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Friday, February 15, 2013

The Herbert Macaulay Cover - 1920

As I had promised in my last post, I am going to show you a most extraordinary find that I came upon, entirely by chance in the spring of 2012: The Herbert Macaulay cover, as I call it. The cover is shown in all its glory below:




European size Montgomery Ward order envelope sent from Lagos on February 7, 1920


Almost every philatelist who has been around long enough, has either experienced, or heard about the thrill of making a significant philatelic find. These finds can either be very rare examples of otherwise common stamps, or they can be world famous rarities. Usually, there will only be one or two such stories in an entire lifetime of collecting. In this case, this was the third time in my life that I had made such a find.




I had briefly outlined in my last post who Herbert Macaulay was, but to recapitulate, he was basically the Nigerian equivalent of Gandhi, or Sir John A Macdonald, for those that want an example closer to home. On June 24, 1923 he formed the Nigerian National Democratic Party. During these years he was resident in Lagos, living in a residence called Kirsten Hall.

 For those not familiar with Nigerian postal history, I would draw attention to the fact that nearly all of the covers that one comes across from Nigeria are from World War II and onward. I don't quite know why this is, but covers from the 1930's and before are generally all scarce. This seems to hold true even for the most common destinations and rates, such as single rate surface mail to the U.S, or the U.K. The upshot of this is that any registered commercial cover from 1920 is a pretty good item on its own. Couple that with the fact that Nigeria has only recently become a society that seeks to preserve items of historical significance, and the odds of finding any cover of a historically significant figure are very low.

How did I find this cover? On the auction site Delcampe, that's where. It was listed by a seller in France as a basic registered cover to the US. The image on the listing was too small to make out the sender, but because of what I said earlier about how scarce covers in general are from this period, I bid eagerly on it. When it arrived, a few weeks later, the first thing I noticed was this:


My heart literally jumped out of my chest. I thought: No, it can't possibly be! Then I saw the embossed "Kirsten Hall" underneath the handwritten name. I went on Google and looked up Kirsten Hall. Low and behold the first hits that came up mentioned that Kirsten Hall was Herbert Macaulay's residence in Lagos during this time. 

So I had in my hands, an envelope addressed by the key father of Nigerian independence. His DNA is on the back of those stamps. He would have sent this three years before he formed his famed political party. He was however still very active in Nigerian politics at this point in his life. 

Now why was he sending it? You have to know who Montgomery Ward is to know the answer. Montgomery Ward was a mail order department store that was established in 1872 in Chicago, Illinois, that went bankrupt in 2001. It did a lot of business in West Africa from the late 1910's all the way into the 1950's, and probably later. Its just that all the many covers that I have addressed to it seem to fall within that time period. At the beginning of the 1900's  Montgomery Ward was the main competitor to Sears Roebuck & Co. Reading many of the letters written by Nigerians during this time would lead one to conclude that many Western clothing items and personal items like toothbrushes, combs, toothpaste, socks, matches, underwear, shoes etc., were not widely available in Nigeria. So, in all likelihood Macaulay was probably ordering a suit, or a pair of shoes, or something similar. 

It is amazing what can be found in postal history when you possess historical knowledge, and you are familiar with names of people. I have hundreds of covers that I have not even looked at yet, that I have bought over the years. I can't wait to find covers addressed by other famous Nigerians, such as Azikiwe, Wole Soyinka, Fela and others. I know they must exist. I also have covers from Nigeria addressed to famous non-nigerians, such as Nelson Rockefeller, Dean Acheson and John Foster Dulles; the last two men being US Secretaries of State. 

My next post will likely get into some more of the commemoratives of the 1960's. 

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