A is for Aden and Z is for Zanzabar

A is for Aden and Z is for Zanzibar... Now what is between? For the world wide classical era philatelist and stamp collector, a country specific philatelic survey is offered by the blog author, Jim Jackson, with two albums: Big Blue, aka Scott International Part 1 (checklists available), and Deep Blue, aka William Steiner's Stamp Album Web PDF pages. In addition, "Bud" offers commentary and a look at his completely filled Big Blue. Interested? So into the Blues...

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Orange Free State (Orange River Colony) - Buds Big Blue

Orange Free State, Scott # 43, ultra, overprint #6
Bud's Big Blue
Bud's Comments 

Orange Free State (OFS) didn’t get its name because oranges grow there, although there they do grow in great profusion. Nor did the Orange River get its name because of its muddy, orange-colored flow, although orange it is for much of its westward 1511-mile course across South Africa, from Lesotho’s mountains to the Atlantic. Even a fish species is named after its mud.

Map of the Orange River (1)

Moreover, the triangular topiary orange tree design that appears on all Orange Free State stamps doesn’t look anything like the orange trees that grew in Orange Free State. And, contrary to what some stamp experts and many collectors think, the three horns dropping from the orange tree are not post horns.

Orange Free State, Scott # 10, orange

Why the seeming deception? The explanation is straightforward.

In fact, the image on these stamps isn’t meant to depict anything African at all. It’s a thoroughly European design.

Robert Jacob Gordon, a Dutch explorer and nature artist, named the river “Orange” in 1799 after the Dutch House of Orange, a European dynasty that traces its lineage to the medieval principality of Orange in Provence, southern France. Later, the river lent its colorful name to the government formed in 1836 by the Trekboers (Afrikaners, staunch Calvinists farmers – Dutch, French, German). In 1824, Trekboers arrived in what became Orange Free State (OFS) from Cape Colony in search of pastureland for their cattle. The Boers’ subsequent “Great Trek” increased their numbers rapidly.

By 1854 the Boers were bold enough to ask King William III of The Netherlands to give them a proper coat of arms and a flag, even though OFS was not a Dutch colony. The King complied and, being of the House of Orange, he bequeathed them the heraldry of that heritage. The stamps’ orange topiary is reminiscent of the carefully coiffured shrubbery that European royalty grew in their glass-enclosed orangeries. The three “buglehorns” come from an old House of Orange emblem and have no association with mail delivery.

Arms of Oranje Vrijstaat, from the Government Gazette, 1863 (1)

Delighted with their fanciful coat of arms, the Boers garnished their stamps, coins, magazines and documents with all or parts of the design, especially the orange tree with a pruned lower branch. I suppose it helped legitimize their defiant existence in remote Africa.

OFS penny, 1894 (2)

A variation was used as a hand-stamped precancel on postcard stamps.

Postcard stamp, Gibbons #P5, mauve

Postcard stamp, Gibbons #P1, red brown

By the end of the 19th Century, what had started out as friendly relations between the British and the Boers turned sour and the 2nd Boer War ensued. The British ultimately won by using a brutal scorched earth strategy. As a result, OFS was renamed Orange River Colony (ORC) in 1900 and “V.R.I” (Victoria Regina et Imperatrix) was overprinted on remaining supplies of OFS stamps. 

Orange River Colony, Scott #s 47 and 48, ultra

When these ran out, overprinted Cape of Good Hope stamps were placed in service. Then, after the Peace Treaty of Vereeniging was signed in 1902, standard British colony designs were issued featuring the crowned Edwardian profile flanked by African animals, a gnu and a tommie (Thompson gazelle).

Orange River Colony, Scott #54, green

Orange River Colony, Scott #s 68 violet and carmen and 69 bister and carmen

South Africa stamps were used after the colony became the Orange Free State Province within the Union of South Africa, 1910. As a tribute to Trekboers, though, South Africa continued issuing orange topiary stamps until the 1950s. Half of them have the Afrikaans inscription “Suidafrika” at the top; all have a nipped off lower branch, as on the original House of Orange emblem. Anomalies and variations sprouted like orange tree buds.

South Africa, Scott #60, red orange and green

After South Africa’s state-enforced apartheid was dismantled (1993-94), the province was renamed Free State, dropping its imaginary connections with the House of Orange. Orange River retains its original name - and its orange color, too, thanks to diamond prospecting, farming, and elephant wallowing.

Map of Orange Free State, now known as Free State (4)

Census: 31 in BB spaces, 12 on supplement page.

(1) Map Credit: Keenan Pepper - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66101365

(2) Photo credit: OFS Archives.

(3) Photo credit: https://www.ngccoin.com/price-guide/world/south-africa-orange-free-state-penny-x-pn1-1874-cuid-1101652-duid-1559932

(4) Map salvaged from Gerben Van Gelder’s now sadly defunct "Stamp World History" web site.

Orange River mudfish (5)

(5) Photo credit: https://paracaddis.wordpress.com/tag/orange-river-mudfish/

Jim's Comments

Big Blue '69, has Orange River Colony (Orange Free State) on one page, with 31 spaces. Coverage is 41%. The page is  located between "Oltre Giuba" and "Palestine".

The 40s BB editions have Orange River Colony located between "Panama" and "Papua". There are only 22 spaces on 2/3 page in those editions.

True-  the '69 editors cut out a number of smaller countries and BOB issues. But, in other cases (such as here), there is better coverage. ;-)

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Comments appreciated!


  1. A terrific post. I don't collect this area, but I always appreciate the fruits of your great research!

  2. Thanks, Roy. I enjoy writing the posts.