Sammy Marks 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. Ninety eight percent 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’. The paintings in the billiard room were done on silk and pasted on the ceiling.

Zwartkoppies Hall is 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 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 Museum offers a guided tour through the Marks Mansion. Visitors hear the story of Sammy Marks and his family, their experience throughout the South African War and Marks’s achievements as businessman and entrepreneur. The guides take the visitors back into the Victorian Age as they walk through the house of which 98% of the contents belonged to the Marks family. Beautiful Victorian silver, porcelain and furniture can be seen.

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