Large 8°: 376 pp., , vi, [14, Advertisements], bound in contemporary half calf with green cloth, bearing title in gilt to spine, discreet stamps of ‘Directeur Staatsdrukkerij’ to front endpapers and bottom fore-edge (Very Good, internally clean and crisp with small loss to upper-outer blank corner of pp. 363-4; binding sunned with marginal wear).
This is the 1897 issue of the Staats-Almanak, the rare and short-lived annual series of almanacs published for the government of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR, also Transvaal), an independent Afrikaner nation. Published in Pretoria by the state printer, the Staatsdrukkerij, the almanac contains a vast wealth of up-to-date information, granting a valuable insight into the unique Afrikaner society that thrived in the heart of Southern Africa.
The present work features all the information that one would expect in an almanac, plus some fascinating extras closely related to the ongoing Witwatersrand Gold Rush, the greatest mineral boom in World history. The work includes a calendar, tables of vital statistics predicted upon the most recent official sources; lists of civil and military officers; as well as details on state institutions (including the national library). Interestingly, it also includes a lengthy list of recent patents filed with ZAR authorities, many of which are inventions related to the mining industry (pp. 92 -155); a list of all private registered companies, many of which are gold mining firms (pp. 156-183); plus, a listing of recent mining claims (pp. 226-231). There is also an intriguing miniessay on the geology of the region, followed by a table showcasing the ZAR’s annual gold yields, revealing that in 1884 the republic produced only 2,918 ounces of gold, while in 1895, a decade into the gold rush, it produced 2,494,487 ounces of gold (worth £8,596,555)! The work concludes with 14 pages of curious advertisements for all kinds of services and products.
The present example of the almanac is unusual in that its original paper covers were contemporarily replaced with a fine half-calf binding. Bearing the stamp of the ‘Directeur Staatsdrukkerij’, it seems that it was a special example made for official use or presentation.
Only seven annual editions of the Staats-Almanak were ever published, being the issues for the years 1892, 1893, 1894, 1895, 1896, 1897, 1898 and 1899. The Staatsdrukkerij was compelled to cease the production of the series due the outbreak of the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). It seems that the print run for each issue was quite modest, and examples of the Staats-Almanak rarely appear on the market today.
The Afrikaner Republics: Distinct Societies in the Heart of Southern Africa
The Afrikaners of South Africa have their roots in the Dutch, French Huguenot and German settlers who established themselves in the vicinity of the Dutch East India Company’s base at Cape Town, beginning in 1652. Over the next century and a half, the colonists developed their own distinct culture and language, Afrikaans, a dialect of Dutch.
In 1806, Britain conquered the Cape from the Netherlands. The Afrikaners resented British rule and, beginning in the 1830s, many of them made the trek to the ‘Highveld’ deep in the interior of South Africa, to create their own independent polities. The Afrikaners eventually established their own independent nations, the Orange Free State (1852) and the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek, or ZAR (1854), often known as the Transvaal. At first, the British seemed delighted that the Afrikaners had ‘selfexiled’ themselves from the British Cape Colony and initially supported the independence of their republics. Life on the Highveld was difficult as the Afrikaners developed their own largely agrarian society, while battling powerful indigenous nations, such as the Zulus, for control over the land. They founded their own institutions, including printing presses, that produced a variety of unique Afrikaanslanguage works.
The discovery of diamonds along the boundary the Orange Free State and the Cape Colony caused Britain to dramatically alter its attitude toward the Afrikaner republics. Thousands of anglophone prospectors and ranchers flowed into the region, while Britain came to covet the territory. Britain managed to annex parts of the Orange Free State, and in 1877 claimed a de jure annexation of the ZAR (although this was not realized on the ground or recognized by the ZAR’s leadership). Meanwhile, the Orange Free State nimbly managed to avoid coming between Britain’s crosshairs.
Matters came to a head during the First Anglo-Boer War (1880-1), during which the ZAR’s mobile guerrilla units managed to inflict a shock defeat upon the British Army.
Britain thus affirmed its recognition of the independence of the Afrikaner republics; however, this pledge was not to last long.
The discovery of the World’s largest gold deposits along the Witwatersrand range, in the heart of the ZAR, in the mid-1880s unleased a deluge of British interest and settlement into the region. Through the 1890s, Britain became hell-bent on taking over the Transvaal, even if this objective was blatantly illegal. It was in this context that the ZAR’s Staatsdrukkerij in Pretoria printed the annual issues of the Staats-Almanak, not only to serve as a vital practical tool, but also to act as a symbol of the republic’s independence.
Britain marshalled all its might and launched a military juggernaut against the ZAR and the Orange Free State in what was known as the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). Only with the greatest difficulty was Britain able to vanquish the Afrikaners, annexing their lands to the British Empire in 1902. The Orange Free State and the Transvaal joined the Union of South Africa in 1910.
References: [Re: Sets of multiple issues that include the 1897 issue:] Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin: 773378-1; British Library: General Reference Collection P.P.2579.ee.