Book shop - a hunt for treasures

2017-12-14 06:00
=Pam de Lange and George Whitehead in Classics Books book shop in Todd Street, Port Elizabeth.                Photos:HEILIE COMBRINCK

=Pam de Lange and George Whitehead in Classics Books book shop in Todd Street, Port Elizabeth. Photos:HEILIE COMBRINCK

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“Books are to Kindles what stairs are to lifts.”

And books as well as stairs will not be outlived.

Two sets of stairs in the Colonial Antiques building lead to an astonishing maze of books at Classics Books in Todd Street, Port Elizabeth.

Its extensive collection of a vast variety of books, which include rare books not often seen, simply amazes book collectors and devoted booklovers!

The quote of the comparison between books and stairs was said by Anneke, the wife of George Whitehead, owner of the well-known Classics Books.

The book shop used to be at 9th Avenue, Walmer, before George bought it about four years ago and relocated to North End.

“I was spending all my pocket money at this shop through all the years. So I told the owners, no, we can’t let it close. We made a deal and I bought all the books,” said George, a self-proclaimed bibliophile.

For the love of books

“I decided to move Classics Books to my office. I had many-many books of my own on the farm (in Elands River Valley) off which I brought a lot to the book shop as well.”

The relocated Classics Books consists of an Africana room with various valuable books, George’s personal collection of books, and then numerous shelves filled with books covering nearly all the topics you can think of with lots of treasures among them. All of the books are used, most in a very good condition. There are even books dating back to the 1700s.

“The love for books was imprinted on me by my mother Dulcy. She took me to the library at the age of 5 and since then books took control over me.

“What makes me happy is to see kids in the shop getting excited about books. One day a boy stood in front of the kiddies shelf. The next moment he turned around and ran. He came back, dragging both his parents by the hand. At the end they walked out here with arms full of Enid Blyton books. He was so happy!”

George said that he and Anneke “hunt books” when on holiday.

“I go to every book shop in the country. To places like the five storey Collectors Treasury in the middle of Jo’burg, Bikini Books in Gordons Bay, Fish Hoek Books .... I know them all. But I can tell you, there is nothing anywhere like what we have at Classics Books.”

Visitors to the book shop are from across South Africa and even collectors from overseas like to browse among the book jewels.

“What is lekker about the book shop is that you don’t know sometimes what you see and who signed the books.

“It might be special. Book collectors have shown me association copies in my shop that I did not even know about. I like it!”

“A cardiologist from Johannesburg once brought me all his medical books. I put them on the shelves and about a year later in walks a man requesting about medical books. I showed him the section and later he came back with a smile and box full of books. After a conversation it came out that his practice in Jo’burg was next to the cardiologist who initially gave me the books.”

One of the most valuable book treasures at Classics Books is a Peter Pan book worth about five thousand Pounds.

“What makes this book so valuable is that it is the 1912 edition with original illustrations by Arthur Rackham.”

One of George’s most precious experiences with books was at Harry Openheimers Library, holding in his hands the original William John Burchells hand-written diary with all his little notes inside.

“That was simply an exhilarating experience. Some people think I am a nut case, but I tell you, I love books because it is knowledge. I buy books because I want to know more.”

101 Books to read before you die

There are even “pretty books” as George referred to them, like leather bound books, which interior decorators buy.

“My wife has compiled a shelf with the internationally known ‘101 books to read before you die’ which have proved to be a big hit. People buy those books over and over. It is a selection of books like the Magic Wishing-chair from Enid Blyton through to Catch 22 by Joseph Heller, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres to Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote to name a few.

Anneke is an artist and she has her own little art studio fitted in the midst of the maze of books, as well as a small coffee room where one can enjoy refreshments.

Vouchers are available at the book shop.

  • Business hours are weekdays from 09:00 to 16:30 and Saturdays 09:00 to 13:00.

If you wish to visit on a Saturday please phone 041 484 1155 or 041 367 1819 prior to your visit.


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