Africana

At five o clock in the afternoon of Saturday 19 December 1925, a wisp of smoke was seen to rise lazily from the thatched roof near the kitchen of the Groot Constantia Manor House. Moments later the huge thatch roof caught fire creating an uncontrollable inferno. With no brandsolder to contain the flames, the blaze crashed through to the boarded ceilings of the rooms below and through that to the main floor.

Ordinances of the Transvaal 1903, 1904 and Statutes of the Transvaal 1907. Whoever wants to look at old, dry, dusty, obsolete law books? Law books date, they take up space on shelves and laws are repealed. Legal language is precise and unemotional. The Transvaal ceased to exist in 1994 and today a completely different provincial government structure has replaced the pre 1994 arrangement of four all white driven apartheid provinces and the 10 bantustans.

An advantage of book auction sales is that they renew the stream of collectable books coming onto the market and give a fresh spurt to book collecting. New book collectors are encouraged to join the book community. Old book collectors have the opportunity to acquire that elusive appealing title on the wish list. There is nothing quite like the excitement of bidding on an auction sale for a desired treasure, and the market deciding who will be the fortunate new owner.

It is a pity that artistically designed bookplates or ex libris as they are referred to in Europe, have fallen into relative disuse in South Africa. Antiquarian bookdealers have long known that a well-designed bookplate adds not only to the appearance and interest, but also to the monetary value of a rare book.

By him who bought me for his own,
I’m lent for reading leaf by leaf;
If honest you’ll return the loan, 
If you retain me you are a thief.

[Originally published in 2015] I recently acquired a fascinating item of Johannesburg Africana. It is a pamphlet publication of the 1913 strike and disturbances on the Witwatersrand and Johannesburg. It's a slight document of 32 pages including four pages of period adverts published by the Central News Agency. Was it a newspaper insert or sold by the CNA? Coverage includes the story of the strike, a casualty list, a Johannesburg central district map of the "area of disturbance" and 14 pages of contemporary black and white photographs.

A visit to one of the top libraries of the world, the private Africana library of the Oppenheimer family, the Brenthurst Library (by appointment only) is more than a treat. For a bibliophile one feels as though one has had the happy experience of dying and being directed to heaven.

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