The Sammy Marks Museum
is located at Zwartkoppies Hall, the Victorian mansion where businessman and entrepreneur Sammy Marks and his family lived from 1885 to 1909, after which it became a weekend retreat. After his death his widow and children inhabited it until the death of the last one in 1978. No members of the family then wished to live at Zwartkoppies permanently – by now an ageing, deteriorating structure. A suitable tenant had to be found. It was offered as old age home, school, army, hotel – without success.
In 1980 the National Cultural History and Open-air Museum asked the Marks trust whether it could purchase 40 hectares of Zwartkoppies as a site for an open-air museum. Neill Maisels, eldest grandson and chairperson of the Trust, explained the conditions of the will and suggested instead that the Museum leases the house and surrounding ground and purchase the contents.
The Museum did not have enough money to do that. Mendel Kaplan, Johannesburg businessman, planned to transfer Sammy’s private papers to the UCT and heard about the Museum project. He offered to donate half the money to the museum through his family foundation and negotiations could continue. Eventually the Sammy Marks Museum was opened in November 1986. In March 1989 Zwartkoppies was declared a national monument. In 1995 roughly 73ha surrounding the house and upon which all of the historical buildings are situated, was cut from the rest of the farm and expropriated for sale to the National Cultural History Museum.
Sammy Marks arrived in South Africa with a case of silver knives as his only valuable possession, and became one of the first entrepreneurs, playing a significant role in mining, industrial and agricultural development in the country.
The house consists of 40 odd rooms and features a Burmese teakwood staircase and billiard room with beautifully painted ceiling. The Museum houses a remarkable collection of Victorian silver, porcelain and furniture. 98 % of the household contents in Sammy Marks Museum originally belonged to the Marks family.
Sammy Marks got an Italian artist to paint the walls of his mansion ‘to look like satin’ and most of it has been restored to its former glory. The paintings in the billiard room were done on silk and pasted on the ceiling.