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The Journal of the Rhodesia Study Circle - Issue No. 77
THE ROMANCE OF THE INKS IN NORTHERN RHODESIA
Throughout Nodder's book "The Pre-Federation Posts of Northern Rhodesia" there is mention under the different types of postmarks of varieties in different coloured inks. The only explanation given is in a note to Sub-type 18 (a), which reads: "the use of this coloured ink was authorised by the Postmaster-General's department. Owing to the difficulty during World War 1 in obtaining black obliterating ink, stocks became exhausted in 1919, and a quantity of blue ink was obtained from the Railway Administration, and used at certain offices in the Southern Territory and at Lusaka and Livingstone in the Northern Territory for cancelling mail."
A similar note occurs under Type 21, but it is not certain that the substance of these notes refers only to Sub-type 18(a) and Type 21. In any event, there are references throughout Nodder's paper to other coloured inks, e.g. violet, purple, red, brown, green, and blue-black, as well as blue. Further, those who have compared postmarks in coloured inks will appreciate that there is a wide range of shades.
With a little imagination, it will readily be seen how these variegated colours were obtained. Perhaps twice a year a requisition for postal stationery was sent in to the Postmaster General from every Post Office and Postal Agency in the country, but, human nature being much the same in Africa as anywhere else, it was not uncommon for stocks of black obliterating ink to run out.
Picture a little thatched brick building set down in the middle of nowhere. The red-uniformed mailman has just walked in, carrying the weekly mailbag, and again, the long-awaited bottle of black obliterating ink is not in it. The African postal clerk goes to the European administrative officer: "Sir, the ink has not come. How shall I date-stamp the letters?" - "Oh, use any ink you can find." - "Thank you, Sir," and as he walks out he scoops up the officer's pad of violet ink which is used for many administrative purposes. This violet pad is violently removed from him before he has had time to date-stamp more than a few letters, so, rather than run the risk of wrath again, he gets out the bottle of violet ink and pours it over his circular black pad, and the letters for the next few days are stamped in varying shades of purple.
When that runs out, he tiptoes to the officer's desk during his lunch-hour and takes a quick splosh of his blue or blue-black fountain pen ink. Occasionally, greatly daring when the District Commissioner is away on tour, he tries some red ink, and this, poured on the black pad, makes a nice brown impression. If there is no officer interested in mapping, the bottles of coloured inks on the map table are dusty but available, and a smart green date-stamp can be tried out.
The postal clerk is just cogitating whether to experiment with the yellow, when the mailman runs in with a triumphant shout: "Eya Mukwai! Your ink is in the bag:" The postal clerk eagerly opens up the parcel, and the jet-black stream flows once more upon the pad.
But inefficiency leaves an indelible stain. The postal clerk must bang his die-stamp many hundreds of times upon his pad before the violet, the purple, the blue, the brown and the green grow gradually darker and darker until it becomes once more indistinguishable from the pure black, and it can safely be said that the crisis is over - for another year or two.
But the variety of coloured postmarks remains forever, to intrigue collectors in the years that follow.
1972, The romance of the inks in Northern Rhodesia:
v. 22, no. 1 (77), p.15–16