Rare Books and Fore Edge Paintings

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".