Natal King Edward VII Postage and Revenue Stamps 1902-1908

Previous Natal postage stamps and revenue stamps had always featured the effigy of Queen Victoria, so, after her death in January 1901, there was a need to make a change. Unlike the Cape, the Natal authorities did not seem to be in any great hurry to arrange for new stamps.

This chapter covers the dual-purpose postage and revenue stamps. The later issue of postage-only and revenue-only stamps are separately handled in subsequent chapters.


The first correspondence on the subject of new stamps in the De La Rue files is in a covering letter for Indent No. 2180 from the Agent General of Natal to the Crown Agents on 30 April 1901. The indent was for the manufacture of ‘plates and dies for the new issues of stamps to bear the head of His Majesty the King in place of that of Her late Majesty the Queen. The patterns mentioned on the indent are also handed herewith.’

It would seem that some serious consideration had gone into the new stamps at this point, as can be seen from the details of Indent No. 2180, which was for: ‘An issue of combined “Postage & Revenue” Stamps (with a new die showing the King’s Head) as described below. The pattern required is shown in the drawings attached’. So the decision had been made to issue dual purpose postage and revenue stamps. The indent went on to list the denominations required, and the suggested colours. These, as described in the indent, were:

½d Light green as before
1d Pink as before
1½d Purple, new
2d French grey as before
2½d Light blue as before
3d Lavender as before
4d Light brown as before
5d Canary, new
6d Mauve as before
1s Turquoise (previously light ochre)
2s Violet
2s 6d Orange
4s Dark green

These were the colours proposed by the Natal authorities for the small (postage) size stamps. The colour descriptions would probably not fit in with those used by the Stanley Gibbons catalogue today, and were not to be the final colours.

The large (receipt) size stamps were also to be dual purpose postage and revenue stamps ‘with King’s Head, to pattern, as shown in the drawing attached.’ These too had denomina¬tions listed and colour suggestions, which were:

5s Pink
10s Rose
£1 Cherry
£1 10s Salmon pink
£5 Heliotrope
£10 Dark blue
£20 Terracotta

An interesting colour proposal, with many of these denominations having somewhat similar colours. It would not seem that this aspect had been well thought through, and would have no doubt have led to confusion.

No further mention is made of the patterns or drawings submitted, so we have no knowl¬edge as to whether they played any significant part in the further design of the stamps.

Along with this Indent No. 2180 was another of the same date, No. 2179, for ½i and 1d stamps (and also stationery), with the note ‘These stamps should be printed from the new dies, if these can be furnished in time.’ De La Rue responded on 3 May 1901, ‘Until the English Government have settled the portrait of His Majesty which is to be employed, it is impossible for us to give any date for the completion of the dies and plates’. As a result this indent was printed from the then current plates showing the effigy of Queen Victoria.

But some of the denominations ordered were not part of the then current Victorian issue, so a temporary solution was considered to tide the Colony over until the new plates would be ready, that was to overprint some of the existing Victorian stamps with four new denom¬inations that were considered urgent, namely 1½., 5d, 2s and 2s 6d. On 20 May 1901 De La Rue provided an Appendix sheet with their letter of that date showing the proposed over¬prints (written in words) on the small size Victorian stamps for the two low values, and on the larger Victorian 5s size stamp for the two higher denominations. The overprint plates were quoted at a cost of £3 3s each. These overprints were tentatively approved the following day, but an order never materialised.

On 30 May 1901 De La Rue wrote to the Agent General in Victoria Street, London, the letter reading in part:

We enclose a design marked A for the ½d and 1d stamps to be printed in one colour from separate plates, the ½d in doubly fugitive green, and the 1d in doubly fugitive purple on red paper, so as to follow the Postal Union colours. We assume that you will follow the English Government in having doubly fugitive colours for the Postage and Revenue stamps. The doubly fugitive colours are sensitive under a written as well as a printed cancellation.

We enclose designs B & C for all stamps (except the ½d and 1d) to be produced by the Key-plate system, and to be printed in two colours. The Key-plate system is more economical when the quantities of stamps required are not large. On Appendix hereto we give the comparative cost, of separate plates for all duties below 5s and of the plan we recommend.

In the design we have adopted the likeness of the King approved by His Majesty, and we have according to his command introduced as Imperial Crown in the border. His Majesty has commanded that all stamps bearing his effigy are to have the Crown in the border.

We assume that you will arrange with the Crown Agents for the Colonies to employ their original Head dies in the preparation of your stamps.

We enclose a large sized photograph of the portrait of the King by Mr. E. Fuchs which His Majesty has approved.

Natal did in fact use the original Head dies of the Crown Agents for the Colonies, where the total cost for all postage, revenue and stationery King’s Head dies was less than £40, as the total costs were shared between 3 5 colonies. Whereas the Cape of Good Hope, which had a contract directly with De La Rue and did not work through the Crown Agents, paid nearly £450 for the equivalent dies.

It is not known whether the photograph of the approved portrait of the King has survived, but the designs marked A, B and C are believed to have survived. It is interesting to note that the vignette used for the King’s Head in these designs was different from that finally used on the issued stamps. This was because the agreed head dies were not yet completed.

The Appendix of comparative cost gives the two alternatives for the values below 5s. With separate plates of 240 impressions (or 240-set) for the ½d and 1d, and key plates of 120 impressions (or 120-set) for the other 11 denominations, the cost was quoted as £582 10s. If all the 13 denominations were made using separate plates, the cost would have been £1,457 10s, so the obvious recommendation was for using the key plate system for all but the ½d and 1d denominations. The seven denominations of 5s or more were only suggested as using key plates for 60 impressions (or 60-set) at a total cost of £197 10s.

The response from the Colony to De La Rue was a long time in coming. Presumably the designs were dispatched to Natal for approval. It finally arrived on 9 August 1901:

In reply to your letter of 30th May, I am directed by the Agent General to inform you that the Government approves of the designs of the Stamps submitted by you.

The colours of the stamps shown on the Indent are to be adhered to as nearly as possible. The stamps are to be printed in fugitive colours, doubly fugitive colours are not required. Under the Postal Union Convention ½d, 1d and 2½d Stamps must be of certain colours and the present colours, which are now required to be continued, comply with these conditions.

The Stamps, with the exception of the ½d and 1d, should be produced on the Key Plate system.

The designs submitted by you are returned herewith.

The instructions were clear, and the designs were returned. There is no mention of sending photographic copies for the Colony’s records, as was done in the case of the Cape of Good Hope, so it is not clear whether this was done. The designs submitted were themselves composite essays, with the King’s Head being printed, and the rest of the design painted around it. Photographic essays are also believed to exist, and these may have been ones sent to the Colony for their records.

The decision not to use doubly fugitive inks on stamps that were intended for the dual purpose of postage and for revenue was to have consequences later, as the high values seeing revenue use were sometimes cleaned and used again.

On 12 August 1901 De La Rue wrote to the Agent General confirming that they would proceed with preparing the dies and plates, but pointing out that it would not be possible to meet the required delivery date of January 1902 for Indent No. 2180 using the new designs, and requesting authority to print the items for this indent using the then current Victorian plates. On 14 August 1901 the Agent General confirmed that this indent should be supplied using the Victorian plates.

On 16 August De La Rue again wrote advising that they now considered it appropriate to print all the smaller (postage size) stamps from plates of 240-set, at an additional cost of £42 10s per denomination for the 240-set rather than the originally quoted 120-set plate. Explaining that the quantities to be printed would result in an overall lower cost to the Colony. This was approved by the Agent General on 21 August 1901.

The next relevant communication was from De La Rue to the Agent General on 10 March 1902, regarding proposed colours reads:

We beg to hand you, on Appendix A, a colour scheme for your adhesive stamps, which we should recommend for adoption.

On Appendix B we hand you a colour scheme following the instructions sent from the Colony. We do not, however, consider that this scheme offers sufficient contrast between the duties of stamps, and the adoption of it would be likely to lead to considerable confusion.

On Appendix C we send you a variety of specimens, in case you wish to substitute any of them for the stamps given on Appendix A.

The Agent General replied the next day, confirming that the work on the ½d and 1d dies should begin immediately, and advising that the colour proposals had been forwarded to Natal for consideration.

Approval of the colours was received by cable from Natal on 15 April 1902. This approved the ½d colour from Appendix B, the 2d, 4d, 5d, 2s and 4s from Appendix C, and the rest from Appendix A.

Colour Change

The designs and the colour scheme had now been settled, but that was not the end of the story. The choice of singly fugitive inks was still to cause some difficulties. On June 7 1906, the Agent General complained that cancellations were being removed and stamps used again. The next day De La Rue wrote to the Crown Agents asking for permission to print the stamps in doubly fugitive ink, and, rather smugly saying:

The Natal Government adopted the singly fugitive inks against our advice, and therefore they have brought the trouble upon themselves. We feel satisfied that Colonies using the singly fugitive inks will sooner or later find that the revenue is suffering by fraudulent removal of the cancellations.

The Natal Government was then considering a new issue of the same design, but in different colours, and printed in doubly fugitive ink. On 28 June 1906, De La Rue submitted three Appendix sheets to the Agent General. Appendix A was the recommended colour scheme for the postage size stamps, with the head printed in doubly fugitive ink, and the borders in singly fugitive ink. Appendix B was for the receipt (or revenue) size stamps, saying: ‘In this, as the head occupies a comparatively small portion of the stamp, we have printed the heads in singly fugitive and the borders in doubly fugitive ink’. Appendix C was showing some alternative colours for the Colony to choose from, should they not like the De La Rue colour proposals.

Some debate must have continued in Natal, but the next communication was a letter from the Agent General of 20 February 1907 to the Crown Agents, asking them to advise De La Rue that the Natal Government had decided that

... in future all Postage and Revenue Stamps of Five Shillings and upwards in value are to be printed with the central part (King’s Head) in doubly fugitive colours, the selection of which will be left to you. The rest of the stamp to be printed in the same colours as are at present used for the respective denominations


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