History of The Brenthurst Library



Sir Ernest Oppenheimer

Ernest Oppenheimer was sent to South Africa in 1902, on a three year contract, to represent the firm of Anton Dunkelsbuhler, a diamond merchant, in Kimberley. He became steeped in the diamond industry, municipal business and the affairs of the country. He decided to make South Africa his home, and thus became interested in collecting Africana - books, pamphlets, artworks, maps and manuscripts relating in particular to southern Africa. He forged a friendship with Major William Jardine, a noted collector of Africana, and also received advice in building up his collection from Paul Ribbink, the Librarian of the Library of Parliament.

Harry OppenheimerMary SlackThe collection remained in Kimberley until the 1930s, when Sir Ernest Oppenheimer built a large library/reception room in Little Brenthurst, one of the homes on the Brenthurst Estate in Johannesburg. The gradually expanding collection remained there until the late 1970s when it was clearly no longer suitable to house such a collection. There were also increasing requests from researchers for access to the collection, so Harry Oppenheimer, a noted bibliophile, decided to build a new library in the grounds of the estate. Wishing to share knowledge of the contents of his library, he founded The Brenthurst Press, each volume based on some collection in the library. Nicky OppenheimerHis preference was for the books to be readable and scholarly, lavishly illustrated and attractive so they are produced in fine, limited editions. Many volumes are given to universities, libraries and other institutions.

The family's library is continued today by Harry Oppenheimer's children, Mary Slack, as chairman, and Nicky Oppenheimer. The library has a threefold mission: to build and enhance the collections, to preserve and maintain them, to share the contents of the collections and disseminate knowledge.