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Anton de Villiers - House of Books

Anton was born in Cape Town and lived in Muizenberg for several years before moving to Barrydale. He owns the House of Books, an old town house filled from top to bottom with shelves and tables full of books. He buys his second-hand books from all over the Overberg area and beyond. He’s also a photographer and has a lot of knowledge on literature. He has many stories to tell about the people he has encountered in his shop.

“I’ve been living in Barrydale for many years. Well, not too many. I could have left a while ago, but decided to stay. Where would I go if I decided to leave? A place that had cream and peaches, milk and honey… Cream puffs, gambling casinos, free cigarettes – I don’t know, just some other place. But where does one go? I mean, where do you run, you know? I like the coast, because you walk on the beach with the dogs. It’s too hot here to go out in summer, there are too many mosquitoes, and in the winter it’s too cold. The people are very clickey around here. If you like me now, and you think I’m okay, in two days time somebody else will tell you that I’m awful. And then you’ve got a decision to make whether you like the other people or me. I’m rude, I’m acerbic. You’re not going to get scones and tea out of me, you’re going to get sarcasm and anger and frustration.

“My dad was a painter. I can’t paint, so I went into photography. And books – books taught me. I’ve been doing photography for quite a while. I used to rent out DVD’s, but people don’t bring them back, so I’ve converted to books. This room represents my life in a way, because these are the places I’ve been to, people I know, situations I’ve come across, so it’s familiar to me. There are African authors, the Union buildings, there’s some political stuff, the history of the animals… But all the other stuff, like fiction and all the others, it’s beyond me. It’s beyond my scope of understanding.

“I understand more or less what goes on in this room because it’s everything from Southern Africa. And it’s also quite important to collect books, because obviously with all the political correctness in places like libraries, they won’t restore a book – they’d rather buy a new book. Because the historical stuff is not important for the new South Africa. And all history is important, whether it’s left or right-wing or whatever. Some of the books aren’t even digitally copied yet, because they were maybe printed in Afrikaans, 40 years or 50 years ago, and they’ve been lost. So it’s almost a piece of history that’s been lost.

anton de villiers garden route 1
anton de villiers garden route 2

"It’s a dilemma between being a collector and being a bookseller. It’s really hard for me to sell a rare, collectable book that I know I’ll never find again. And then I sit with your money in my pocket, but you’ve got my books."

“I’m not driven by money. It’s nice to have money, and I want money, I want to sell books. But so what, you know? If you don’t buy the book, I get to keep it. It’s a dilemma between being a collector and being a bookseller. It’s really hard for me to sell a rare, collectable book that I know I’ll never find again. And then I sit with your money in my pocket, but you’ve got my books. So it’s a double-edged sword.

“I’ve had a few big shots in here. A very unassuming guy, he was small, he didn’t say much, he was very polite and walked around. And then I started chatting to him, and I’m a pseudo-authority on the Boer War. I started telling him “Yes, you know and this Boer War, and the boers came in and then the second Zulu war and this and that and the other, written by so and so…” and I was giving him all the bits and pieces of information I knew. Then he said “Oh, I see you’ve got three of my books.” And three of his books were on the rack! So he’s a doctor, he’s an authority on the subject. He allowed me to do all the bullshitting, and actually he was the guy who knew.

“There’s something for everyone here. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. I had a Das Kapital by Karl Marx, the 1902 second edition. Not the first edition, I would have thought that the first edition would be very expensive. But the second edition was a four-in-one, gold gilt, vellum Bibley paper copy. I couldn’t evaluate it properly because I didn’t have a computer, I only had a cellphone. All the information came up in German. So it said ‘$400 second edition’ somewhere. So I decided I’ll make each book R400, I’ll put it on the bottom of the shelf and nobody will ever buy it. Somebody walked in, dropped down the R1600 for the four and he said ‘Are you sure you want to sell these?’ I said ‘Yes.’ And he ran off and he skidded down the road. So fast, he actually left marks on the road. I thought, oh, the revolution’s started! There’s something happening, he must be in a hurry. And then I forgot about him.

“About a year later, I looked on a list of the most expensive books sold. The most money received for a book sold on ABE Books for 2014 was Das Kapital, second edition, four-in-one, Gothic print, printed in Bremen 1902… everything. And it was 123 000 POUNDS.

“I don’t know if it was that same specific edition that I sold. But if you compare it, the one I sold was perhaps worth a R100 000 through to R200 000, it’s suddenly a lot of money. But the point is, I only paid R10 a book, so I should be happy that I got a R1600 back for something I paid R40 for. Then I spoke to a psychic, yogi type spiritualist. And they said that you set up good karma, because you walk into a second-hand shop and buy a Victorian piece, or a Picasso painting or Rembrandt van Rijn – you’ll find something valuable as a bargain hunter. And I set up good karma for Barrydale, because he’ll run around telling people ‘You know what I found in this funny little book store in Barrydale?!’ So that set of books might have changed his life. It could have changed mine if had known the value of it. But I still haven’t found anything quite as valuable.”

Photos taken by Katherine Cline

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