Africana Notes

Egersdörfer's coloured postcards

There are several postcards and sketches in the Africana Museum by the artist Heinrich Egersdörfer that give an insight into life in South African in the early days.




Some of the postcards produced by H. Egersdorfer.
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IN his Heinrich Egersdörfer (Nasionale Boekhandel, 1960), Eric Rosenthal mentions the series of coloured drawings by Egersdörfer, which were made into coloured postcards. He writes (p.11-12): "Experimenting with colour, he completed a series on African animal life, of which the most remarkable shows a true incident in Rhodesia of a lion chased by a herd of oxen on to an ant heap and there gored to death by their horns. Most of these works, however, were pot-Embroilers, and numerous though they are, Egersdörfer's animal studies cannot be compared with his figure drawing."


This is true as far as the postcards are concerned. The earlier series of animals were much less attractive than the amusing trek and other scenes that followed, but this was due to the layout and production of the cards rather than to any deficiency in Egersdörfer's drawing.In the Africana Museum there are no originals from which the animal postcards were made, but there are eight watercolours of animals which are very good indeed. They compare not unfavourable with the work of the best water-colourists of South African animals. There is a very fine animal study in watercolour measuring 43.82cm by 90.8cm of zebra hunted by a troop of Cape wild hunting dogs (see illustration).


The drawing of the postcards has every indication that they were drawn specially for this purpose. They are all the same size, 13.34cm by 21cm; they are set between border lines; and they are very bold in colouring, with pen and ink much in evidence. His animal pictures in the museum are quite different; they are true watercolours, with no ink outlines, and the use of colour is much more restrained that in the originals for postcards.


Egersdörfer invariably signed his work, but he rarely included place and date. It is therefore very difficult to date his pictures. During his first residence in South Africa, say before 1886, he was probably very busy with black and white for the South African Illustrated News and other publications. His watercolours were probably made during his second sojourn, between 1895, when he returned from Australia, until about 1914, when he went to England – neverto return. If it is accepted that the originals of the postcards were drawn specifically for the purpose, then the date of publication of the postcards should provide some indication of the date of the drawings.


The postcards were all published by ROFüsslein of Johannesburg. He first appears in a Transvaal Directory for 1906, as the representative of Kühner, Henderson & Co; in 1908, he is listed as the manager of the firm. In the 1909 directory, he is shown as an independent trader, "manufacturer and importer of pictorial postcards and albums" with his own post box number 6345. In 1911, he is still shown as using that post box, but from 1912 to 1915, he has post box 2262. Nothing is heard of him after 1915. It seems reasonable, therefore, to date his postcards between about 1909 and about 1914.


There are in the Africana Museum 16 series of six cards each, and one series of eight cards. It is probable that Animal Series I-V were the first to be issued because the publisher's address on all these is given as PO Box 6345. There is another range of Animal Series, number I to VI, with the address PO Box 2262. The first series have the imprint on the front (picture side) of the card and the cards have no item numbers within the series. The second animal series have the imprint on the blank side of the card, each subject is numbered within the series, and they have the box number 2262. The other series all have the box number 2262 except on series three, number five, Fording a River, of which there are four copies in the museum, three with box number 2262 and one with 6345. This latter one has been through the post and is postmarked "[Nance?] field Transvaal 16 September 1910". Except for the box number, there is no difference between this card and other three. In the animal series there are two cards have been through the post, both of the earlier series; they are marked "Pietermaritzburg Au 1 13" and "Bloemfontein 18 Feb ‘10".


A list of the cards in various series is as follows:


Animal Series I:
Hunting cheetah
Lion, over a tsesebe just killed
Lioness, attacked by oxen
Warthog, tackled by hyaenas


Animal Series II:
Gemsbok antelope
Sable antelope


Animal Series III:
South African buffalo
South African elephant


Animal Series IV:
Crocodile and hartbeest
Golden crane
Secretary bird
South African ostrich
Reed bird


Animal Series V:
Blue wildebeest attacked by hyaenas
Kudu bull and cow
Rhinoceros and lion
Springbok crossing a road
White-tailed gnu or wildebeest
Waterbok and flamingos


Animal [New] Series I:
1. Impala
2. Bushbuck
3. Duiker
4. Steenbok
5. Inyala
6. Blesbok


Animal [New] Series II:
1. Aardvark
2. Wild dog
3. Saddle-backed jackal
4. Caracal
5. Honey badger or ratel
6. Genet


Animal [New] Series III:
1. Chameleon
2. Leguaan
3. Porcupine
4. Aasvogel or vulture
5. Black-shouldered kite
6. Bateleur eagle


Animal [New] Series IV:
1. Egret
2. Flamingo
3. King reed hen or purple gallinule
4. Pelican
5. Blue crane
6. Zebra


Animal [New] Series V:
1. Lourie
2. Widow bird
3. Brown hornbill
4. Francolin or South African partridge
5. Knorrhaan
6. Marabou stork


Animal Series VI:
1. Ringhals
2. Boomslang
3. Cobra
4. Puff adder
5. Black mamba
6. Python


Sketches of South African life
Series I Life:
No.1 At a Store
No.2 Dolce far niente at a Kaffir Kraal
No.3 Worldly and Temporal Power (with apologies to Miss Marie Corelli)
No.4 A Dandy back from the Mines
No.5 Uneven division of Labour
No.6 On the way Home from the Mines


Series II The Voortrekkers:
No.1 Scouting
No.2 Trekking through the Drakensburg to Natal
No.3 A Boer Commando
No.4 The Voortrekkers negotiating with Zulu Chief
No.5 A Council of War
No.6 Zulus attacking a Boer Lager


Series III In the Days of the Mail Coach:
No.1 Getting ready to start
No.2 Through the Mountains
No.3 Ferrying across a River
No.4 A Halt at a Country Roadside Hotel [Criterian Hotel]
No.5 Fording a River
No.6 The River is Up. An Involuntary Halt


Series IV Boer Life:
No.1 Going Home from the Store
No.2 Sammy (itinerant Indian trader)
No.3 Opsitting
No.4 On the way to Market Cause
No.5 On the way to Market and Effect
No.6 Shooting Game


Series V Boer Life:
No.1 Oom en Tantie at Home
No.2 Nachtmaal
No.3 On the Stoep
No.4 Hunting Springbok
No.5 A Proud Youngster
No.6 A Bad Shot


Series VI Trekking:
No.1 Uitspan at Midday. The Pride of the Family off on a Shoot
No.2 Riding Fruit to Town
No.3 Fording a River under Difficulties
No.4 A Halt at a Country Roadside Hotel [Palas Hotel]
No.5 A Different Road
No.6 Uitspan at Night


The Africana Museum has originals of eight of the cards. Four of these are obviously from Füsslein's office; they have the title in typescript on slips pasted to the back of the water colour and also on the back is stamped twice "RO Füsslein" The eight are:


Series II The Voortrekkers:
No.1 Scouting
No.2 Trekking through the Drakensburg to Natal
No.3 A Boer Commando
No.6 Zulus attacking a Boer Laager


Series III In the Days of the Mail Coach:
No.5 Fording a River


Series VI Trekking:
No.2 Riding Fruit to Town
No.3 Fording a River under Difficulties
No.4A Halt at a Country Roadside Hotel [Palas Hotel]


In the William Fehr Collection there are at least four watercolour originals of the post-cards. These are:
Series I No.4 Dandy back from the Mines
Series II The Voortrekkers, No. 5 A Council of War
Series V Boer Life, No.6 A Bad Shot
Series VI Trekking, No.1 Outspan at Midday. The Pride of the Family off on a Shoot.