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Philately at the Cape of Good Hope

Silent Witnesses

Cape of Good Hope 1900: the second Boer war between the Orange Free State, the South African Republic and Great Britain rages on and the city of Mafeking has been under siege for 217 days.  Under the leadership of Colonel Robert Baden-Powell the British troops try to defend the city against the attacking Boers.  As a consequence of the siege it becomes even more difficult to maintain contact with the outside world. Out of necessity, Baden-Powell organises a secret postal service allowing letters to be smuggled in and out of the town and across enemy lines by local boys on foot or on bicycle. The Scout movement and a philatelic rarity had been born.

On Wednesday 9 May 1900 a letter with the special blue Mafeking stamp makes its way from Mafeking to the BSA Fort behind enemy lines. It’s recipient is a trooper from D Regiment of the Protection Force, called J S Bennett.  The content of the letter is unknown. However just eight days later on 17 May 1900 the British troops triumph over the Boers and liberate Mafeking.

Philatelists rarely come across such a find so such stamps are therefore a highlight of anyone’s collection.  In 2014 such a rarity was offered for sale at the Rolli auction at starting price of CHF800. An international bidding war developed between potential buyers in the hall and participants live online resulting in an Australian client holding his nerve and successfully winning the lot for CHF 11,000. 

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