Modern Books of Rhodesia and Zimbabwe for Collectors

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The history of printing in Zimbabwe is little more than a century old: the first newspaper was printed in 1892, while the first book was not printed in the country until the Times Printing Works set up its workshop in 1897. This guide will give a brief overview of the more collectable books seen on the market and on eBay.

A curious aspect of Rhodesiana (Rhodesian and Zimbabwean collectables) is that the most sought-after items are almost always those from the last 15 years of the country's existence, from the Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965 to the nation's independence under majority rule in 1980 as Zimbabwe. During this period there were strict currency restrictions, preventing Rhodesian citizens from exporting money out of the country or from taking money with them when they emigrated - from 1975 emigrants could take with them only Rh$1000 (about US$1200) per family. A local industry grew up creating high-value souvenir items for investment - sets of military medals; sets of gold and silver medallions; UDI souvenirs made in precious metals and in limited editions. Books were invariably produced in two forms: a normal retail hardback edition, and a special collectors' edition: badged, bound in leather (in the case of Contact, by John Lovett, in elephant hide), autographed and bearing special tipped-in pages, and offered in a luxurious slip-case.

The sad truth is that, until the Internet created fresh interest in Rhodesiana, most of these investment items proved a very poor investment. Many of them now sell for barely more than their original cost, once you factor in 30 years' inflation.

However, books have consistently performed well and remain items of strong interest. My top tips for modern Rhodesian/Zimbabwean books are as follows (all prices are mid-2006):

  • Contact, John Lovett, Galaxie Books, 1977. This elephant-hide-bound edition set new standards for luxurious presentation and deservedly remains popular. The Collectors' Edition was limited to just 115 individually numbered copies, of which 15 were given to the Rhodesian National Archives, politicians and senior servicemen, and 100 offered for sale. The volume comes in a silk-lined slipcase and  is handsomely bound in Rhodesian elephant hide, with heavy, polished brass title plate and edgings, and a high-relief badge of the coat of arms of Rhodesia, struck in brass, on the outer front cover. The Collectors' Edition is identical to the normal 1977 first edition except for two additional pages bound in, and protected with tissue paper covers. The first page bears an explanatory note and the Galaxie imprimatur, and certifies the copy number. The second page bears the original autographs of ten prominent Rhodesians:

John Wrathall, President of Rhodesia
Ian Douglas Smith, Prime Minister of Rhodesia
Clifford Dupont, the first President of Rhodesia
B. H. 'Jack' Mussett, Minister of Internal Affairs
Roger Hawkins, Minister of Combined Operations
Lt Gen Peter Walls, Commander, Combined Operations
Air Marshal M. J. 'Mick' McLaren, Deputy Commander, Combined Operations
P. Sherren, Commissioner of the BSAP
Lt Gen John Hickman, Commander of the Army
Air Marshal F. W. Mussell, Commander of the Air Force

Normal copies of Contact sell typically for between £50 and £80. The Collectors' Edition can change hands for up to £1000 at a book dealers'; perhaps 20% less on eBay.

  • Contact II, Paul Moorcraft, Sygma Books 1979. Much harder to find than Contact, and written by the esteemed historian Paul Moorcraft, this volume is particularly sought because it contains a nominal roll giving many - but not all - of the later Rhodesian honours and decorations. In Very Fine condition this work typically sells for £80 to £100. The Collectors' Edition is similar in format to the Collectors' Edition of Contact I, and typically sells on eBay for between £300 and £700, but may be seen offered by book dealers for much higher prices. With both Contact and Contact II a good tip is to look through to see if any pages have been autographed - this was pretty common practice, and a nice autograph from a highly-decorated soldier can add 15% to the selling value.
  • Encyclopaedia Rhodesia, Peter Bridger, Margaret House et al (eds), College Press 1973. Practically impossible to find in decent condition. In VG condition typically £30-45.
  • Chimurenga! The War in Rhodesia 1965-1980, Paul Moorcraft & Peter McLaughlin, Sygma/Collins 1980. A small-format paperback, printed in tiny numbers and very elusive nowadays. In Very Fine condition typically £30-45.
  • Up in Arms, Chenjerai Hove, ZPH, 1982. First poetry collection by Hove, now Zimbabwe's best-known poet and living in exile in Norway. This book was printed in minute numbers and is ultra-rare: particularly in decent condition. Typically £35-40 in VF quality.
  • Rhodesia Served the Queen, A. S. Hickman, Government Printer 1970. A 1970 account of the Boer War by historian and former BSAP Commissioner A. S. Hickman, typically selling for £150 to £200 for the 2-volume set.
  • The complete set of 36 volumes of the Books of Rhodesia Gold Series published between 1968 and 1974. A brilliant concept from Louis Bolze of Books of Rhodesia, a full set fetches about £550-£650 on auction in the UK, although I have seen them offered at higher prices.
  • Other desirable curiosities include A-Z street atlases (Guide to Greater Salisbury (M. O. Collins, 1975) £20-25) and telephone directories, which I have seen sell for £60-£80.

Booby prizes include the very common Welensky's 4000 Days, of which a dealer of my acquantance said sniffily, "Of course, the rare ones are the copies he didn't sign," and the very common (and, I am sorry to say, practically unreadable) Bitter Harvest by Ian Smith - selling typically for £60 or more if autographed, but almost impossible to give away otherwise!

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