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...

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Rhodesia - Bud's Big Blue

Arms of The British South Africa Company (BSAC),
featuring commercial interests – gold, farming, exports, and wild animals

Bud's Big Blue
Bud's Observations

Few people, no matter how famous they are, have a country named for them. Cecil John Rhodes did, but only for about 85 years. His charter company, The British South Africa Company (BSAC), named the 440,900 square mile swath of south-central Africa after their boss. Rhodes himself, it’s said, preferred to name it Zambezia (after the Zambezi River) rather than Rhodesia, but yielded to the popular opinion of Europeans who had settled there.  

Settlers waiting to board a mail coach, Bulawayo, Rhodesia, circa 1896 (1)

The BSAC operated in much the same way as other crown charter companies. At the Berlin Conference of 1884-85, European nations drew boundaries of control over Africa without native Africans’ knowledge, consent, thought or opinion. The “scramble for Africa” ensued, but European governments often lacked sufficient funds for exploiting African resources, and they were loath to raise taxes to do so. Instead, they relied on private companies that could raise the funds needed by giving investors hope of grand future profits.  These companies had broad powers of government – including building roads and railroads, taxation of residents, law enforcement, and postal services as well as the discovery, extraction, and export of valuable resources.

Rhodesia, Scott #55, violet and salmon

Some charter companies failed, but BSAC profits from gold, diamonds, and other resources did, in fact, make Rhodes one of the world’s richest men. However, his dream of building a railroad from Cape Town to Cairo, by which the British would dominate Africa, was never achieved. Rhodesia was to be a major link in that railroad. 

The stamps in Big Blue’s Rhodesia section are all inscribed British South Africa Company; some of them bear the BSAC arms. The same stamps were overprinted “BCA” and used in British Central Africa. 

British Central Africa, Scott #5, dark blue

The word “Rhodesia” appears first on stamps as an overprint on a 1909 issue, although the BSAC had made the name quasi-official in 1895. 

Rhodesia, Scott #85, cobalt blue

“Rhodesia” is inscribed, along with BSAC, on the ever-popular “double head” stamps of 1910, 17 values replete with many color variations and curious flaws. A commemorative-cum-definitive issue, its debut coincided with the Royal Visit of the Duke and Duchess of Connaught who were substituting for the newly crowned King George V and Queen Mary. The new king could not attend because of the death of Edward VII (6 May 1910).

Rhodesia, Scott #115, bright blue and carmine

These were followed by a final definitive issue (1913) featuring the new King in naval uniform. 

Rhodesia, Scott #128, carmine rose and blue

The area designated as Rhodesia continued under BSAC control until the 1920s when the part south of the Zambezi River became Southern Rhodesia, a self-governing colony in the United Kingdom. BSAC handed control over to the white settlers, the postal authority included. See Big Blue’s Southern Rhodesia section.

Rhodes was known for his unrestrained racism toward native Africans, a sad tradition that continued throughout Rhodesia’s history. The overburdening effects have continued long after the colony became independent and renamed Zimbabwe in 1980 – residual white privilege, economic upheaval, food insecurity, inadequate sanitation, and poor medical care. In post-colonial times, Rhodes’ legacy has been attacked and his memorials defaced, literally. Surprisingly, his burial site in Zimbabwe, an increasingly awkward tourist attraction, has thus far escaped damage.

Decapitation of Rhodes’ statue, Table Mountain, South Africa, 2020 (2)

And yet, Bantu people have long-suffering resilience. This was the overwhelming impression my wife and I had when we visited Zimbabwe a few years ago. She had received a grant to study the works of Zimbabwe’s women sculptors who were emerging on the world art scene, particularly that of Agnes Nyanhongo and Colleen Madamombe. Their much-sought-after art depicts themes of buoyant womanhood – marriage, motherhood, gracious beauty, hard work, proud bearing, and survival at all odds. As a counterpoint to the BSAC’s rampant, male-dominated exploitation of Bantu tribal lands, which echoes throughout Rhodesian philately, this post concludes with pictures of Shona sculpture in our collection.

“Proud Woman” by Agnes Nyanhongo

“Where are you, boy” by Colleen Madamombe

Happy Happy.” By Colleen Madamombe

“I love my baby” by Agnes Nyanhongo

Census: In BB spaces 53, tip-ins 14, on supplement pages 40.

1 – National Archives of Zimbabwe

2 – Reuters via https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8522465/Statue-British-colonialist-Cecil-Rhodes-beheaded-South-Africa.html

Jim's Observations

Wow! I had the privilege of seeing those art works when I visited Bud several years ago. Incredible!

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Comments appreciated!


  1. Great post. I appreciate Bud's commentary on the challenges of considering Rhodesia through a modern lens. I struggle with finding the balance between collecting colonial stamps and understanding the (often horrific) history without celebrating the same history, if that makes sense. This is a good example of telling a broader story than what was printed on the stamps. Thank you. :)

  2. Thanks for making absolute sense about the struggle between understanding the past and celebrating the past.