Artists books are limited edition books that are produced by an artist or by a collective and that has aspects of handmade work in it. Artists books have edition numbers and are signed by the artist/s who have worked on the book as well as by the writer of the text if this is relevant. Artists books may be in the form of hand printed lithographs, lino cuts, letterpress or even hand written. They are often made using an unconventional format and unusual binding. There are not that many artists in South Africa who make artists books (it is a time consuming process and is something that the general public are not really aware of).
Artists books allow artists to combine aspects of their artmaking with text in novel and exciting ways. The edition number for artists books produced in South Africa is usually fairly small (100 copies or less). This makes artists books relatively rare and collectable. The "can do" approach of South Africans has extended to the production of artists' books and has resulted in some unconventional approaches to the concept. Graduates from the Wits Technikon have done some very exciting pieces, which have included handmade paper, sculptural elements, plastic bags, fabric, embroidery and wire work. Artists books produced by The Artists' Press have received international acclaim and can be found in some of the worlds leading libraries.
Any artists book produced in South Africa has to have a copy, or a number of copies donated to the State Library Collection. This ensures that South Africa as a country has an archive of artists books produced in the country. It also acts as a resource for people who are interested in artists books but who cannot afford them.
One of the best and biggest international artists book collections that of a Johannesburg Art patron, Jack Ginsberg, who is also the founder and Director of the Ampersand Foundation. This is a collection of contemporary Artists Books and includes all the ones that have been produced at The Artists' Press.
There are a few specialised artists books dealers in South Africa who deal locally and internationally. Clarkes Bookshop in Cape Town sells all kinds of collectable books and can be relied on for artists books. Johannesburg based Thorolds Books caters for the serious collector and have clients across the globe. They focus on work with an Africana emphasis. The Art on Paper Gallery also sells Artists Books and actively supports the idea of "democratic multiples" which refers to artists books that are produced in a format and at a price that is easily assessable to the person in the street.