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Thursday, 27 August 2015


Votes & Views #36

In my hands is this bible printed in 1702. No, let me correct that – the bible is much too big and heavy to hold – it is lying on a table in front of me. A huge, stately book of almost ten kilos, bound in wooden boards which have been covered with lovingly anointed, but heavily cracked leather; the corners are protected by ornate brass work, and two clasps keep it shut. I open the book carefully; some newer pages have been inserted, covered with a beautifully calligraphed genealogy, beginning in 1232 AD, of one of the old Cape families, the de Villiers clan. I skim over some 4 pages of entries and come to the last name. He has asked me to find a new home for this treasure, along with another couple of dozen stately, centuries-old books, and many more recent books dealing with our subcontinent.
Most parents harbour a hope that their children will one day have the same wish to preserve the material things that they themselves cherished, used and collected to paper the walls of their existence. That goes for the family farm, the ancestral home, the antique furniture or jewellery – and so often, books. However, since times immemorial children have had their own headstrong ways. They stubbornly refuse to follow in their progenitors’ footsteps in matters of careers; spending habits; political views, consumption of stimulants - and reading matter, among others.
A personal library is like a tree; there is the seed – core books acquired on a specific subject or genre, or acquired as a ‘mystery’ lot at an auction; interest is stimulated and broadens, so more books are added. Tastes branch out, mature and find other directions and so a collection grows. After the proverbial three score years and ten or thereabouts, comes the cut-off point in every collector’s life. Either they decide to reduce their establishment as it has become too cumbersome; they move into smaller, sheltered accommodation, or their life reaches its conclusion. In both cases material effects need to be redistributed and disposed of. The natural inheritors are children and grandchildren. No problem then. Or is there? The march of technology has been relentless; by now it has become a sprint with ever new entries into the field. The rising generations have less dependence on the printed word, there are more immediate, electronic, audiovisual forms of media on hand. Libraries take up large amounts of space; they need care; they are subject to fire, damp and insect attack. That cherished assemblage  has suddenly become a millstone round somebody’s neck.
Back in 1947, there lived a family by the name of Solly near Sir Lowry’s Pass.  There are no Solly’s left in the Cape that I can find, as the last of that name seem to have departed to live in France, as the user of their telephone number informs me.  I picture a modestly well-off, aging family, cultured people with varied interests, living in a large family home on a farm overlooking False Bay. Their time came, there were no immediate heirs to inherit. The executors of the estate moved in and the house, furniture and effects were auctioned off and dispersed - this much I know. Their small library, containing some of the most prized works describing life and travels during the 17th to 19th century in Southern Africa, was bought by the de Villiers family, and became the beginning of a new collection.
Now, some seventy years later, that metamorphosed library has once more come to the end of its existence. The current owners, a few generations later, are reducing their establishment, and are moving to a retirement village, where there is no space for libraries. The following generations have other interests and don’t want to ‘curate’ the books. New owners must be found, which is where I come into the picture.  After our initial contact and perusal of a list of titles, almost two hundred volumes were dropped off at Africana Books. Since many of these were items I had not handled before, I drove up to Cape Town ( as I live in the Tzitzikamma forest nowadays ) post-haste, and spent the next week working ten hours a day to acquaint myself with just twenty of the most uncommon works. Since these were written in mainly in Dutch and French – languages with which I have some familiarity, but in which I am not entirely comfortable, this was a slow process. Still, my findings were a little like a Who’s Who of early travel round the Cape. So let me tell you about them in some sort of chronological order.
The oldest item is a little extract from Churchill’s Voyages, printed in 1707. Written by Willem ten Rhyne in 1673, An Account of the Cape of Good Hope. The diary opens on 9 October 1673, when Ten Rhyne’s ship anchored in Saldanha Bay. He writes an introduction on the situation at the Cape, and then a running commentary by way of 27 short chapters on wild animals, birds, fishes and insects, plants, seasons, indigenous inhabitants and their anatomy, garments, dwellings, possessions, character, manners, way of living, fighting, dancing and religion.  Only some twenty pages, yet crammed full of the remarkable insights on a strange  continent and its people.
A truly uncommon work is Francois Valentyn’s   Beschryving van de Kaap der Goede Hoope, met de  zaken daartoe behorende (Vol 10) published in 1724. Although the writer had no first-hand travel experience at the Cape, he had access to the VOC archives, and from there comes a fine early map of the Cape, the first printed account of Governor van der Stel’s 1685 epic journey to Namaqualand, as well as the lesser known Starrenburg’s trek into the Sandveld in 1705. The latter part of the book deals with Mauritius, and there is also a fine map of that island.
 The next two items were in French, by two clerics, the Abbe de Choisy, and Pere Tachard. Both of these clerics were en route to Siam, where their embassies were welcomed in the hope that this would keep the Dutch at bay in that part of South East Asia. Choisy's account: Journal du Voyage de Siam, from 1686 (this is the oldest travel book in the collection) is in the form of a diary, and is written in an attractive style, telling about their visit to the Cape, details of the voyage and experiences in Siam. The book is a classic that has repeatedly been reprinted due to the importance of this particular embassy.
Tachard, who was a respected mathematician as well as a cleric, led the second such expedition in 1687. The voyage is described in Second Voyage du Pere Tachard et des Jesuites envoyez par le Roy au Royaume de Siam. Part of the book touches on the Cape of Good Hope, where the governor, Simon van der Stel and the visiting commissioner of the VOIC, H A van Rheede tot Drakenstein, entertained the French party and gave them a tour of the settlement, as well as helping them with their scientific and astronomical observations. For this the governor was reprimanded later, as France was technically at war with the Dutch.
 Then a classic tale of travel, survival and adversity: Voyage et Avantures de Francois Leguat & de ses Compagnons en deux Isles desertes des Indes Orientales. Francois  Leguat was a French Huguenot who had fled France to Holland after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. One Marquis du Quesne had first considered Reunion as a possible colony for Huguenots, but after the French took that over,  he fitted out a small frigate, L'Hirondelle to reconnoitre the Mascarene islands, and to take possession of whatever island was found unoccupied, for that purpose.  In 1690 Leguat and nine male volunteers boarded L'Hirondelle for Reunion which they believed had been abandoned by the French. Instead he and seven companions were marooned on the uninhabited island of Rodrigues. After a year, they built a boat and sailed to Dutch-controlled Mauritius, where they were imprisoned due to France and Holland being at war. After lengthy imprisonment, the survivors were shipped to Jakarta to stand trial, supposedly for espionage on behalf of the French. They were found innocent, and Leguat and two other survivors were returned to England, where he penned his memoirs. The book is illustrated with a number of splendidly na├»ve engraved plates.
Peter Kolbe, another astronomer at the Cape, spent some 8 years there from 1705-1713, which gave him the material to compose his work The Present State of the Cape of Good Hope.  There is a huge amount of natural history information – most of it admittedly exaggerated and gleaned from other sources, but his observations of the Khoi around the settlement, their lifestyle, customs and language are  fascinating. The work is still much quoted as an early ethnographical source.
The Abbe de la Caille’s Journal Historique du Voyage fait au Cap de Bonne Esperance  is next. He was a distinguished scientist, astronomer and mathematician who in 1750 led an expedition to the Cape. It was said of him that, during a comparatively short life, he had made more observations and calculations than all the astronomers of his time put together and that the quality of his work was unrivalled. Among his results were determinations of the lunar and of the solar parallax and the first measurement of a South African arc of the meridian, which suggested that the earth was more flattened at the southern pole. He gives a lively description of  the countryside and inhabitants at the Cape during his stay. His observations on the voyage demonstrated the difficulties of navigation to him and led him to devise a better method of using the moon to determine time and latitude at sea.
Anders Sparrman is a well-known name among early travellers in the subcontinent, ranking with naturalists like Burchell, Thunberg and Lichtenstein. This brilliant scientist sailed for the Cape in 1772 to take up a post as a tutor. When James Cook arrived there later in the year at the start of his second voyage, Sparrman was taken on as assistant naturalist, and accompanied the intrepid explorer on his journey, reaching New Zealand. On his return he spent several years in the Cape and undertook various journeys into the interior. His work, with the descriptive title: A voyage to the Cape of Good Hope, towards the Antarctic polar circle, and round the world: But chiefly into the country of the Hottentots and Caffres was the result, and was published in 1785. Sparrman, an excellent observer, not only collected a wealth of specimens, but he had an eye for the country and a descriptive turn of phrase about the people he met.
His countryman Carl Peter Thunberg came to the Cape as a medical doctor. After his arrival at the Cape, he focused on learning Dutch during his three year stay, which was to stand him in good stead in Japan on the latter part of his travels. In September 1772, in the company of Auge, the superintendent of the Company garden, they journeyed to Saldanha Bay, east as far as the Gamtoos River and returned by way of the Little Karoo. He also met Francis Masson, who was collecting plants for the Royal Gardens at Kew, and who shared his interests, as well as being accompanied by the explorer Robert Jacob Gordon during one of his three expeditions into the interior, Thunberg collected a significant number of specimens of both flora and fauna, and has been dubbed the ‘father of South African botany’ for his contributions. Four slim volumes, entitled: Travels in Europe, Africa and Asia, made between the Years 1770 and 1779, this third edition published in 1795-6, were the result of his work.
South African travel writing would be a duller, more monochrome affair if it was not for the works of the inimitable Frenchman, Francois le Vaillant. It is fitting, therefore, that there are no less than three examples of his work in this collection: his so-called ‘first voyage’ in both the first French and English editions of 1790 ( Travels from the Cape of Good Hope into the interior Parts of Africa ), during which he had the misfortune to lose all his equipment at Saldanha Bay when his ship was sunk by the British, after which he recouped his fortunes and meandered along the southern edge of the subcontinent returning to the Cape by an inland route. Also present is his second, more historic journey, published in 1796, in which he penetrated into the inhospitable regions of Namaqualand and Bushmanland, and even crossed the Gariep River to penetrate into Namibia, as has been disputed for years, but now taken as proven. All described with the irrepressible enthusiasm of a young man out in the wilds, full of joie de vivre, seeing dangers lurking behind every hill and romance looming over the horizon.
One of the latter works of travels in the 18th century was John Splinter Stavorinus’ work: Reize van Zeeland over de Kaap de Goede Hoop en Batavia naar Samarang, Macassar, Amboina, Suratte, this published in 1798. He was an admiral of a small fleet which made an extended voyage covering the Dutch colonies in South Africa and the Far East. He visited Stellenbosch, Hottentots Holland, Vergeleegen, Klapmuts, among other places in the Cape, and remarks on the position of the farmers, whom he regards as superior to the Dutch living in the towns, whom he describes as discourteous and disagreeable, which might in part be due to the arbitrary and rapacious government they had to labour under - similar to conditions at present, in fact. His general picture of the colony is not a complimentary one and he paints conditions in the Cape Town hospital as being a complete health hazard, more likely to spread disease than to cure.  A significant contribution to social history at the Cape during the latter years of the Dutch rule.
Robert Percival was the officer entrusted by General Craig to crush resistance at Muizenberg during the conquest of the Cape. He was the first to enter Cape Town and there he remained till 1797. On his return he published a narrative of his journey and a description of the country, under the title: An Account of the Cape of Good Hope, containing an Historical View of its original Settlement by the Dutch, and a Sketch of its Geography, Productions, the Manners and Customs of its Inhabitants,  which was translated into French in 1806. This French edition is part of the collection, and though rather thin, is not uninteresting, and was warmly praised at the time. His slating of the Dutch settlers and especially of their cruelty to the Khoi, their sloth, inhospitality, and lack of social graces, are severe. However, he praises the Cape climate as best in the world and advises the British government, who had just restored the province by the treaty of Amiens, to reoccupy it.
After the takeover by Britain, it is only natural that British travellers and views should become more common. One of the earlier, and certainly more important accounts, was John Barrow’s Travels into the Interior of South Africa, of which the second edition, complete with fine hand-coloured plates by that great artist Samuel Daniell, also appeared in 1806. Barrow was the secretary of Governor Macartney, and he was despatched on a round-tour of the country to inform the settlers of the administrative changes, and to gauge their opinions. His work, though marred by bias and antagonism to the locals, is thought to be an honest appraisal of conditions prevailing in the colony, and as such is a treasured part of the literature of the period.
The era of missionaries had started. They came in shiploads, and from the early eighteen-hundreds, missionary accounts proliferated, from the arid interior, then up the West Coast, and along the southern edge of the continent. One of the enduring contributions to this genre was Ignatius Latrobe’s Journal of a Visit to South Africa. A gentle soul this Moravian missionary, a talented artist, writer and musician, he embarked on a tour of mission stations along the south coast as far as the Great Fish River, and planned on establishing a new mission at Enon. His book is illustrated with some fine colour plates and his sympathetic attitude to the folk he met, the understated descriptions of his travails have won it a lasting place on even modern bookshelves.
The last of these early works that deserve special mention is Captain W F W Owen, who’s Narrative of Voyages to Explore the Shores of Africa, Arabia and Madagascar was published in 1833 after a four year expedition which was undertaken to survey the entire coast of Africa and southern Arabia. His meticulous work laid the foundation for what we know about the geography of some tens of thousands of kilometres of coastline to this day, as he returned with more than three hundred charts. In addition his little flotilla became involved in subduing pirates in the Mascarenes, and attempting to quash slavery in Mombasa. He had much interaction with the inhabitants of the ports and islands along the coast, which makes the volumes an interesting read.
These then are the jewels in the crown of the collection that Peter de Villiers has entrusted to me to dispose of. There are many more recent works on exploration, wars, history and biography. All the above will be offered for sale by auction, on our website and by means of our catalogues which we send out to our clients at intervals. We trust that these cultural relics will find new owners, who will appreciate the contents and the workmanship of these precious volumes.
The auction starts on Thursday, 27th of August 6.30pm – and bidding ends on 3rd September at the same time, and most of the lots above, as well as other offerings can be viewed and bid on at:

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Do you know where you’re going to ? – Map Collecting


A map is a wondrous thing: one man’s attempt at describing where the viewer could go to, how there was access to the place, roads, rivers   perhaps even a habitation or settlement where he could find help if in need – or merely a depiction of how the artist or compiler imagined his physical environment. There are indications that even prehistoric man started using graphic means on the walls of caves, delineating points of reference and a sort of ‘x marks the spot’.  That hot-spot of civilization, the Middle East, shows evidence of pottery and  wall paintings that point to the early beginning of a view of the landscape from above, which meant that so much more detail could be seen than from a ground perspective. The ancient Greeks, Romans and Chinese made giant leaps in both the scientific basis of cartography, as well as the depiction of their world.  During the early centuries of this era, the Arabs and Indians led the way, but after the Renaissance, Europeans slowly progressed beyond the roteiros of the Portuguese (which gave detailed verbal instructions on coastal features and bearings to guide the way) to the first maps printed on paper, which were carried as aids to exploration of the globe. It is said that the expansion of European power across the world can be attributed in part to late 15th Century advances in cartography. Especially early maps of the east coast of America, and depictions of the African continent (of which the general outline was known by the early 1500’s) must have aroused the cupidity of kings and adventurers alike. While any accuracy was confined to a few stretches of well-known coastline, the interior could be adorned with fanciful rivers, mountain ranges, lakes and fabulous cities of which legends abounded.

Every time I see a map of Africa or part thereof, in moderate dimensions, framed  and displayed on an office or study wall, I have this twinge of regret. Why ? Well, because most likely some perfectly good volume dealing with the history, geography or exploration of the continent has been deprived of a vital part – if it hasn’t been entirely destroyed by some ‘breaker’ as these desecrators of books are called – people who remove illustrations and maps from antique volumes in the hope of being able to sell them singly at a higher price than the book in its entirety can achieve, all in pursuit of interior decoration and profit.  These are the 18th and 19th Century maps one is most likely to run across. The works of great 16th Century mapmakers, such as Mercator or Ortelius, and even 17th Century notables like Blaeu, de Lille, Allard and the whole swathe of engravers who copied, decorated and generally muddied the pond insofar as exactitude of directions were concerned, have mostly already been snapped up and adorn the walls of museums, libraries, archives and corporate offices.

Still, it is possible to pick up the odd gem, but beware of forgeries. With the art of copying and printing at a truly remarkable stage of development, there exist facilities that can replicate old lithographs so faithfully, that it needs an expert to differentiate between a fake and the real thing. Quite frequently forgers use old paper – again, ripped from broken-up volumes, which makes it even more difficult to invest one’s money wisely. It is almost a certainty that somewhere out East there are already factories specialising in the manufacture of suitably aged, fine papers, complete down to the appropriate watermark. Some years back I was approached by a client who wanted to sell a framed map by Caroli Allard - Novissima et Perfectissima Africae Descriptio. A little bit of research gave me its date (1690), and everything about it seemed right:  islands floating in an ocean where they had no right to be, a lavish cartouche with crocodiles, lions, pyramids and a black Venus, down to the oxidation of the green pigment and light browning of the paper. Even though I trusted my client (who said he’d bought it at an auction of an estate, and could give all the particulars ) I insisted on opening up the framed piece to inspect everything with a very large lens. So far I’m happy with my purchase; a moderately uncommon example of the cartographer’s skills of the period, which now hangs on the wall above this computer.

For any aspiring collector of African maps, two books on the subject are an absolute must – Tooley’s  Collectors' Guide to Maps of the African Continent and Southern Africa and Oscar Norwich’s Maps of Southern Africa.  Both are out of print, but copies are often available from antiquarian dealers. There are quite a few other books on the subject, but most of these also end with maps published up to the late 19th century, like the two volumes mentioned, which still give a fair amount of information on works by late Victorian publishers in the UK. Some fine illustrative and painstakingly correct maps were also made during this period between the late 18th and early 20th Century by the firm Justus Perthes in Germany. The latter have the advantage of being reasonably priced due to their abundance. The internet is a great help in tracing dates of publication, details of the engravers’ work and lives, as well as rarity and a rough guide to prices. There is, as far as I know, no work dealing with more modern, yet already very collectible maps.

For collectors in Southern Africa the boom in diamonds and gold, the Zulu War, the Boer War and its aftermath all created a thirst for knowledge about the subcontinent. Prospective immigrants, traders, prospectors and businessmen all needed to know more about the region, communications, towns, climate, geology and the like. Numerous firms at the Cape as well as in Britain obliged with handsome, large folding maps in hardcover or softcover, some on linen backing for hard wear. These were at great pains to convince the aspiring immigrant that our infrastructure was expanding apace, that there were roads and towns, yet there was plenty of elbow-room and vast open spaces in which to settle, hunt or do whatever one fancied. Ten or twenty years ago one could pick up arcane gems like Richards’ Postal Route Map of the Cape Colony and Adjacent Territories, Jeppe’s Map of the Transvaal or even an anonymously published Map No 3 of the Western Cape  for a hundred rands or so. Nowadays they go at auction for prices in the thousands of rands – not bad even if you discount our rampant inflation.

Early geological maps are much prized, presumably by collectors with mining backgrounds or even the great mining houses, which would proudly display luridly coloured sheets of (to the layman) incomprehensibly named strata as the structure of gold-bearing reefs was delineated, or plans of claims to fabulously rich chunks of ‘blue ground’ which were allocated to eager prospectors. Of course, the real prize within this genre is the hand-drawn map. Either a famous geologist’s drawing of ‘work in progress’ or better still, a ‘treasure map’ such as I was fortunate to acquire and sold after much soul-searching since I coveted it for my own collection. This was one Ambrose Carroll’s little pet project. He was a notable treasure-hunter in the early 1900’s. He conceived a number of schemes to raise specie from sunken ships and to find diamonds on the Guano Islands off the Namibian coast and elsewhere. Included in his scrapbook of madcap ideas was a beautifully executed sketch-map, complete with the magic word ‘diamonds’ inserted here and there to whet the appetite. This fine map was the handiwork of one officer Pinnock of the 1st Cape Mounted Police, as the signature would have it, and I have often wondered at the story behind this partnership. Another great prospector-adventurer was Fred Cornell, and though he did not leave any hand-drawn maps among the effects I was asked to sell, there were a number of claim diagrams/maps, which, touched by the magic wand of his name, made a few collectors very happy.

Any type of war memorabilia has a wide appeal to collectors. Diaries and maps are no exception, and depending on the rank of the soldier, regiment and actions described or mapped, they can be exceedingly valuable. Hand-drawn sketch maps in this sort of situation are prime collectibles, but one needs to have some supporting documents to support their provenance. During the early stages of the Anglo-Boer War, almost hysterical patriotism reigned in Britain and the Cape, so numerous maps were published to inform the patriots of the situation of ‘The Seat of War’ and ‘The Boer Republics’ and similar titles. None of these maps showed much that was new, but the public lapped them up and they have become a genre in themselves. Much more interesting, were the little pocket maps issued by J Wood for the Field Intelligence Department in ‘a scale of 3.94 miles to the inch’. Many early editions of these maps, from 1899 onwards to 1902, bear the rather endearing legend ‘This map is not to be considered absolutely accurate – not many surprises then, as features like horse troughs, windmills, springs and gates, feature among the buildings and kopjes that littered the empty paper plains of Namaqualand and Bushmanland. As intelligence improved, new and revised maps were issued – some so fresh that some of the information was hand-written instead of typeset. There are 57 maps in the grid covering the Northern, Western and Southern Cape, and though I have collected a number of them, the outlay is just too much for my Namaqualand Collection, which focuses primarily on written material, so I have a full set of electronic images on file instead, which I could have printed out quite reasonably, if desired. These maps are often inscribed with the owner’s names, regimental data, and even stains from hard wear in the field – and in one instance a sinister brown splash of blood marred the back of one that passed through my hands..

Only thirteen years after the end of that conflict, Germany and Britain went to war, and since Gen. Botha had decided to stand behind his erstwhile victors, South Africa invaded South West, but not before a few anxious moments as the 1914 Rebellion set brother against brother in the Northern Cape. Once again the region came under the spotlight, and an almost identical set of revised maps was commissioned to reflect the salient features of the country from where the assault would be launched by government forces. In this war the set of maps extended into German South West, but the progress of the war soon outran the mapping division’s efforts when the Germans capitulated in 1915.  Both of these sets of maps in their various editions come up for sale quite regularly, and either or both would make a suitable subject for an intensive collection without being ruinously expensive. Having said that, their prices have risen dramatically over the past decade or two. World War I in East Africa must also have produced its rash of maps, but these seem much less common, and I have only come across a few, mostly of German origin, from that campaign.

As technology forged ahead, motor cars and planes became the order of the day. The rutted tracks of the ox-wagon were replaced with first gravel roads and drifts and ponts, then bridges and tarred roads made their debut.  Those much beloved maps issued by the petrol companies, automobile clubs and fledgling tourism organisations are steadily rising in the appreciation of collectors of maps. Areas of interest to lovers of nature, such as  National Parks, were mapped. Even folders of route maps from the Cape to Cairo, or from Beira to Bagamoyo for those with a hankering for crossing the Dark Continent, were available. Just tracing a route and reading the warnings are enough to conjure up the romance of the road. ‘Danger – Elephants’; ‘No petrol for 450 miles’; ‘Impassable in the Wet’; ‘Beware of Crocodiles’. Not that these routes have become much safer in modern times. All the abovementioned hazards are still present with the added peril of ‘War-zone’ added for good measure

Lastly a short mention needs to be made of hand-drawn and painted maps. They should never be ignored by the collector, as they are often labours of love, or part of a vocation. My first map was one of these; drawn by some nameless forestry official tasked with looking after a huge stretch of Maputaland in Northern Natal. The date was somewhere in the early 1950’s, and it had neat hand-lettering of the names of even the meanest kraal, pan, rivulet and hill, while delicate watercolour washes had been used to denote plantations, bodies of water, dune forests and scrubland. After a sojourn of almost fifty years in my care, I willingly passed it on to a client who thought he recognised his grandfather’s hand in the making. It meant more to him than to me.

An allied genre would be town and city plans and maps. These are actually quite common, since they generally owe their presence in the market to the previously mentioned scavengers who dismember books, but they are not the sort of thing I can get enthused about. Still -  they are all part of getting you to ‘know where you’re going to’.