Clash of Empires: the 1879 Anglo-Zulu War to open at Royal Philatelic Society London July 1
By Scott Stamp Monthly staff
For the first time in its 154-year history, the Royal Philatelic Society London will host a major summer museum exhibition open to the public. The exhibition, “Clash of Empires: the 1879 Anglo-Zulu War,” open July 1-31, will feature more than 500 historical artifacts with the goal of bringing this Victorian-era conflict to life.
The exhibition’s artifacts come from the collection of Alexander Haimann and represent his 25-year effort to find a vast range of objects, both postal and nonpostal, to illustrate the story of the 1879 Anglo-Zulu War. Linn’s columnist Matthew Healey wrote about Haimann’s collection and passion for this subject for his Great Britain Philately column in the Nov. 12, 2018, issue.
Clash of Empires will begin in the early years of the 19th century with the emergence of King Shaka kaSenzangakhona and the rise of the Zulu kingdom and go all the way through to 2019, 140 years after the start of the 1879 Anglo-Zulu War. Hundreds of covers and letters, Zulu shields, spears, beadwork, British soldier tunics, maps, photographs, battlefield artifacts and more will be displayed side-by-side to help attendees explore this engaging history.
The journey to the opening day of Clash of Empires began in early 2015 with an invitation from Patrick Maselis, at that time a vice president of the RPSL and later president, to give an afternoon presentation about the postal history of the war.
“I immediately thought — wouldn’t it be something to have covers and letters sent from British soldiers during the campaign on display right next to a 4-5’ tall 1879-period Zulu regimental war shield attributed to a regiment which fought in a battle against the senders of those letters?” Haimann said when recalling that initial conversation with Maselis.
“Patrick was 100 percent onboard from that first conversation and understands that one of philately’s best attributes is that it can connect with almost any other field of study/collecting. If we’re going to introduce more people to philately in general, we need to develop dynamic connections to other areas of broad interest.”
A date was set for the exhibition to open in the RPSL’s iconic building at 41 Devonshire Place in January 2019 to coincide with the 140th anniversary of the initial invasion of the Zulu kingdom by British forces. Two years later, the RPSL decided to sell its building and move after more than 90 years at that location. The decision was made to postpone the exhibition’s start to 2021 to give the organization plenty of time to settle into its next building before welcoming large crowds in for a public exhibition.
Though 2019 didn’t go as originally planned for the exhibition, Haimann added a pair of experiences that elevated his in-person engagement with the history of the Anglo-Zulu War.
In January 2019, Haimann was included in a British delegation invited to the 140th anniversary commemoration events hosted by Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, the great-great-grandson of the king who reigned during the 1879 war, Cetshwayo kaMpande.
In November 2019, Haimann met Queen Elizabeth II at the official opening of the RPSL’s new building at 15 Abchurch Lane in the City of London. Queen Elizabeth II is the great-great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, the reigning British monarch during the war.
Haimann said of those two experiences: “I certainly felt an excitement for the work ahead on the exhibition and decided everything happens for a reason. If the exhibition had opened in the old building, I would never have gone to the 140th anniversary events hosted by King Zwelithini and if the RPSL had decided not to have moved, I would likely never have met Queen Elizabeth II.”
During the first week of March, Haimann was in London working on the exhibition alongside co-curator Ian Knight, a prominent Anglo-Zulu author and historian. They were joined by Nicola Davies, the RPSL’s head of collections.
“We knew about COVID-19 certainly but didn’t anticipate it would disrupt the exhibition opening the following year,” Haimann recounted of that trip which came just one week before lockdown and an 18-month-long prohibition from traveling to the United Kingdom.
As soon as travel restrictions between the United States and the United Kingdom were lifted in the summer of 2021, a new date for the exhibition’s opening was set for July 1, 2023.
To fulfill the original goal of presenting a professional-level museum exhibition open with free admission to the public, the exhibition sought out private donors and sponsors to cover critical funding needs, including the purchase of 14 2-meter-tall (more than 6 feet tall) exhibition cases to display all the artifacts, the production of an exhibition catalog, marketing and more.
The exhibition’s funding is underpinned by three American auction house sponsors: Cherrystone Philatelic Auctioneers is the exhibition’s presenting sponsor. Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries and Schuyler Rumsey Philatelic Auctions are supporting sponsors.
Several prominent philatelists in the United States and overseas have also joined the effort including Jim Allen, Jan Berg, Tomas Bjaringer, Gus Clark, Sebastien Delcampe, Ann Dunkin, Mike Farrell, Jonas Hallstrom, Anna Lee, Robert Rose, Daniel Ryterband, Eric Stas, Donald Sundman, Steve Walske and Mick Zais.
The exhibition’s connection to living history comes in the form of a letter of welcome from Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the traditional prime minister, to the Zulu royal family and nation.
Buthelezi is the great-grandson of King Cetshwayo and famously portrayed him in the 1964 film Zulu, starring Michael Caine and Stanley Baker, about the British defense of Rorke’s Drift at the start of the Anglo-Zulu War.
A video message from Buthelezi will be shown at the exhibition’s opening ceremony on July 4, the 144th anniversary of the end of the war.
“We are truly honored to have Prince Buthelezi’s support for our effort to bring this important history which continues to connect the Zulu and British peoples to the present day,” Haimann said, “with eight years of work under our belts, we’re ready to open the doors and welcome the world to Clash of Empires! If you can come to London, I promise it will be worth the trip.”
The exhibition will open to the public on Saturday, July 1, and remain open with free admission every day, except Sundays, through July 31.
The RPSL and Clash of Empires exhibition will host a four-day symposium focused on the war and connected areas of study.
More than 30 speakers from South Africa, Australia, the United States and across Great Britain will present in person and engage attendees. The first day of the symposium will focus on context philately, exploring the multifaceted connections between postal history and philately with other areas of study and collecting.
More information about the exhibition’s symposium can be found on the website.
For related context on the types of objects to be displayed, visit the exhibition’s YouTube channel.
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