the reference to the English Government and the English stamps, rather than the British Government and the British stamps. Understandably, the King would have had other things on his mind so soon after his mother’s death, and with the Anglo Boer War still in progress. So it was some time before things began to progress.

The next piece of relevant correspondence is on the 21 of May 1901, when De La Rue advised the Agent General for the Cape Colony that:

We have the honour to inform you that His Majesty the King has approved of a classically treated portrait after an original drawing by Mr. Fuchs, a photograph of which we enclose. His Majesty has commanded that all stamps bearing his effigy are to have an Imperial crown in the border.

It is not known whether this particular photograph has survived, but the basic portrait by Emil Fuchs is well known. The basis of the stamp and stationery design, however, had now been set.

The First Dies

The initial correspondence was to do with stationery and embossed revenue stamps, for which designs were submitted. The Cape Treasury requested that the proposed post card die be used for all postage stamps indented from then on, and to substitute the King’s head design in the present revenue stamps, but De La Rue, on 25 July 1901, told them that:

We wish to make it quite clear to you that the Post Card die could not be made available for Postage and Revenue adhesive Stamps. It is necessary to engrave a Post Card die in a much coarser manner than a die which would be required for adhesive Stamps, as a Post Card die has to be used for printing on the rougher surface of cards.

De La Rue further advised that it would be necessary to engrave new dies for the postage and the revenue stamps. So, it would seem that the Cape Government was not too familiar with the preparation and printing of stamps.

Later it was requested that all the new designs be completed and the whole indent for ship-ment of stamps for 1901-02 be supplied in the new design before 30 June 1902, the end of the Cape financial year. If this was not possible, the Cape requested to have the whole indent in the old designs in order to avoid what they termed, divided designs, in one year’s supplies.


After the initial correspondence the Agent General of the Cape of Good Hope wrote to De La Rue on 24 July 1901, saying that the Cape Government enquired as to the cost of substituting the King’s head on the Cape adhesive postage stamps. De La Rue responded the next day advising that the cost of producing the King’s head design for postage stamps would involve the engraving of an original head die at a cost of £200. Then nine postage working dies (or duty dies), one for each of the anticipated duties, would be £450, that is £50 each. Also, a further £8 5 for each of the nine postage plates. A considerable outlay at the time.

They promised that a proposed design would be ready in a few days. This design was provided, along with a photographic copy for the Cape Government to retain in their corre¬spondence files, on 31 July 1901. The colours of the various denominations were to remain the same as those in service at the time.

On the same date a letter was sent from the Treasury in Cape Town placing an order for a further 1,400,000 2d postage stamps of the existing design (featuring the figure of Hope seated) for immediate supply, as well as an indent for supply of postage stamps of various denominations by 30 June 1902. As it happens, these 2d values would later be in surplus, and would still be in service in 1910. De La Rue could not guarantee supply of stamps of the new Edwardian design by the requested date, so, on 21 August 1901 it was agreed to supply the whole indent with the existing design.

This was not surprising, as the design of the stamps had not yet been finalised. On 19 August 1901, the Cape Agent General in London had written to De La Rue finally confirming that it had been decided to introduce the design incorporating the King’s head rather than that of Hope Seated, which was in use at the time.

A further letter from the Cape Agent General to De La Rue on 24 September 1901, enclosing a letter from Sir Somerset French, the Postmaster General of the Cape, regarding the design of the postage stamps reads:

The frame of the design for the postage stamp is, I observe, very similar to that of the current halfpenny denomination, the insertion of the crown effecting, however, a very marked improvement. Under Convention we are unable to vary the colours of these stamps, and as by artificial light there is a considerable resemblance between the colours of the 3d and 6d and the 1/- and 5/- denominations I am inclined to think it desirable to have some variation in the frames of the 6d and 5/- at least, so as to make the check upon the prepayment of postage more easy than it is at present.

There is in fact a good deal to be said for a different frame to each denomination, a principle which is adopted in connection with the stamps of Great Britain and - to look nearer at hand - with those of Natal also. The stamps of he United States are likewise all different in design as well as those of many other countries. The portrait of the King, with crown above, makes an exceedingly effective centre to the stamps and would of course be retained in every denomination no matter what the design of the surrounding frame might be.

I attach a set (used) of the postage stamps of the present issue which show the colour difficulty if all the designs are identical. It is assumed that in any case the numerals of value for the shilling and five shilling denominations would be followed by the letter ‘S’.

The covering letter from the Cape Agent General, referring to the postage stamp frames, says:

I take this opportunity of mentioning that the Sugar Bush or Protea is the floral emblem of the Cape Colony; and that, if variations in the designs already submitted should be adopted, you might perhaps take occasion to introduce their emblem. It is very effective and has been introduced in the design for the ‘Cape General Service Medal’ now being struck at the Royal Mint for the Colonial Government.

This was to determine the fate of the design of the Cape postage stamps, becoming the only South African Edwardian stamps, either postage or revenue, to have a different frame for each denomination. In reality, the colour convention only applied to the low values, and, as the other colonies did, the higher values could have varied colours to avoid the confusion that was the concern of the Cape’s Postmaster General.

The story of the Protea continued. Since De La Rue were unable to find a suitable picture of a Protea to copy, the Cape Agent General sent, on 4 October 1901, a copy of the Curtis Botanical Magazine to Sir Evelyn Andros De La Rue with an appropriate picture of the Protea. The note from the Agent General refers to page 346, and asks for the magazine to be returned, as it was borrowed!

On 9 October 1901 De La Rue returned the magazine, and advised that they had ‘taken a photograph of the Honey-bearing Protea plant,’ and would incorporate it in one of the stamp designs.

On 7 November 1901, De La Rue wrote to the Cape Agent General as follows:

With reference to your letter of the 24th September last, we have the pleasure to hand you a complete set of designs for the nine duties of Postage stamps.

The 1d. has already been approved by you, and you will notice that we have introduced the Sugar Bush into the 2½d design.

We trust that these designs will meet with approval, and assume that the stamps would be printed in the colours at present employed for the various duties.

The previously approved 1d design referred to was the one with the frame of the original design submitted on 31 July 1901. It is not clear whether these were coloured designs, or only photographic copies. Certainly, as when the original design was submitted on 31 July, photographic copies were included. These were on glazed cards, dated at the top right, and with the intended colour shown at the bottom left comer.

The next day, 8 November 1901, the Agent General of the Cape confirmed approval of the designs, and authorised De La Rue to proceed with the making of the dies. He also confirmed the colours to be those of the existing stamps for the respective duties. Interestingly, he comments that he is not forwarding the designs to the Colony, so as to avoid any further delay, so it would seem that he had full authority from the Cape Government to act on their behalf in this case. He also offered, and De La Rue immedi¬ately accepted, that the designs should be returned for the engraver to work from.

The dies were prepared, and completed over the period from 3 April 1902 (½d duty) to 18 November 1902 (6d duty). A proof was taken from each die and checked and approved by a senior person, often Sir Evelyn Andros De La Rue, who then initialled the die proofs, which were cut down and placed in the De La Rue Work Book. A number of other die proofs were taken in this before hardening state, and the dies then went through the hard¬ening and striking.

In April 1902 De La Rue confirmed that they could have the ½d and id dies and plates ready by 30 June 1902. In June 1902 the indent for the 1902-03 financial year was placed, this was for seven of the nine new King Edward VII denominations, the 2d and the 2½d not being required. The surplus of these two denominations of the old design was to continue throughout the Edwardian Period. The first Edwardian postage stamps became available to the public in December 1902.

Cape of Good Hope 5/- marginal with plate number 1

Material from the De La Rue Records

Much material was preserved in the De La Rue Records, with practically all the Cape (and indeed the other Colonial material) surviving the bombing and resultant devastating fire that destroyed the De La Rue Works and headquarters in London on the night of 29 December 1940. With the material now dispersed, it is worth attempting to record what is still in existence.

There are three main categories of material. That from the Striking and Work Books, which were De La Rue’s internal work records. That from the file records, which were the various die proofs in their various states. That from the Correspondence Books, which were the proposals sent to the Colony for selection and approval. The Correspondence Book material was often prepared in duplicate, one copy being retained, while the other was sent to the Cape Agent General.

Striking and Work Books

The Striking Book items were single copies of die proofs stuck into the Book, with the work instructions written alongside, often dated, sometimes with both the date the job was placed into the work programme, and, in red, the date it was completed. Once the job had been completed the die proof usually had a red line ruled across it, designating that the job was now done, and had been written up in the Private Day Book. These are among the more scarce items, as there was only one copy in existence for each plate made. They all usually cut down, presumably to reduce the space taken in the Striking Book.

The listing of items that were prepared, and the information alongside is noted below:

  • ½d plate: 1 April 9 (1902), 240 leads and 6 extra, May 14 02
  • ½d plate: 2 Dec 7 (1904), 240 leads and 6 extra, No. 2, Dec 28/04
  • ½d plate: 3 July 29 (1909), 240 leads, No. 3, 18 Aug 09
  • 1d plate: 1 May 6 (1902), 240 leads and 6 extra, June 20 02
  • 1d plate: 2 April 14 (1903), 240 leads, No. 2, not charged, first plate: (No. 1) cracked
  • 1d plate: 3 Dec 10 (1904), 240 leads and 6 extra, No. 3, Jan 24 05
  • 1d plate: 4 July 27 (1907), 240 leads, No. 4, 14 Sep 07
  • 2d plate: 1 May 15 (1902), 240 leads and 6 extra, June 20 02
  • 2½d plate: 1 Aug 27 (1902), 240 leads and 6 extra, Sep 22 02
  • 3d plate: 1 Sep 22 (1902), 240 leads plus 6 extra, Oct 28 02
  • 4d plate: 1 Sep 27 (1902), 240 leads and 6 extra, Oct 28 02
  • 6d plate: 1 Nov 21 (1902), 240 leads and 6 extra, Dec 18 02
  • 1s plate: 1 Aug 23 (1902), 240 leads and 6 extra, Sep 22 02
  • 5s plate: 1 Aug 25 (1902), 240 leads and 6 extra, Sep 22 02

Also noted are some cut down die proofs with the same date as the before hardening state cards. These are all initialled. Two of the seven noted have a handstamped date, while the other five have the date in manuscript. The two with a handstamped date are initialled by Sir Evelyn Andros De La Rue.

These are the proofs from the dies finally approved, which were then cut down and stuck in the Work Book (or Striking Book), indicating that job had been completed, so they are listed here:

  • Uncleared King’s head vignette die proof, no date or initials
  • 1d die proof dated April 23 1902 in manuscript and initialled
  • 2d die proof dated May 12 1902 in manuscript and initialled
  • 2½d die proof dated 20 Aug 02 by handstamp and initialled
  • 3d die proof dated Sept 15 1902 in manuscript and initialled
  • 4d die proof dated Sept 19 1902 in manuscript and initialled
  • 6d die proof dated Nov 18 1902 in manuscript and initialled
  • 1s die proof dated 20 Aug 02 by handstamp and initialled
King Edward VII Issue Die Proofs Head with uncleared surround, in black on glazed card (92x60mm.) marked "Cape Original Head D.1.", "before hardening" and dated "2 nov. 01". Sold at Spink Auction in 2007 for £1,300 plus buyer's premium (Sale 7034, Lot 67).
1d. die proof in black on glazed card (92x60mm.), marked "before hardening" and dated "23 apr. 02". Sold at Spink Auction in 2012 for £300 plus buyer's premium (Sale 12001, Lot 216).
1d. die proof in black on glazed card (92 x 60mm), endorsed ''BEFORE/HARDENING'' and dated ''23 APR 02''. S.G. 71 P. Sold at Grosvenor Auction in 2003 for £300 plus buyer's premium (Sale 15, Lot 1201).

2d. die proof in black on glazed card (92 x 60mm), endorsed ''BEFORE/HARDENING'' and dated ''12 MAY 02''. S.G. 72 P. Sold at Grosvenor Auction in 2003 for £240 plus buyer's premium (Sale 15, Lot 1202).

2 1/2d. die proof in black on glazed card (92x60mm.), marked "after hardening" (applied over surface scraped area), initialled "WS" and dated "21 aug. 02". Sold at Spink Auction in 2012 for £300 plus buyer's premium (Sale 12001, Lot 217).
3d. die proof in black on glazed card (92 x 60mm), endorsed ''AFTER/HARDENING'', dated ''17 SEP 02'' and initialled ''W.S.''. S.G. 74 P. Sold at Grosvenor Auction in 2003 for £550 plus buyer's premium (Sale 15, Lot 1203).

4d. die proof in black on glazed card (92 x 60mm), endorsed ''BEFORE/HARDENING'', and dated ''19 SEP 02''. S.G. 75 P. Sold at Grosvenor Auction in 2003 for £240 plus buyer's premium (Sale 15, Lot 1204).

4d. die proof in black on glazed card (92x60mm.), marked "after hardening" (applied over surface scraped area), initialled "WS" and dated "24 sep. 02". Sold at Spink Auction in 2012 for £600 plus buyer's premium (Sale 12001, Lot 218).
1/- die proof in black on glazed card (92 x 60mm), endorsed ''BEFORE/HARDENING'', and dated ''20 AUG 02''. S.G. 77 P. Sold at Grosvenor Auction in 2003 for £240 plus buyer's premium (Sale 15, Lot 1205).
Die Proofs 1/2d. to 5/- set of nine, each stamp-size in black on glazed card and affixed to individual pieces from the De La Rue day book with dates and details of leads struck, each further dated in red ink May 14 and December 18 1902. A unique set. Sold at Spink Auction in 2007 for £6,500 plus buyer's premium (Sale 7034, Lot 68).
Essays 1/2d. to 1/- set of eight stamp-size composite essays in close to issued designs, the 1/2d. in green, 2d. in lilac, 3d. in brown, 4d. in deep blue, 6d. in crimson and 1/- in olive-green, all with frames handpainted, the 1d. in carmine with frame printed and with handpainted value tablets and 2 1/2d. in ultramarine with frame printed, all with printed head let in, each affixed to card (87x112mm.) dated "Nov. 7th. 01.". Sold at Spink Auction in 2007 for £22,000 plus buyer's premium (Sale 7034, Lot 66).
Imperforate Plate Proofs in horizontal pairs on gummed watermarked paper. Set of nine from 1/2d. to 5/- was sold at Spink Auction in 2007 for £2,900 plus buyer's premium (Sale 7034, Lot 70).


  1. The Edwardian Stamps of the South African Colonies, Brian Trotter, 2004