Rare Books and Fore Edge Paintings [B]

There are many rare and valuable books in the various subject-focused sub-collections in Special Collections. However, UCT Libraries also boasts a specific collection of Rare Books, initiated by R. F. M. Immelman, UCT’s University Librarian from 1940 to 1970, and a noted scholar in his own right. This collection consists of books and journals about, and representative of, humankind's intellectual and cultural development in the broadest sense, emphasising the book arts and the history, development and future of the book.    

This collection contains a copy of a 1535 Dutch Bible, believed to be the oldest in South Africa and extremely rare. This particular edition was suppressed and all copies were burned. Indeed, the publisher was condemned to death for publishing it. The oldest book in the collection is by the Roman historian and moralist of the first century C.E., Valerius Maximus, entitled Facta et dicta memorabilium, published in Mainz by Peter Schöffer in 1471. Schöffer, together with Joachim Fust, apparently took over Gutenberg’s press. The collection also includes a copy of the first book to contain photographic illustrations, William Henry Fox Talbot's Pencil of Nature, published in 1844.

Rare Books has an impressive collection of the specialised art form of fore-edge painting, most of which were bequeathed to UCT by Clifford Hall (1905-1975). These paintings only become visible when the edges of the pages are fanned out. Hall’s collection included limited and private presses editions as well as the books with fore-edge paintings. There are over 180 examples of this art form in the collection, including 14 books with double fore-edge paintings and one with decorations on the top and bottom edges.

Items from the Rare Books sub-collection are identified in the libraries’ online catalogue by the prefix B.

Cape Clergyman's Library [BAL]

The Ballot-Kicherer collection was rescued in the 1940s from an abandoned loft in Stellenbosch. It has been damaged by water, mould and pests, and considerable effort was invested at the time in its restoration; of an estimated 700 volumes, some 550 have survived. The books were originally collected by H. W. Ballot (1767-1814); J. J. Kircherer (1775-1825); and J. S. S. Ballot (1801-1868) and constitute an excellent if partial example of a Cape "gentleman’s library" from the period.

There are 17th century Dutch texts, as well as a copy of a 1535 Dutch Bible, probably the oldest in South Africa. This work is extremely rare as it was originally suppressed and almost all copies were burned; the printer was executed for publishing it. For a detailed account of the collection’s history, see R. F. M. Immelman, The Ballot-Kicherer Collection in UCT Libraries: the Cape's second-oldest book collection (Cape Town: University of Cape Town, 1982).

Books from this collection can be identified by the prefix BAL in front of the shelf number.

Khoi-San People [BBK]

Works in this collection can be identified by the prefix BBK at the start of the shelf number.

Bleek Collection [BBL]

Dr Wilhelm Heinrich Immanuel Bleek was born in Berlin, Germany in 1827. In 1851. He graduated from the University of Bonn with a doctorate in linguistics. In 1854 he joined Dr WD Baikies Tshadda to Niger as the official linguist. Due to ill-health, Bleek was forced to leave the expedition and return to England. Here he met the George Grey and the Bishop of Natal, JW Colenso, who invited him to join his project compiling a Zulu grammar in Natal. After completing the Colenso project in 1856, he accepted an invitation from the Governor of the Cape, Sir George Grey to become his official interpreter in Cape Town. While in Cape Town he met and married Jemina Lloyd in 1862. Following his marriage, his sister-in-law, Lucy Lloyd joined the household and became she colleague. She continued his work after his death in 1875.        

Bleek’s first encounter with the San people was in 1857 when he met San prisoners on Robben Island and after conducting interviews with them, he became keen to learn more about this ‘Bushman’ language and compare it to notes taken about other ‘Bushman’ languages. Between 1870 and 1881, Bleek and Lloyd worked together to learn more about the San language and to record personal stories of San people. To do this, they interviewed ǀXam prisoners (San from the central interior of southern Africa) in Cape Town and in the 1870s, //Kabbo, a /Xam-speaking San man, released from Breakwater prison in Cape Town, joined them in their Mowbray home for two years. (Deacon & Skotnes, 2014). Here, they learned more about the language and began to compile and write down words and phrases as well as narratives about their lives, their history, their beliefs and customs. They made a concerted effort to and document anthropological and ethnographic information as possible.

Much of this work, including their notebooks where they recorded stories and narratives in the original language and then translated into English, is now preserved in the Bleek and Lloyd Collection, housed in UCT Libraries’ Special Collections. This collection was donated to University of Cape Town Libraries at various times from the 1920s to the 1960s, largely by Bleek’s daughter Dorothea (Barben, 2014). Also included are drawings by the informants as well as photographs, maps and ephemera. A large portion of the notebooks and material from this collection has been digitised and is available online through the Libraries’ digital collections site.       

The Libraries also has a collection of books by and about Wilhelm Bleek and Lucy Lloyd in the Rare Books collection. These books cover African languages and literature, ethnography, history, travel and geography (Barben, 2014).

The Bleek and Lloyd collection is listed in Unesco’s Memory of the World Register as a documentary heritage of international importance.

The National Library of South Africa in Cape Town and Iziko South African Museum also have collections of Bleek and Lloyd material.

The finding aid(s) to the Bleek Collection can be found online.

Works in this collection can be identified by the prefix BBL at the start of the shelf number.


Deacon, J. & Skotnes, P. (ed.) 2014. The Courage of //kabbo conference proceedings: introduction in The Courage of //kabbo: celebrating the 100th anniversary of the publication of specimens of Bushman folklore. UCT Press: Cape Town, South Africa

Barben, T. 2014. Gathering wisdom: re-assembling Wilhelm Bleek’s library in Deacon, J. & Skotnes, P. (ed.) 2014. The Courage of //kabbo: celebrating the 100th anniversary of the publication of specimens of Bushman folklore. UCT Press: Cape Town, South Africa  

The Bleek Collection

Antarctica Collection [BDA]

Raymond Danowski, an American bibliophile and philanthropist, has long been a benefactor of libraries in South Africa, not least at the University of Cape Town. Some years ago he donated (and has continued to add to) his collection of materials on all aspects of Antarctica to the Diocesan College (also known as Bishops School), here in Cape Town. When the collection became so specialised that it outgrew its usefulness in a secondary educational environment, arrangements were made to transfer it Special Collections, at UCT Libraries.

This collection may be of interest to political scientists, international and environmental legal scholars and researchers, natural scientists and geologists, as well as historians and environmentalists. The collection is an active one, with new items being acquired and gaps identified and filled. It consists of about 350 titles, and works may be identified in the online catalogue by the prefix BDA in front of the shelf number.

English Gentleman's Library [BDB]

Also known as the Bowle-Evans collection, this consists of over 400 volumes (200 or so are catalogued), representative of the reading tastes and cultural interests of an English county family between 1750 and 1870. The original collector, the Reverend John Bowle (1725-1788), was a noted Cervantes scholar and an antiquarian. He spent most of his life in Wiltshire. The collection was subsequently added to by his female descendants, Anna Maria and Francis Evans, and their son, John Bowle-Evans, after whom the collection is named.

Among the titles is Bernard de Montfaucon’s Antiquity explained and represented in sculptures (London, 1721-22), a 7-volume work containing a record of classical and Egyptian religion and culture as represented in sculpture and other works of art. The library was purchased for UCT in 1957 by Rene Immelman for about £400, a large amount in those days. It was acquired from the Cole family of Byletts, near East London. Mrs. Cole had inherited the collection from her father, General C. H. Bowle-Evans in 1941.

Items from this collection carry shelf-numbers with the prefix BDB.

East Asia Collection [BDC]

The "Mossop Chinese Collection" is a small collection of just over 100 items, consisting mainly of books about China and other East Asian countries. The books were bequeathed to the library by the widow of the former Solicitor-General of Shanghai, Sir Allan George Mossop, who worked in the British Colonial Service from 1912 to 1947.

The shelf numbers of books from this collection carry the prefix BDC.

John Davidson Phrenology Collection [BDD]

Phrenology" was a pseudo-science that was popular in the nineteenth century, and was based on the idea that by examining the skulls of individual human beings it was possible to derive conclusions about the person's intelligence and character. Its originator was the German physician Franz Josef Gall (1758- 1828).

Phrenology was a key component in the development of the scientific racism of the nineteenth century, and eventually contributed, as a “scientific” theory, to the emergence of apartheid in South Africa. This small, specialised collection of around 120 volumes, published between 1815 and the 1970s, provides an overview of the development of this pseudo-science, and was bequeathed to the university by John Davidson in 1981.

The prefix before the shelf number is BDD.

Caving and Speleology Collection [BDE]

Speleology is the scientific study of caves and similar features, including their structure, physics and history. It is also concerned with how caves are formed and how they evolve. Recreational exploration, better known as caving or potholing, is part of speleology, since the study of caves requires the physical ability to climb into them. Speleology is cross-disciplinary, needing some knowledge of chemistry, biology, geology, physics, meteorology and cartography.

There are hundreds of caves in South Africa, and especially the Western Cape, varying from the tiny to large caverns. Access may be through easy horizontal systems or vast, complicated and dangerous mixed systems, some with deep pits and one with close to 5 kilometres of measured passageway.

In 1980, through the good offices of the secretary of the Cape Peninsula Speleological Society, Dr. Stephen Craven, the South African Speleological Association’s Collection of books and journals about speleology, caving, and cave diving was deposited on long loan with UCT Libraries.

Journals, received on exchange from similar societies around the world, make up the bulk of the collection, which includes over 350 titles, indicated in the catalogue by the shelf-mark prefix BDE.

Scottish Collection [BDG]

Works in this collection are identified by the prefix BDG.

Jack Maclean Memorial Collection [BDJ]

Works within this collection are identified by the prefix BDJ.

Kipling Collection [BDK]

The basis of the Kipling Collection was donated to UCT Libraries by Mr John Scott Ivan McGregor. A retired teacher, McGregor collected modern English poetry and was very attracted to the writings of Rudyard Kipling. He was a voracious collector of materials written by and about Kipling. This collection has over time increased to over 2000 volumes.

To source the Kipling items he wanted, McGregor used bibliographies, biographies, and other works about Kipling. As a member of the Kipling Society he was able to purchase collections of scrapbooks of magazine articles and newspaper cuttings dating back to the early beginnings of Kipling’s writings in the later 1880s. Some of these contain early reviews of Kipling’s work, while others cover his early life between 1899-1936.

The collection also includes several folders containing items that would not stand conveniently on a shelf. For example: cards with poems such as recessional; pamphlets and brochures; musical settings to many of Kipling’s poems; typed copies of rare or scarce items; odd numbers of magazines such as The Listener and John o’ London. Other items of interest include a printed version of The Absentminded Beggar on a folio sheet and a copy of Punch dated 21st April 1915. Included in the collection is a series of indexes to the folders and scrapbooks, compiled by McGregor, enabling the discoverability of items in the scrapbooks and folders. A full set of the Kipling Society Journal was also included in the gift. McGregor read and annotated the books, and provided cross references from one book to others.

McGregor not only collected books by or about Kipling, but included “books with the autograph of or an inscription by Kipling; books he used; books with dedications to him, and parodies of his writings; bibliographies and other reference books wholly dedicated to Kipling” (Immelman, 1961:4). Some of the rare and valuable items in the collection include, “the School budget of Horsmonden School, Kent, which contains a letter written by Kipling to the schoolboys, Quartette (a collection of writings by the Kipling family in India), the Indian Railway editions, the Detmold illustrations to The jungle books, recipe books that belonged to Kipling’s mother and sister, his sister’s commonplace book, and hundreds of other rare and valuable items” (Barben, 2002:21).

This collection continues to grow as funds have been made available for the purchase of modern critical works, biographies and rare items.


Barben, T. 2002. By rock and heath and pine: Rudyard Kipling and the University of Cape Town, British World Conference, University of Cape Town: Cape Town

Immelman, R.F.M. 1961. The Kipling collection in the University of Cape Town Library. University of Cape Town: Rondebosch

English Poetry Collection [BDM]

Books in this collection have the prefix BDM at the start of the shelf number.

Naval and Aviation Collection [BDW]

Material in this collection start the shelf number with the prefix BDW.

Children's Literature [BJ] [BJA]

Books from this collection can be identified by the prefix BJ or BJA in front of the shelf number.        

Science Fiction and Fantasy Collection [BSF]

The Tolkien Society donated this collection originally, and the library has continued to add to it over the years. Works in this collection are identified by the prefix BSF.

Theological Collection [EA]

Works within this collection have a shelf number beginning with EA.