AA Balkema – seminal publisher at the Cape of books on South African architecture
[Hanli DEYSEL has a post-graduate degree in Publishing Studies from the Department of Information Science at the University of Pretoria. She completed the BSc(Arch) degree at the University of Pretoria in 2001]
To see the AAB vignette on a page is not only to realize the rarity of the book – it also speaks of the pioneering grace of August (‘Guus’) Aimé Balkema (1906 – 1996). This soft-spoken publisher of Dutch descent was responsible for a transformation in South African publishing and the establishment of the published South African architecture oeuvre.
Guus Balkema was one of the prominent Dutchmen who shaped the publishing industry in South Africa. His counterparts included J.L. van Schaik (1888 – 1965), and Cornelis Struik (1909 - 1970). These men arrived in South Africa with the knowledge and expertise needed to establish and promote a South African publishing industry (Human, 1999: 448).
Balkema was born in 1906, and after his studies in French literature, established himself as a bookseller of academic texts in Amsterdam in 1934. During the Second World War he published books illegally, “uitgegeven zonder toestemming” (Jansen, 1997: 90). During the German occupation, publishers needed permission if they were to use more than five pounds worth of paper. Balkema subverted these rules by publishing small books with selected text, including works by prominent Dutch poets, as well as titles in the prohibited languages French and English.
During this time he met Jan van Krimpen, a prominent designer, calligraphist and typographer. Balkema’s future trademark clarity and typographical eloquence, was the result of this long friendship and collaboration.
After the War, Balkema decided to settle in South Africa, to the dismay of many in the Netherlands. He became known for his wide range of specialised and rare books, but soon realized that there was a lack of finely published manuscripts of literary and social importance in South Africa.
Balkema published works that were turned down by commercial publishers. The commercial publishers – including Nasionale Boekhandel – were forced to rethink their commissioning and technical skills (Jansen, 1997: 93).
His first publication, in 1946, was a selection of poetry by C. Louis Leipoldt (1880 - 1947) on the occasion of the celebration of the poet’s sixtieth birthday.
Balkema established a range of literary publications during his twenty years as publisher. However, his output of non-fiction in the fields of cultural history, architecture and natural history expanded the scope of local book production. His efforts initially centered on the history of the Cape, but later included subjects from wider afield. Where information on a subject was lacking, Balkema motivated research, and when no authoritative authors could be found, Balkema found and promoted them (Human, 1999: 450). One of these was de BOSDARI.
Balkema became known for his quality product, both in content and design. His letterpress publications are recognised as outstanding examples of monotype and linotype settings. In later years, he was one of the first proponents of the new IBM typewriter as setting machine, and introduced unjustified text to a rather surprised public.
In the nineteen sixties Balkema decided to cease his publishing career. His extensive and important publishing list was offered to Human & Rousseau (Jansen, 1997: 93). He fell ill in 1986 while visiting his family in the Netherlands, and he and his wife Annie remained there to their deaths, hers in 1994, and his in 1996.
His son is a publisher in Rotterdam, and publishes under his father’s name. Swets & Zeitlinger Publishers acquired his publishing house in 2000. The AA Balkema imprint specialises in academic books, journals and conference proceedings in the fields of engineering, earth science and life science. These works are also known for the careful consideration of layout and typography.
Titles published by AA Balkema that are relevant to the field of architecture and design:
FRANSEN, Hans. 1969. Architectural beauty of the Old Cape as seen by Arthur Elliott. An important work with roughly 200 black and white photographs of "… houses and farmsteads now largely demolished or ruined, taken at the beginning of the twentieth century".
KEARNEY, Brian. 1973. Architecture in Natal: from 1824 – 1893.
de BOSDARI, Cosmo. 1954. Anton Anreith – Africa’s first sculptor.
BIERMANN. Barrie E. 1954. Boukuns in Suid-Afrika: ‘n beknopte oorsig van ons boustyle en bouwyse.
FLOYD, Hugh. 1963. Building shapes in central areas.
BARAITSER, Michael & OBHOLZER, Anton. 1971. Cape country furniture: a pictorial survey of regional styles, materials and techniques in the Cape Province of South Africa.
de BOSDARI, Cosmo. 1953 [3rd edition 1971]. Cape Dutch houses and farms: their architecture and history together with a note on the role of Cecil John Rhodes in their preservation. Published with a chapter on the outlying districts by Hans FRANSEN.
LEWCOCK, Ronald. 1963. Early nineteenth century architecture in South Africa: a study of the interaction of two cultures 1795 – 1837.
PEARSE, GE. 1957 (2nd edition) 1968 (3rd edition). Eighteenth century architecture in South Africa.
BOTHA, Marelise. 1977. Herkoms van die Kaapse stoel.
ALLEN, Vivian. 1971. Kruger's Pretoria: buildings and personalities of the city in the nineteenth Century. Drawings by Hannes MEIRING.
De KLERK, AJB. 1954. Leeuwenhof: die kronieke van ‘n kaapse herehuis.
HERBERT, Gilbert. 1975. Martienssen and the international style: the modern movement in South African architecture.
Dr HO du PLESSIS. The policy of the Cape Provincial Administration
PICTON-SEYMOUR, Desirée. 1977. Victorian buildings in South Africa – including Edwardian & Transvaal Republican styles.
WALTON, James. 1955. Vroeë plase en nedersettings in die Oranje-Vrystaat.
Jansen, E. 1997. AA Balkema. Tydskrif vir Letterkunde, 35 (2): 90 - 94
Human, K. 1999. August Aimé Balkema, in Hulle het ons eeu gevorm. Kaapstad: Human & Rousseau: 448 - 451
Schlatter, E. Production Manager Van Schaik Publishers. Interview by author. [Transcript]. October 2002. Pretoria.
Fisher, R. Department of Architecture University of Pretoria. Interview by author. [Transcript]. October 2002. Pretoria.
Greenstone Digital Library Software [Online] Available: http://www.greenstone.org Accessed October 2002
AA Balkema Publishers [Online] Available: http://www.balkema.ima.nl Accessed October 2002