top of page

Orange Free State Post Nooten (Postal Orders)

Pierre H. Nortje (March 2024)


A postal order is used to send money by mail from a person using the services of his/her local post office to someone at another post office. A fee for this post office service is paid by the purchaser.  The name of the person to whom the order is sent, is written on it, so no one else can receive the money. With exceptions, postal orders are not legal tender (like banknotes), but similar to promissory notes and cheques.

1 Pound Oranje Vrij Staat Post Noot

However, in times of need, postal orders can be temporarily declared legal tender (as an emergency currency) to save paper and labour. This happened in England during the Second World War, the Orange Free State, and the South African Republic during the period preceding and during the Anglo-Boer War.

Under the terms of the South African Postal Union Convention which came into effect on 1 January 1898, the postal services of the Orange Free State, South African Republic, Natal and the Cape Colony, agreed to accept each other’s orders. The condition was that they had to be repatriated to the issuing entity after being cashed.

For example, a person in Bloemfontein would buy an order for one pound at the post office and pay a small fee. The person would then physically mail the order to the person he wishes to pay (say in Durban) where the recipient would then present it to the Durban post office which will cash it. The Durban post office will then cancel the order and mail it back to the Bloemfontein post office.

It must be noted that usually, used postal orders are scarcer than unused ones because most are destroyed when they are cashed. We will come back to this issue later.

The Orange Free State Denominations

Unlike a cheque, a postal order shows a fixed amount (denomination).

Oranje Vrij Staat Post Noot 1/6, 1 shilling, 1 pound, 2/6

Four different denominations: Source: Numista

The following denominations are catalogued in the The Standard Catalog of World Paper Money. Volume 1. Specialized issues 9th Edition by Albert Pick and edited by Neil Shafer and George S. Cuhaj. 2002: -


  • 1 Shilling

  • 1 Shilling and Sixpence

  • 5 Shillings

  • 7 Shillings and Sixpence

  • 10 Shillings

  • 12 Shillings and Sixpence

  • 15 Shillings

  • 17 Shillings and Sixpence

  • 1 Pond


It seems that the list of nine denominations is not complete as a 10th denomination (2/6-) is mentioned in an article by A.C. Hoffman in 1952 entitled Seldsame papiernote, goedvore en bewysstukke van die Oranje-Vrystaat in die versameling van die Nasionale Museum.


Twenty-two postal orders (the museum had more than one copy of some denominations) are described by Hoffman, all of them issued in the years 1898 and 1899. He says that even in those early days an excellent postal system must have existed in the Free State and in the Cape Province. A postal order issued at Bethlehem on 25th March was drawn at Lindley two days later on the 27th March. Another issued at Winburg on 3rd March was drawn at Cape Town on the 8th of the same month. A third was issued at Heilbron on the 14th of March and drawn at Grahamstown on the 18th of March.


Hoffman also says that all the notes (postal orders) are exactly the same except that the printer's ink is different in colour on notes of different values. Apparently, the post office also designed its own form of the Free State coat of arms, because this coat of arms differs in many respects from those appearing on the banknotes. The "Commission Fee" was one penny to an amount of 5/-, then two pence to the amount of 10/- and threepence to an amount of £1. It is not clear whether the post office issued any postage notes before 1898 because the notes all bear the stamp of the years 1898 and 1899, that is, up to the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War.


The “rules”


All denominations show the same four rules with an additional note printed at the bottom. They are summarized as follows:


  1. After a note is cashed the first time, it cannot be used again.

  2. If any of the lettering or figures are crossed out or something added to the text by hand is not specifically requested, or if the note is damaged, the post office may refuse payout.

  3. If the payout is refused, the postmaster must report his reason(s) to the postmaster-general.

  4. If three months have passed since the last day of the month in which the note was issued, a fee was to be paid equaling the original commission fee (“commissie loon”) printed on the note. This is repeated for sequential three-month periods. The commission wage (e.g. one penny) must be indicated by adding a postal stamp of equal value to the back of the postal order.

It would appear that all notes that were cashed in the Cape Colony and Natal also had postal stamps affixed to either the front or back. It probably meant that the receiver of the note also had to pay a fee at the Cape Colony and Natal post offices. (We also found an example where this was done to an order sent to the ZAR). So in these cases, both the person making the payment and the one receiving it had to pay a fee.


The additional note printed at the bottom indicates that the person who bought the note must fill in the name of the person to whom he/she is sending it to. He may also fill in the name of the post office where it must be cashed. The receiver must then sign the note before it can be cashed and if the name of the post office is not indicated, he must add it.


The note is also stamped (with the date) by both post offices and signed by the office that does the payout. Of interest, Hoffman notes that with one exception, all the postal employees who signed the notes in the museum’s collection had English surnames.


The numbering of the postal orders


It would appear that all notes, irrespective of their denominations, had the same prefix A1 followed by 5 characters indicating that theoretically 99999 notes could have been printed in total. The lowest and highest numbers we could find – see below – were 00005 and 15777.


It seems that the numbering of the notes was done randomly, as there is no type of numbering order (e.g. the 1/- denomination is numbered from 00001 to say 01000 and then the following denomination starts at 01001).


We have checked over 100 examples found on the internet with the following results:



Although some sources state that the £1 (the highest denomination) is scarce, our internet search revealed that this is not the case, as it is fairly frequently offered for sale. The denominations that are less frequently offered are the 12/6, 15/-, and 17/6 issues.

The reader shall remember that in the introduction to this paper, we stated that in general,  used postal orders are scarcer than unused ones because most are destroyed when they are cashed. However, It seems that as far as the Orange Free State postal orders are concerned, this is not the case. Unused issues are truly scarce and in the over 100  pictured notes we have tracked on the internet, only one single specimen was found


The note resides in the British Museum with registration number CIB.15504. Of interest is that the “production date” is given as 1900 and the curator comments that it was “Used as currency during the Boer War”. We will discuss this issue in the last part of the paper. We must add that another example we spotted, a £1 note, was stamped by the issuing post office but was not cashed. A.C. Hoffman in his article in 1952 also stated that there are 14 unused notes in the National Museum, but these (if they are still kept there) are obviously not for sale.


Further Comments


In studying used samples, the author spotted some interesting facts that raised more questions than answers. Here are some examples:-


In the following case, the 1/- order was sent from Wepener in the Free State to Port Elizabeth in the Cape Colony. A fee of 1 penny was paid by the recipient indicated by the affixed stamp on the back. The two questions are: Why was the order stamped by the Cape Town General Post Office as paid if it was cashed in Port Elizabeth? Secondly, why was the order stamped by the African Banking Corporation if it was paid to a Mrs. Marshall & Co?

In most examples, we found that the person who bought the order and the person who cashed the order are for some reason, the same person. In the following example, a certain Fred Muller sent 5/- from the Free State to himself in Cape Town. In the process, he had to pay the 1 Penny fee for purchasing the order and then 1 Penny again when it was cashed. Why didn’t he simply take 5/- in cash with him when he visited Cape Town in December 1898 and save 2 pence in the process?

Below, is another example where the person sent the order to himself and paid three pence commission. The note was sent from Kroonstad to Bloemfontein, so seemingly never left the Free State, but for some reason was stamped by both the General Post Office in the Free State and ZAR National Bank in Johannesburg. Why?

In our last example below, on the postal order cashed in Natal, the three one-penny stamps are fixed to the reverse of the order but for the Cape Colony, the stamps are fixed on the obverse. As a matter of interest, the note on the right shows the 2nd lowest serial number we could find on the notes we studied – the lowest being 00005.

Coming back to the question why in most cases, the person who bought the order and the person who cashed it, is the same individual? The only answer we can come up with is that these orders were mostly used as a type of traveller’s cheque, possibly for safety reasons, but we simply do not know. In most cases the period between buying the order and cashing it, is relatively short, seldom being more than a week or two.


However, in the following case, the order is stamped with an issuing date of 13 August 1898 but was only cashed on 3 September 1898, and unexpectedly at the same post office, Heilbron, with the buyer and recipient being the same person. He probably went on a trip taking some postal orders with him, and those that were not cashed at his destination were brought back and cashed at his own post office.

Postal orders used as emergency currency during the Anglo-Boer War


In a Wikipedia article on the Orange Free State Postal Orders, it is stated that the “Orange Free State and the South African Republic were the first countries in the world to declare postal orders to be legal tender as an emergency currency. At this time, it is currently difficult to distinguish between the currency issues and the normal postal notes”.


Firstly, we could not find one single example of an O.F.S. postal order issued after the Anglo-Boer War started on 11 October 1899.


Secondly, in his Money in South Africa (1987: 86) by CL Engelbrecht, he states “Blank postal orders of the Republic of the Orange Free State and the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek were used during the latter part of the war when cash and notes became scarce”. The examples he shows in his book, however, are all used notes.


If blank postal orders were used as emergency currency during the Boer War, the only way to distinguish them from normal postal orders would be the fact that they would show signs of circulation. With unused notes being extremely scarce, we were not able to study such notes – the only example pictured, as we have stated, is the one in the British Museum that seems to be in uncirculated condition.


The last question we have is the following: If the post offices destroyed used notes after they were cashed, why are there so many used examples left on the market – even today? Most of the denominations are not scarce, so for some reason, the post offices did not destroy many of the notes. The reason for this could be twofold. Firstly, when an order was cashed and stamped, it was worthless so there was no reason to destroy it. Secondly, was it possible that the Bloemfontein national post office started to circulate undestroyed notes as emergency currency during the Boer War? We doubt this, as virtually all the notes we have studied, show very little signs of circulation.


Final Comments


The post nooten of the Orange Free State offers a fascinating collecting field. Most of the denominations are not that scarce and should be affordable to many collectors. There are also a wide variety of denominations with each telling a short story of its history; where it was bought and cashed, when and by whom. The cashing fees indicated by affixed postal stamps as well as sometimes additional rubber stamps by private and governmental institutions like banks, add to the wonderful story. 


As an example of how interesting our hobby is, the following:- In the article by A.C. Hoffman in 1952 that was earlier referred to in this paper, he mentions that a 15/- note, numbered A/I 01151, was to be paid out at Kroonstad in the Free State to Messrs. A. L. Thring & Co. It was cashed on 3 March by A. L. Thring.


A couple of years ago, the author wrote a paper on the Strachan & Co. tokens and came upon the same surname that is not well known in South Africa. This person was F.L. Thring who was a solicitor and the Clerk of the Peace (Natal Ministry of Justice) for the Ixopo district and served as an officer in the Border Mounted Rifles during the Anglo-Boer War. A couple of years after the war ended, he tragically committed suicide by gunshot.


The author decided, just for interest's sake, to see if there was any connection between the two Thring gentlemen.


Albert Lester Thring (born 1857), an Irishman,  was a business owner in Kroonstad and joined the Boer Forces as a Veldkornet. A historian, Howard C. Hillegas wrote of him ...


“The only vestige of real military discipline that was to be found in the entire Boer army was that which was maintained by Field-Cornet A.L. Thring, of the Kroonstad commando, who had a roll-call and inspection of rifles every morning. This extraordinary procedure was not relished by the burghers, who made an indignant protest to General Christian De Wet. The general upheld the field cornet’s action, and told the men that if all the officers had instituted similar methods more success might have attended the army’s operations.”


He was awarded the DTD (Dekoratie voor Trouwe Dienst) and received the Wound Ribbon (Lint voor Verwonding).


Frederick Lester Thring (born 1864), as we have stated also served in the Anglo-Boer war as an officer, but on the English side and was awarded the Queen's Medal. He was present during the Siege of Ladysmith.  Alfred Lester’s Boer commando also served at Ladysmith so the two could easily have shot at each other.

Albert Lester Thring (left) and Frederick Lester Thring (right)

And the connection between the men? They were actually blood brothers!

bottom of page