Emil Carl Christiaan Tamsen

Museum, New Republic / Niuwe Republiek, Poatal History, Vryheid History

Emil Carl Christiaan Tamsen 2 Jan 1862 – 30 July 1957 was a South African philatelist, and one of the founders in 1894 of the Johannesburg Philatelic Society.  Tamsen was an expert in the stamps of Transvaal and early Southern Africa which he researched and wrote, and he.  Until his death, at the grand old age of 95, he dominated the philatelic scene in SA. He began collecting during his boyhood collecting on a world-wide basis. In order to enhance his collection, he maintained an extensive correspondence with collectors all over the World. The innumerable surviving items sent and received by him, which are a feature of many postal history collections, are a measure of the volume of this correspondence. He played an important role in many philatelic organizations. The depth of his knowledge of the postal history of the Boer Republics, in particular, was beyond dispute, and a number of honours were bestowed upon him. Early Life Tamsen was born in NABY, Schleswig-Holstein, on 2 January 1862, at that time part of Denmark.  He was the son of Franz August Tamsen and Friedericke Schuffman.  He left for Pretoria in 1880 when he was still eighteen when emigrated to South Africa and must, therefore, have arrived between the final phase of the British Occupation and the first Anglo-Boer War.  (1880–81). He fought for the British and was part of the garrison that held and besieged  Pretoria. 

He was discharged in 1883 and became a naturalised citizen of the ZAR ( Zuid African Republic Transvaal). He moved the Waterberg area of the Northern Transvaal.  The first village he lived was Marabastad but soon moved to Nylstroom then the most important village in the Waterberg District, some 75 miles north of Pretoria, where he settled.  On arrival, he found there were only 25 families in the area and only two houses.  In 1886 he was living on the farm Tweefontein, near Nylstroom.   He opened the first trading store in 1882 in the village in partnership with Natorp.   

and was successful in his business.  His stamp collecting hobby with time also developed into a business. He became an expert on the stamps of Southern Africa  and is well respected in philatelic circles In 1902 he was in Pretoria, possibly as an internee, but by 1905 he was back  and was the mayor of Nylstoom   Tamsen was a friend of the Boer leader Paul Kruger.  He was also a key figure in commerce, civic affairs and politics, and was a Freemason.  He served on the town council of Nylstroom for many years. Before the Boer War. He was briefly employed in the Postal Service of the ZAR.  In ZAR Postgids no. 3 for 1890 he is listed as the Postal Agent for Piet Potgietersrust,  a village about 55 miles north of Nylstroom and 30 miles south of Marabastad.  In the Postgids no. 5 for 1892, he was no longer listed.

He maintained good connections with the postal authorities – he was, for example, a personal friend of  Friederich Jeppe, the first Postmaster General of the Transvaal who also introduced adhesive stamps there,  and Isaac van Alphen, Postmaster General during the Second ZAR  Republic. His writings demonstrate that he had good access to postal records.

Personal life:  Tamsen married Clara Pauline Richter (1866–1963) and they had a son, Adolph Carl Tamsen (1892–1961).  There is a street named after him in Nylstroom, and that is because he made a major contribution to the place and to the world in general   Tamsen was a leading Free Masson in the Transvaal and died on 30 July 1957 in Pretoria,  age 96.

Stamp dealing and collecting He farmed and traded, but his main interests lay in stamp dealing and collecting where he was able to exploit the international interest in the stamps of Southern Africa in the 1880s and 90s. Stamps were issued in the period by British Bechuanaland and Protectorate, British Central Africa, the British South Africa Company, Cape of Good Hope, Natal, Orange Free State, ZAR, Swaziland, Transvaal,  Zululand, ZAR, Nieuwe Republiek,  Stellaland,  Pietersburg and the private transporter Baker Express. Despite the vast area covered, Tamsen was ideally positioned, either personally or through agents, to obtain information about new stamps. These included many surcharged and provisional issues and Tamsen obtained them either mint or by having them posted to him on the cover.

 He constantly bought the contents of the “dead letter office”  wherever he could and in ransacking the contents he added treasure after treasure to his collection”.  (A dead letter office is a facility within a postal system where undeliverable mail is processed. Mail is considered to be undeliverable when the address is invalid so it cannot be delivered to the addressee, and there is no return address so it cannot be returned to the sender) 

Auctions: The success of Tamsen’s activities may be gauged by the fact that he sold over £7,000 worth of stamps in London between 1899 and 1905, which represented only part of his collection and stock,  a figure that would equate in 2014 terms to around £800,000. He did this while living in a remote area of the veldt and during a time which included the Second Boer War (1899–1902)

The war may have helped stimulate interest in Transvaal stamps. The first Tamsen auction sale was by Ventom, Bull and Cooper of Old Jewry, London, on 26 October 1899. The Philatelic Record and Stamp News reported that competition was brisk and: “The war has made sales of South Africans, particularly Transvaal and the Orange Free States, very lively, one dealer in the Strand has been completely cleared out of current Transvaals.”   The second Tamsen sale was through the same auctioneers 9–10 January 1900 and included fine Cape triangulars. His Bechuanaland was sold on 10 May 1900 through the same firm.

Tamsen and Stamps of the New Republic  during the period 1886 to 1905 Tamsen cast himself in the role of expert on the stamps of the New Republic, though there is no record that he ever visited Vryheid at this time The following quotation from a letter has been reproduced in The Transvaal Philatelist (v. 17. no. 1 (65). p4.):  “I met the old gentleman when I was out in Durban in 1928. He was responsible for all the Pietersburg and New Republic [issues] as well as a number of other stamps”  This statement, however, incorrect as far as the New Republic is concerned

The postal stationery issued on the 4th of January. 1887, was produced on Von Levetzow’s initiative.

The most important of Tamsen’s contacts within the New Republic was A. von Levetzow. One of the posts Von Levetzow had occupied prior to his appointment as Magistrate at Vryheid was that of Magistrate’s Clerk at Waterberg, and he and Tamsen must have become acquainted at that time. Tamsen evidently persuaded Von Levetzow to put his proposal for the provision of stamps for the New Republic to the Secretary of State. The letter reproduced on the following page is lodged with the Pretoria Archives: the original is in Dutch

Dear Secretary of State “Vryheid, 29 June. 1887   “The Right Honorable Secretary of State at Vryheid” With reference to my previous offer to supply 35,000 postage stamps, as in use in other states – as compensation for which I was to receive the machine at present in use for the production of Postage and Revenue Stamps, together with all available stocks of paper – and which proposal was not accepted at the time – I have the honour to submit to you Excellency a new proposal. I undertake to supply the Government of the New Republic, free of charge, 150,000 Postage and 50,000 Revenue Stamps as in use in Europe and other colonies. The quantity of each value, such as ½d, 1d, 2d, 3d, to be determined by the Government, similarly each value can be differently coloured, with the Coat of Arms of the New  Republic, but after the fashion and type of the British Colonies. Furthermore, I undertake to supply fresh stamps when required, free of all charges, including transport, to the Government.

In return the Government should undertake to deliver to me, upon delivery of the 200,000 stamps, the stamp printing machine at present in use together with all available stocks of stamp paper.

The advantages to the New Republic will be that the Government will obtain a stamp which cannot be forged, of a quality and type comparable to those in other countries, and in addition there will be a great demand by ‘Dealers in Stamps’ when the stamps are issued.

Trusting the Government will give this proposal favorable consideration, I have the honor Sir, to remain,

Your obedient servant, A. von Levetzow for and on behalf of E. Tamsen”

This proposal was rejected by the Executive Council on the 8th July 1887, possibly because they wanted to retain control over the production and income of stamps, but they, may also have recognized the implications of the bargain that Tamsen was attempting to strike

Dr G Jonkers, author of “The NEW REPUBLIC IS SA 1884-1888” (1997) has traced eleven “New Republic”  postal items addressed to Tamsen emanating from Vryheid.  Von Levetzow’s handwriting is identifiable from the records in the Archives, and with the assistance of a calligrapher, the addresses on ten of these covers can be identified as having been written by him.

Archived records relating to the Utrecht Post Office show that a further six registered items were sent to Tamsen from Vryheid on 26.5.86, 8.7.86, 18.9.86, 26.11.86, 27.4.87 and 6.7.87. Some will have been lost, but one or more may still exist unrecorded in private collections. No further registered items were sent after the rejection of Tamsen’s proposal by the Executive Council, and it is possible that Tamsen lost interest at this stage. The size of the envelopes used and the extra postage paid on three of the items are indications that these letters contained stamps.

 On a Natal postal stationery card sent to A. Brown in March 1886 he wrote (translated from the original German):

The Stamp master is angry about the idea of printing stamps on envelopes because the Executive Council has not yet made a decision. Therefore we have to wait until the President has returned. As soon as the situation is cleared, I will right again”

Tamsen was much involved in trading in postal stationery. He acquired a number of  envelopes, and marked them with his ‘quality’ stamp.  He was also involved in the sale of the New Republic stamp remainders and leftover stock,  after  the New Republic was taken over by the Transvaal  during the years 1889-92 to collectors.

 In 1895 the following a somewhat cryptic, note was published in The London Philatelist (v. 4, 1895 p.192,)   “As to all the New Republic remainders it appears that Mr Emil Tamsen offered a price for them all round, when the New Republic was taken over by the Transvaal”  and the Government consented to let them go at that without calling for tenders, including all values from ld to 30s. “These stamps have always had a steady sale at double their face value, so that Mr Tamsen has made a good ‘spec’ out of the affair in more ways than one.”


Tamsen expressed his opinions regarding the stamp issues of the New Republic in a

number of articles published in philatelic journals, including the Philatelic Record (1888), Stamp news Annual (1890) and  News Annual (1890) and Stanley Gibbons Monthly Journal (December 1902. p.115: January 1903, p.143 and February 1903, p.164).

  In 1887 he wrote in German :

 “It must be left to the discretion of the individual collector to what extent he wishes to collect these misprints and what value to place upon them. Personally I collect them all. for I feel compelled to do so as a specialist in African stamps”

The following year he recorded.  “As at every new date I have received a parcel of the fresh issue, which was made whenever the Treasurer found the supply ran short,  a system that continued till the beginning of 1887″.

In 1902 he commented. “To the best of my knowledge there is no complete collection in existence. My own, which I sold in 1899, contained many thousands of copies“.

s-l1600 (1).jpg

There is no doubt that Tamsen was deeply involved both as a collector and a dealer in the stamp issues of the New Republic, but he was not the only, one.  In any event had it not been for such entrepreneurs, few of the stamps and a very small number of covers of the “Niuwe Republiek”  and the previous Boer Republics  would have survived.

Writing &Publications

Publications BOOK

From cover to cover.  Privately produced and circulated book , 1940. (With Park Smith)

Publications of Postcards 

He was truly a Business man and taking opportunities where available . He printed a Picture postcard set of Nylstoom as well as Postcards from Photos of his of is German birthplace, , Schleswig-Holstein

 Writing:  Tamsen was a regular writer for Stanley                                 No 2 The Masonic Hall;  Nylstroom

Gibbons Monthly Journal and its successor Gibbons                   Published  E Tamsen Nylstroom Monthly  Stamp


predecessors of the current Gibbons Stamp Monthly. He wrote of the latest stamp finds in the Transvaal and elsewhere in S A, and gave reports on the health, or otherwise, of philatelic societies in the region.   The African Stamp Exchange Club was run by Emil Tamsen and in “The S A Stamp Collector (1916-17)”  wrote on The Stamps of East Griqualand that includes the history of the Mount Currie Express. 

 Postcard  No 5 The Market Sqare.  Nylstroom

          Published  E Tamsen Nylstroom

In  November 1904 he wrote from Nylstroom that it was not easy to report on current philatelic events when the nearest collector lived 100 miles away.  He also  wrote an article in The South African Philatelist (July 1928) entitled The Philatelic Press in South Africa  “Of course one must remember that stamp collecting in South Africa is more or less of recent date, broadly speaking since 1900. Before then  predecessors of the current  collectors were few  and far between I well remember in the early eighties being looked upon as a crank for collecting stamps and spending time and money on them…”  

Over the years an array of articles,                                                      BRAUERY  Fackenburg  ( E Tamsen)

reports and snippets of information regarding

early pioneering philatelists, dealers, societies, journals and stamp exhibitions have appeared in The South African Philatelist,   yet no-one appears to have done the entire period subject justice.

In 1921 Tamsen was one of the original signatures to the Roll of Distinguished Philatelists in Great Britain. In 1932 he signed the Roll of Distinguished Philatelists of Southern Africa.  His Library was purchased by the Public Library in Johannesburg.  His obituary appeared in the September 1957 edition of The South African Philatelist page 132.

The Transvaal Philatelic Society 
Came into being on 18 April 1894 and Tamsen, Booleman, Epstein and Klagsbrun were all founder members. The name was later modified to “The Johannesburg Philatelic Society.”

In November 1895 The South African Philatelist 1895 – 96 appeared and edited by Klagsbrun and Epstein. Typewritten, cost 6d per copy and enjoyed six issues only. The last edition was in April 1896. The Stanley Gibbons Monthly Journal – 31 December 1895 edition commented…The work is certainly an interesting one and much information will be found in it

November 1895 the First Philatelic Journal in South Africa
The South African Philatelist… (1895 – 96)
The first number is dated November 1895, and the whole set consists of six numbers, the last or which is dated April 1896. The paper was published by M. Z. Booleman & Co., Philately House, Johannesburg, South African Republic and edited by Messrs. Klagsbrun and Epstein.

The paper consists of type-written sheets, of course printed on one side only, and sewn into a blue cover bearing the title of the paper and the publishers’ address, printed in an ornamented frame. The advertisements were typed on the front and back pages, and no outside advertisements were taken.

All six numbers are now scarce, and a complete set is decidedly rare. From the method of production it is evident that the number of copies issued must have been limited. Altogether, the set contains 50 numbered pages and covers.


The chief contents are articles on the stamps of British Bech-uanaland and Bechuanaland Protectorate, Natal, Orange Free State and Swaziland, Monthly Chat on current events in the philatelic world, New Issue column, and a series on South African Stamp Forgeries.

The paper was evidently appreciated by other philatelic editors for, turning over the pages of contemporary papers; one comes across extract after extract from it.

The articles on forgeries, in particular, were thus ‘lifted,’ and it is probable they were considerable service to the philatelic public.

In their valedictory remarks in the last number the editors are worth quoting. They say: – ‘This number ends the contract between us and our subscribers to whom we guaranteed six numbers. The task has been an arduous one. We had to battle not only against the discomforts caused by the political disturbances here, but also the unsympathetic non-support of philatelists in South Africa. We had literally to write every syllable contained in the six numbers ourselves’.

This does not say much for the state of philately in South Africa at the time, and was certainly very hard on the editors.

Tamsen commented in the July 1928 SAP  about this publication ” The contents are solely South African and there are some good articles “.I in their final number the editors noted that ‘philatelists have not taken advantage of this medium of supplying them with local news.’ M.Z. Booleman & Co. (a Johannesburg stamp dealer) was the only advertiser.

With commendable zeal the latter announced at the same time that they would issue a two-page paper, to be called the ‘South African Philatelist Monthly Bulletin’, but this never appeared.