Africana Book Collectors was founded by my mother and late father in 1969 in Pretoria, South Africa. This was due to my father’s overspill of books. Our store was called Africana Book Collectors. My dad was a practising GP and so I began to help out in our Sunnyside store after matric in 1971. We specialised in new, used and antiquarian books and with the help of my older brother, Leon (who assisted with printing), we eventually put out nearly 100 catalogues which went all over the world.
My wife and I moved to Pietermaritzburg in 1986 and opened an attractive, large shop in an Edwardian house. We changed the name to ABC Bookshop. We sold the premises about ten years later and moved into a new mall in Scottsville. We subsequently opened a second shop in Hilton. Due to various reasons we closed down in Pietermaritzburg and opened a new store in Gateway, Durban.
We called our new store Great Books and experienced many thousands of visitors every month and in December/January upwards of 100 000 people a day. However it never proved a great venue for a specialist store and the hours we had to stay open seven days a week were onerous.
Eventually after a few years in Umhlanga we closed up shop. By then I had been doing a larger percentage of sales on the internet. I was online in Durban from the start there (2003) and my printed catalogues had long since been replaced for a web presence www.abcbook.co.za . I had been holding internet auctions since about 2009, gradually increasing my web presence (although not big enough to squash any of the big boys’ toes). Due to ill health, we have move back to our roots in Pretoria and expect to carry on with our small weekly auctions there.
We do a regular small africana auction of about 30 odd books and I remember many of our “old” customers from the 1970s, still as keen as ever, but now on the internet. Among the exciting and extraordinary people who visited our shops in Pretoria, Pietermaritzburg and Durban were Walter Battiss, Denis Godfrey, Dr. K.L. Tinley (scientist), Tony Sanchez-Arino (hunter), Paul Bosman (artist), David Rattray & John Laband (two Zulu War experts) and Nina Bawden (chilren’s author) A number of naturalists also visited us and had a huge influence on our interest in conservation issues and indigenous planting. I think particularly of Eve Palmer, Ian Player, Ian Garland, David and Sally Johnson and Elsa Pooley.
We had some funny and unusual incidents over the years, two of which featured rather poorly dressed, “older people” on bicycles. One was an elderly man, who rode around Hatfield, Brooklyn and Menlo Park in scruffy work clothes and long grey beard, always causing a stir (better known as Walter Battiss). The other, a funny, short person, who travelled across the Transkei alone on a bicycle, arrived at our bookstore in an Edwardian house in Pietermaritzburg and parked her bike on our veranda. We had a long chat and she proved to be a woman (I hadn’t been sure) and told me her story of the past month in South Africa. Her name ? Dervla Murphy, famous Irish travel writer who wrote a book “The Ukimwi Road” about South Africa, published that year (1993). The final outcome of the story: I had warned her about leaving her bike unattended in Pietermaritzburg and the following day I read in the “Natal Witness” how her bike had been stolen from a balcony in Pietermaritzburg (at least not mine)!
Please contact me about buying or selling Africana books, maps, prints or ephemera. Visit our auction page to view our regular auctions.
Dennis & Ansie Slotow