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AA Balkema


AA Balkema – seminal publisher at the Cape of books on South African architecture

Hanli DEYSEL [Edited and expanded by Roger C FISHER]

[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.

Published with a pictorial dust jacket in brown linen cloth. Art section printed on art paper at the back, sewn in sections.

de BOSDARI, Cosmo. 1954. Anton Anreith – Africa’s first sculptor.

A rare book, as only 1000 copies were printed. A large book with more sturdy endpapers, and an extensive art section on art paper at the back, sewn in sections. The typesetting was done in monotype, and the cover is gold blocked on the brown linen cloth.

BIERMANN. Barrie E. 1954. Boukuns in Suid-Afrika: ‘n beknopte oorsig van ons boustyle en bouwyse.

The third published Afrikaans book on South African architecture (Fisher, 2002). Art section on art paper tipped onto text sections. Line illustrations part of text. Block print etching in black on embossed cover. Linotype typesetting in Garamond font.
It gives an illuminating comparison between Dutch colonial architecture at the Cape and in other colonies such as Curaçao. The over 120 perspectives and Elevations, by the nimble hand and inimitable style of Biermann, are of an unusually high standard.

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.

Contains 12 road maps that show the exact sites of homesteads and town houses cited … a possible modern-day exploration for the intrepid architect?

LEWCOCK, Ronald. 1963. Early nineteenth century architecture in South Africa: a study of the interaction of two cultures 1795 – 1837.

According to Schlatter (2002) this is "an incredible book" with a "daring page layout considering that it is still letterpress," and should be rated as a prime example of quality letterpress work. The rare ten colour reproductions were made possible by the South African Permanent Building Society. The photographs are printed on text paper. Bleeding was used in a few cases, but the majority of the photographs are treated as part of the text, which is difficult to accomplish with such grace.

PEARSE, GE. 1957 (2nd edition) 1968 (3rd edition). Eighteenth century architecture in South Africa.

This book was initially published in 1933 in co-production by two publishers: Van Schaik (South Africa) and BT Batsford (England). It was made and printed in the Netherlands, but subsequent editions have some changes in illustrative content, mainly by way of the addition of photographs. It was acclaimed as the most important study on the subject to date. In 1957 it was reprinted by BT Batsford and Balkema. This is an exact copiy of the 1933 edition, with only the title pages that differs. Balkema published a third edition in 1968. The third edition has new photographs by Willem Malherbe, Hans Fransen and Arthur Elliott. The photographs and measured drawings were reproduced by collotype, since no other printing process could permit the minute detailed reproduction with the same degree of exactness. The drawing on the title page and dust jacket is by FW MULLINS. It has an extensive plate section: 113 photographs and details at the back of the book, sewn in separately. It is printed on text paper. The text has integrated photographs and free-hand sketches. The book is invaluable in understanding the Dutch influence on South African architecture, and especially the scaled plans and sections give added value.

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.

The illustrations are integrated in the text, with colour reproductions tipped in. Published with illustrated dust jacket.

De KLERK, AJB. 1954. Leeuwenhof: die kronieke van ‘n Kaapse herehuis.

Bound in blue linen cloth and gold blocked on front and spine. Pictorial dust jacket with colour illustration pasted and text in a blue spot colour. Art sections as wraparounds. Monotype typesetting in Garamond font.

HERBERT, Gilbert. 1975. Martienssen and the international style: the modern movement in South African architecture.

Photographs and illustrations integrated in the text, printed on text paper. Published with a dust jacket – notably, one of two books without the Balkema vignette.

FRANSEN, Hans & COOK, Mary. 1980. The old buildings of the Cape: A survey and description of old buildings in the Western Province.

FRANSEN, Hans & COOK, Mary. 1965. The old houses of the Cape.

Illustrations and photographs integrated in the text, printed on text paper. Published with illustrated dust jacket.

IMMELMAN, RFM and QUINN, GD (eds.). 1974. The preservation and restoration of historic buildings in South Africa: a Symposium.


Dr HO du PLESSIS. The policy of the Cape Provincial Administration
Dr Mary A COOK. The authenticity of restoration
Dr RB LEWCOCK. British influence on South African architecture
Dr BE BIERMANN. The sources of designs for historic buildings at the Cape
Norman EATON. Aims and procedures in the preservation and restoration of historic buildings
Dr SS MORRIS. The restoration and preservation of historic buildings: their practical relation to town planning
Dr Erika THERON. The restoration and preservation of historic buildings: the municipal point of view
Professor O PRYCE LEWIS. The restoration and preservation of historic buildings: their aesthetic relation to town planning
Professor LW THORNTON WHITE. Conclusion

Published with dust jacket and 40 pages black and white photographic plates as art section on art paper sewn in separately. Linotype typesetting.

PICTON-SEYMOUR, Desirée. 1977. Victorian buildings in South Africa – including Edwardian & Transvaal Republican styles.

Photographs and illustrations integrated in the text, printed on text paper. Published with dust jacket – notably, one of two books without the Balkema vignette.

WALTON, James. 1955. Vroeë plase en nedersettings in die Oranje-Vrystaat.

Written in English by Walton and subsequently translated by SC Hattingh into Afrikaans, it was never published in English. Linotype and set in Garamond font with an eight page art section on art paper sewn in separately.


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: Accessed February 2014

AA Balkema Publishers [Online] Available: Accessed February 2014