Below is a short write-up on the architectural style of our house

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Mystery cars - Hoffman X-8

Incedible Hoffman X-8 makes an appearance at Pebble Beach.


Among the Packards, Ferraris, and Cobras on the lawn at the 2012 Pebble Beach Concours, there were some wonderful oddballs. One such car was the 1935 Hoffman X-8 that Myron Vernis of Akron, Ohio, brought with him to the Pebble Beach lawn. During the concours, dozens of people could be seen reaching for their programs to search for information on the Hoffman X-8.
Hoffman X-8

From the front, its shield-shaped grille and headlights give the little car a striking, art-deco appeal. In profile and from behind, it looks a bit like a two-thirds scale Tatra. Like the Czech car, it was a novel approach to car-building for its time. It's a steel unibody car, and its engine is mounted behind the passenger compartment, just like a Tatra. Unlike the Hans Ledwinka's creation, however, the X-8's engine is mounted in front of the rear axle, making it a mid-engine car.

The X-8 is powered by—you guessed it--an X-8 engine with eight cylinders, arranged in an X configuration. Henry Ford experimented with X-8 engines but the one in this car is a unique design. While Ford's X-8's were air-cooled flatheads, this car's engine has overhead cams and it's water-cooled. 

Click <here> to see Henry Ford's X-8

The X-8 was built as a prototype by an inventor named Roscoe C. Hoffman of Detroit. It's unclear which carmaker it was intended for, but Vernis believes that either the Fisher brothers or Henry Ford funded the project.

In 1961, Hoffman gave the car to Brooks Stevens as a gift and it remained in the famed designer's museum even after his death in 1995. Stevens' son, David Stevens was on hand with Vernis, eagerly assisting him in explaining just exactly what the X-8 was and what it was doing on the lawn at the most prestigious car show in the world.
Monterey car week is packed with car shows, vintage racing, and auctions. Autoweek will be there providing streaming photo galleries and live coverage of the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, historic racing at Laguna Seca, the Monterey car auctions and plenty more. Go to Autoweek's Pebble Beach home page for complete coverage and live updates.

Click <here> to see a vdeo of Jay Leno discussing the car.

Read more:

Henry Ford’s Incredible X-8 engine

Henry Ford’s X-8 engine

Henry Ford had some world-changing ideas—and some other ideas that went nowhere at all. Here’s the story behind his strange but fascinating X-8 engine.  

One notion that captured the imagination of Henry Ford throughout his life was the X-8 engine configuration, and he experimented with the oddball layout in various forms for decades. Despite its obvious shortcomings for automotive use (in our view, anyway) the concept is not as off the wall as it may seem. General Motors launched an extensive two-stroke X-8 development program in the 1930s, and the 1935 Hoffman X-8 prototype (created for the Fisher brothers by engineering consultant Roscoe Hoffman) uses the engine design to good effect. 

Click <here> to see the Hoffman X-8

Though Ford’s experiments through the years included numerous variations, here we’re going to focus on one particular X-8 engine: the 1920-1927 prototype that Ford hoped would eventually replace the venerable 1908-1927 Model T. Let’s jump in for a closer look.

Henry Ford’s patent no. 1,639,333
On the left and below are the drawings for Henry Ford’s patent no. 1,639,333, which he applied for in 1920 and was granted on August 19, 1927. 

The Ford take on the X-8 could be described as two V-4 engines conjoined, one pointing up and one pointing down, but with one notable difference: The single-plane crankshaft has only two throws, one for each plane of four cylinders, front and rear. The two main journals carry caged ball bearings, and there are two camshafts on opposite sides of the engine, driving conventional L-head poppet valve gear.

Much of the design and development work was carried out by Ford’s right-hand engineering man Eugene Farkas (1881-1963), a Hungarian immigrant and a graduate of the prestigious Royal Joseph Technical University in Budapest. Apparently, Ford’s contributions to the X-8 were mainly in vision and supervision, as there were dozens of Ford projects commanding his attention in these years, from railroads to rubber plantations.

While there were water-cooled and overhead-valve versions of the X-8, the primary design settled upon an L-Head layout with air cooling and a fan at each end of the crankshaft. As many as two dozen prototypes of this model were built, and a good handful still exists today, including the example above on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. Displacement in these prototypes was typically in the 110-120 cubic-inch range, with a bore and stroke in the neighborhood of 2.5 inches and 3.00 inches, respectively. The flywheel and ring gear doubled as a type of supercharger, but the crankshaft speed was insufficient to produce significant boost, reportedly.

A car was designed to house the X-8 engine in 1925, and with no need for a radiator, the design employed a sloping front doghouse similar to the early air-cooled Franklin. However, by 1926 the X-8 was nowhere near ready for production. Despite years of development, the engine’s cooling and lubrication problems were never solved. As Ford’s inner circle, including his son Edsel, struggled to persuade him to replace the aging Model T, part of the difficulty was in convincing him to drop the troublesome X-8. 

Their arguments won out, and when the Model A was introduced to the public on December 2, 1927, under the hood was a conventional 200.5 CID inline four.

Friday, 23 February 2018

Mystery cars: The Chrysler Plymouth XNR

This one-of-a-kind Chrysler Plymouth XNR was
built in 1960 and is the only model in existence

Outlandish: Its design was supposed to replicate jet aircraft and rockets,
while its bright red bodywork includes an exaggerated tail fin and two side fins
This futuristic supercar was inspired by 1960s space race. It was on sale at a stratospheric $950,000... and it's worth every cent!

The Plymouth XNR was a concept car developed by Chrysler and Plymouth and designer by Virgil Exner as a sports roadster to add to the Plymouth line and possibly compete with the Ford Falcon and the Chevrolet Corvette.

In the late 1940s America's motor industry saw a time of innovation and revolutionary car designs. Car designs emerged with styling cues such as fins and streamline bodies derived from various jets, rockets and other aircraft. Plymouth, in contrast to its competitors, valued engineering supremacy more than visual appeal.

Eventually sales for Chrysler slowed, causing Chrysler to realize that their absence of style in their automobiles was taking its toll on marketing. In 1947 Virgil Exner, an automobile designer, changed Chrysler's designs into streamline cars, sharply contrasting from their previously squarish car bodies.

What Chrysler was lacking was a two-seater roadster to compete with the Ford Falcon and General Motors's Chevrolet Corvette. For the shorter length needed for a roadster, the chassis of the Plymouth valiant was adopted. A 170cid I-6 engine with outputs of more than 200 horsepower was a suitable choice.

Shortly after, the Plymouth Asymmetrica was born. It was renamed Plymouth XNR after its designer, Virgil Exner. The XNR sported a modified Plymouth Valiant chassis about 106.5 inches long.
The Plymouth is equipped with a 200hp six-cylinder engine
The XNR produced about 250 horsepower and could reach speeds of 150 miles per hour. However, The Plymouth XNR never made it to production and was shipped back to where it was built in "Carrozzeria Ghia in Italy".

Click <HERE> to watch archive video of engineers 
taking the Plymouth XNR for a test drive in 1960

Sales and history after development
Virgil Exner showed interest in buying it but was unable to do so. “My dad wanted to buy it, but if it had stayed in the U.S., it would have to have been destroyed,”- Virgil Exner jr. After it was shipped back to Ghia, an unknown Swiss man purchased the Plymouth XNR and then sold it to Mohammad Reza Phalevi, the Shah of Iran. Afterwards it was sold again to Anwar al Mulla, a Kuwaiti car dealer. It was sold again in the early 1970s to a man in Lebanon where it resided in underground storage until Karim Edde found the car hidden during the Lebanese Civil war(1975-1991). He recognized it and kept it in various locations to preserve it from the carnage of the Civil war. After the war the car was sent to RM Restorations in Canada in 2008 and was finished by 2011. It was sold on August 18, 2012 for $935,000 at the RM's Monterey acuction

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Sammy Marks Museum - The Survival of a Grand Century Old Estate

Article Author: Kathy Munro

On September 24th 2015 our private party decided on a Heritage day treat. An excursion for four friends by car to the Sammy Marks House museum. Zwartkoppies Hall was the home of Sammy Marks and his English wife, Bertha (née Guttmann). They lived there between 1884 and 1909, when they moved to their house in Parktown. Thereafter during Sammy’s lifetime it was their country weekend retreat. Sammy Marks died in 1920. It was then that  Bertha gave up their Johannesburg home and returned to live formally at Zwartkoppies until her death in 1934.  

As a result of the legal device of entail built into the will of Sammy Marks (and there were two wills, ultimately both declared legally valid) the house passed on to the children who had the right of residence, but not sale. This is the fascination of the story – a family, a magnetic energetic patriarch, a successful business empire, the power of a will and the survival of period home.  The home is now a museum. Its survival has been extraordinary. It is a special place frozen in the time of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras and captures the gracious lifestyle of an estate on the Transvaal Highveld.
Sammy Marks
Bertha Marks

This extraordinary family home is on what was once the farm Zwartkoppies, located some 23 kms east of Pretoria, a short distance from the N4 main road that takes one on to Cullinan and Witbank. You will find it easily as it is on the old Bronkorspruit Road, in an area called Donkerhoek. Today it is about an hour’s journey from Johannesburg, down the N1 motorway and sweeping around the city of Pretoria to the N4 off-ramp
Before one even arrives one realizes that the city of Pretoria now spreads in every direction and particularly eastward. Here there is an obvious demand for old farmland to be turned into new somewhat uniform residential suburbs of our era. Secure townhouse clusters and walled complexes are being dropped onto the grasslands of the veld. Developers have an insatiable appetite for open land. This is the backdrop that makes one realize that for a grand century-old estate to survive into this new age of urban sprawl is an anachronism and perhaps even a miracle.  

Integral to the story of the family who lived in the house a century ago is that even more fascinating sub-theme as to how and why this particular country home, although on a much smaller expanse of land, became a national museum. South Africa does not have a British National Trust organization nor a tax regime that makes heritage and history prizes to be saved, preserved and restored. Few seem to see the link between the unusual in the built environment and tourism potential. But here is a model that for a foresighted government if only they choose to prioritise heritage possibilities and we were open to “colonial history” successes of Britain, Australia or the East coast of the USA. There may be a lesson in how to celebrate the past and actually develop some tourist highlights that could be proudly nominated for a UNESCO list. Maybe I am dreaming but my visit to the Marks Museum set me thinking.

To reach the house one takes a turn off from the main road onto a long dusty country road and approach through old stone gate posts. We are welcomed to the Ditsong Sammy Marks Museum passing through conspicuous gate posts. Watch out for a number of different old driveway gates on the property, each worth closer inspection.
Entrance to the Sammy Marks Museum 

It is a country property that still means to impress the visitor as Sammy Marks intended. Mark was a Lithuanian Jewish immigrant from the town of Neustadt (also the hometown of Hermann Kallenbach), born in 1844, who first emigrated to England when he was eighteen. He arrived in South Africa in 1868 at the age of 24 and before long started a general dealer’s business in Kimberley. His cousin Isaac Lewis joined him. The cousins formed a successful lifelong business partnership, Lewis and Marks, that lasted until Sammy’s death in 1920. They became a powerful team and later Barnet Lewis, the brother of Isaac also became a partner. The business empire extended over almost every possible early enterprise in farming, land purchases, mining, transport, liquor and pioneering industries. Risk-taking combined with deal-making. Success in business was embedded in cultural norms that meant nurturing good relations with the government of the day through war and peace. Marks cultivated Boer generals and politicians of the South African Republic prior to 1900, later he hobnobbed with the British colonial administration of the post-Boer War era and in the final decade of his life, he was a stalwart supporter of the Union Government of Louis Botha and Smuts. He served as a Senator in the final decade of his life. 

To understand how Sammy Marks fitted into South African history, it is worth noting that Marks, though an immigrant was neither an “uitlander” nor “a randlord”. He was the man always for peace and preferred to get on with those in authority so that government would provide the right support for business and prosperity. He was an entrepreneurial capitalist who understood the power of business and the business of power.

Lewis and Marks Building Johannesburg (Seventy Golden Years) 

Marks made his fortune but he also spent a fortune in order to create an English country estate and the appropriate upper class lifestyle on the Highveld. His estate was a work in progress throughout much of his life. Richard Mendelsohn (his biographer) comments that the house represented a dimension of Marks’ creative energy and the transformation of Zwartkoppies was a vital element of his social strategy. That in turn was an integral component of his business and political plan. His personality was gregarious and entertaining the movers and shakers of South African political life at Zwartkoppies came naturally to Marks. The objective was to offer conspicuous entertainment as a social means to a business end, but the hospitality was nonetheless warm, genuine and generous. The Sunday lunches at Zwartkoppies were an institution.

Zwartkioppies was also a home for a large family. It was and still is a substantial house with over 40 rooms. It was set amid a rose garden, formal flower beds, tall evergreen conifers (but not bluegums) an orchard of fruit trees and a vegetable garden. Avenues were flanked by pruned hedges. There were once a tennis court and a swimming pool. Croquet was played on the front lawn. The right kind of animals was part of the lifestyle - a flock of guinea fowl, blesbok and stables for 14 horses and a coach house for five carriages. There was a cowshed and dairy. Water came from a well operated by a steam-operated pump. A lake was the home to imported English swans (“three fine boats on my lake and nine beautiful English swans”). Guests could punt on the canal that fed the lake. Electricity, from 1896, was generated on the estate by a small hydro-electrical plant fuelled by water from the river.

Bertha, the much younger English wife of Sammy Marks (age 22 when she married Sammy) was a capable prize-winning poultry farmer. She was a more retiring person and her letters reveal that the Sunday events were more Sammy’s projects than hers. She was nonetheless a gracious hostess. The estate cum farm was an entire community of people revolving around the needs and affluent lifestyle of the large moneyed newly rich and successful family. The family was unashamedly aspirational, so it was not surprising that the four sons were sent abroad to England to be schooled at the age of 8 and the girls departed from home also to be educated abroad from the age of 12.  I found this surprising when one considers that life on a farm but with all modern conveniences was a dream childhood milieu.

In 1995 roughly 73 hectares of land, including the Victorian house, and the surrounding significant outbuildings were alienated from the rest of the farm and expropriated by the State enabling the National Cultural History Museum to run a viable and permanent museum (this was approximately one-tenth of the expanse of the original farm). In March 1989 Zwartkoppies was declared a National Monument. It is a national treasure.

Today, enough of the legacy imprint of the Marks family in residence circa 1903, remains for one not to have to stretch one’s imagination to visualise the lifestyle of a century or more ago. It is as though a family, their occupations, entertainments and possessions that made life purposeful and fun have been preserved in amber. I felt like I was entering a time machine to be a guest and visitor invited to call on Bertha Marks one hundred and twelve years ago. I should have arrived in a lace embroidered exquisite tea gown, hair coiffed in ringlets, a parasol in a gloved hand and worn a large floral hat.

We are here to see the house and its possessions and the only way to enter the home is on an hour-long tour of the interior, which happens on the hour. It was slightly disappointing as there was no external tour of other buildings or gardens. We decided to start our day by enjoying a pre-tour coffee and planning our post-tour picnic lunch. The German accent maitre’d of the little restaurant at the rear of the house, was very gruff... "No definitely you can't have your own picnic anywhere" on this huge estate, because they wish to sell their own picnic hampers. Understandable, but hardly welcoming. This was not the voice of the gregarious Sammy Marks or his more retiring but gracious wife, Bertha. We settled on savouring the Viennese iced coffee with lashings of real cream in those tall elegant tapered glasses (delicious) and the large scones, jam and cream (scones stale!). The admission tickets were a very modest and excellent value for money R25 for pensioners. 

We also visited the small gift shop prior to our tour and other than the three helpful pamphlets, the souvenirs were priced at the level that assumed a captive market. I thought the young man who managed the till was welcoming and pleasant and he was keen to help us organize our picnic – he had the right attitude in the tourism business.

What is so remarkable about the home is that 98 percent of the household contents that you see today, originally belonged to the Marks family: the silver, crockery, ornaments, furniture, furnishings, fittings, kitchen utensils, musical instruments were all newly purchased from the best stores in England and were imported before the turn of the 20th century. Today these items are prized antiques but imagine them when they were regarded as the latest in style, fashion and technology. Sammy Marks was not a great collector of fine art but instead there are a huge number of family photographs, framed certificates, personal mementoes and memorabilia, studio photos of historical figures of note across the political spectrum of the pre and post Boer war period who Marks sought to influence and who figured as important people in his world view. One needs only look at what hangs on the walls to quickly grasp where Marks stood politically in his even-handed juggling. He was a man with a strong sense of family, traditional values, a secular Jewish identity. One gets the feeling that here was a man who was comfortable being himself in his own era, doing things his way.

What of the history of the house and the estate?  

Marks bought the farm (original size 902 morgen or 773 hectares) and a house then called Christienen Hall in late 1883 for 1400 pounds sterling. The original farmhouse was a simple L shape thatched roof, ‘wattle and daub’ (clay) wall dwelling. Marks initially lived simply in what was a Boer farmhouse. The house of 1882 was a rough and ready, modest homestead, better suited to a young bachelor and his male friends.
Old Zwartkopje 1882

He rapidly planned and built a new mansion, renamed Zwartkoppies Hall (Zwartkoppies was the name of the earlier much bigger farm). It was a self designed new house to which he brought his young bride in 1884. 

Harry Struben described the house as “neither Gothic nor Tudor but more Coney Hatch or Newgate". Marks “drew the plan I am told on a plank with a piece of charcoal”. Desiree Picton Seymour in her book on Victorian buildings in South Africa, informs us that Sammy Marks continued to add to the building in 1890 and 1896, without an architect, until eventually there were 23 rooms plus storerooms and outbuildings. However, the Maisels pamphlet and other sources mention that the 1890s additions and alterations were carried out by the Dutch architect Willem De Zwaan (1867–1948) of the firm De Zwaan and Van Dyk, who became well known as Pretoria architects. 

The contractor for the additions was John Johnstone Kirkness, a builder from Pretoria. It was at that time that the kitchen wing and servants quarters were added. Being a long house with rooms on either side of the central corridor that ran the length of the house, more rooms and more corridors could be added when the need arose.

A Slightly Pretentious Front Portico  
Stained Glass Windows
The exterior can be described as vaguely Victorian, but it is not particularly imposing. Externally the house is a long, proportionately narrow double storey over much of its length, veranda house with shuttered windows. White walls are under a corrugated iron red roof. There is a wooden railing along the long gallery narrow stoep or veranda. The windows are shuttered with wooden rust coloured shutters. In the 1880s yards of cocoa nut matting 6 to 7 foot in width went around the stoep. On the roof there are some hip shaped air vents also made of corrugated iron, plus a couple of decorative plaster work chimneys. Originally the main entrance was on the South side of the house, and one ascended to the entrance via a set of steps and onto a porch cum balcony. Today, the main entrance is on the West and a slightly pretentious front portico, flanked by columns breaks the line of the veranda roof.

I noticed an interesting set of stained glass decorative small window panels in Art Nouveau patterned effect surrounding plain glass panes at first floor level and I wondered if there had been a more substantial feature here at one time.

The interior that is on a far grander scale than the exterior, with a fine teak staircase and an enormous number of rooms leading off the long central corridors.
The teak staircase
One really comes to see inside the house and it was definitely worth the journey. The tour does not give one access to all rooms and it is not possible to stray down the ground floor corridor to the old south side main entrance hall. Our party was a small one and our guide was charming and knowledgeable and an employee of Ditsong, who, she told us paid her salary (we had wondered if she was an employee of a family trust). She encouraged the young children in our party to play the piano in the music room and have a shot at banging the dinner gong.  I liked the professional welcoming tone set by our tour guide who had studied her subject in depth and passed her exams with flying colours.

The house is fascinating because it looks like a home where an important family from the turn of the 20th century have just taken their leave. The home was occupied by members of the Marks family until 1978 and whilst restoration over a century was required because of wear and tear and possibly changing tastes (the original wallpaper and painted panels imitating granite and marble were painted over). Now it is a labour of love and careful study to re-establish the original look and return as much as possible precisely to the original period decor. I kept coming back to the metaphor of a house utterly frozen in time.

I found it impressive that so many personal family objects and possessions, circa 1900, toys, dolls, musical instruments, books, ornaments, furniture, kitchen tools, crockery, cutlery, utensils, old trunks are still in the house. It is remarkable that all these personal objects belonged to the family and fill most of the 40 rooms (although not all 40 rooms are accessible to visitors). The dining room is laid for a Sunday lunch, their books are in the library, you feel you have been invited to take tea with Bertha at a small table upstairs, the kitchen set out as it would have been at the turn of the century, ready to swing into action to serve a breakfast on a tray for Bertha or a gargantuan meal for 40 guests. There is an electric bell system to summon the servants to any room in the house. Perhaps you would be lucky enough to be invited to a game of billiards in the grand billiard room (which is the outstanding centre piece of the house because of its ornately decorated ceiling).

 Who visited Marks and his family at Zwartkoppies? The political movers and shakers of the late 19th century both British and  Boer were guests. The Boer generals (De la Rey, De Wet, Reitz), the politicians, the business associates, the important sojourners and travellers were lavishly entertained. Lord Randolph Churchill came in 1891. Kruger came for a working breakfast in 1886. Rhodes when he was Cape Prime Minister, visited in the early 1890s and discussed viticulture and the possibility of the establishment of a fruit industry in South Africa. The preeminent legal figure James Rose Innes (who later became Chief Justice of South Africa) spent a night when observing the trial of the Jameson Raid plotters. Meals were five course marathons prepared in a kitchen that was rather like a hotel engine room. In keeping with the masculine habits of the era Marks had a huge stock of cigars for his male guests (there was an inventory of 4000 in 1902).

Bertha Marks and her Children
By 1897 Sammy and Bertha were the parents of eight  children, five boys ( Louis, Joe, Ted, Phil, and Montie) and three girls (Fanny Beatrice – called Dolly and Gertrude – called Girlie and Leonore). Two children died – Monty died at the age of 12 and Leonore in infancy. Large families were the norm and the Marks family was not atypical in its loss of precious offspring. A wet nurse was employed to breast feed the newest baby. Several bedrooms that one sees today are set out as children’s rooms – the domain of children, nurses, maids and governesses showing where they slept, played, and ate their meals.
Grand Piano
As the older children grew they were sent to England to be educated, so the rooms we see capture a specific time in their upbringing. The boys were sent to boarding school when they were eight, but the girls were educated by the governesses until the age of 12. Women were not expected to be educated to the same level as men, and their sphere of life was the domestic domain. Boys were expected to learn the skills to enable them to  take up a profession or join one of the family enterprises.  Languages and music were important and French, German and English were taught by the governesses.

The music room has a Bechstein grand piano and the children were encouraged to take up any number of musical instruments. 

Bedroom of Bertha Marks
Bertha’s bedroom is feminine with goose feather quilt, fine sculptured olive wood wardrobe (all furniture and ornaments were imported and in the style of the late Victorian era). Bertha enjoyed breakfast served on a tray in her bedroom. But we were told it was the custom never to sleep on the bed during the day but rather to use the day bed for reclining at leisure. Curtains and drapes were heavy satins and silks. 

I found my eye drawn to the details of domestic architecture and taking a closer look at the technology of the house. Electric lights, hot water systems, servants bells, air cooling, storage spaces are worth exploring because they show a house as a machine for living and in this case living luxuriously but not without effort.

The library reveals the books that appealed to Sammy and Bertha Marks. Sammy sought practical information, books on mining, sheep farming, irrigation, iron manufacture all related to his business interests. He enjoyed reading the speeches of 19th century British politicians, Bertha read contemporary novels, Marie Corelli, Wilkie Collins, Ouida. There were also books likely to appeal to the children – Kipling’s Jungle Book, Edward Lear’s Book of Nonsense. As can be seen in the photo below the leather bound sets almost gleam behind the glass doors of the beautifully crafted book cases. The library is the ultimate gentleman’s retreat. Marks was a self-educated man who because of weakened eyesight enjoyed having his children or his secretary read to him.

It is fascinating to read Bertha’s revealing letter to her husband (quoted in the Mendelsohn biography of Sammy) when in 1906 she gives the staff needs to run Zwartkoppies. The list covers a cook, kitchen maid, butler and assistant, 3 housemaids, plus staff for the laundry, dairy and poultry, a governess, a nurse for the youngest child and a maid for Bertha in addition to black staff to support this complement. Sammy retorts that its not necessary to keep an establishment of 12 white women. Zwartkoppies was a home for entertainment rather more for business and political purposes than for family. Marks was always hospitable and generous as his many donations and personal kindnesses testify.

The monogram on the fine bone china crockery was of the entwined alphabet letters, a large S M and a small B, Sammy Marks and his Wife Bertha. This was very much the status symbol. 

Our guide quipped that on one occasion Bertha ordered some big platter covers emblazoned with a large B, to her husband’s displeasure. There are 400 items of fine china still remaining and in store. I tried to turn over a plate to check out the provenance of the china, only to be reprimanded and told “no touching”.

 Billiard room

The Billiard Room on the first floor is perhaps the showiest room in the house. Shaded lights hang over the green baize of the imported billiard table. 

Our guide told us that only men played billiards but this is nonsense as Bertha is said to have enjoyed a game of billiards. 

Billiard Room Ceiling

It's the baroque painted ceilings that makes this room so impressive. The ornate decorative floral work was painted by an Italian craftsman from Pretoria. An enlarged portrait photo of Sammy Marks and his father Mordechai Marks (who died in 1908 and who never left his home country) hands in pride of place on a west wall.

How do we jump from a family life in circa 1903 to the present museum?

In 1909 the Marks family moved to a home in St Davids Road Parktown Johannesburg and Zwartkoppies became a weekend retreat. After her husband’s death Bertha gave up the  Johannesburg home and Zwartkoppies was her principal home though she travelled a great deal.

On Sammy Marks’ death in 1920 his assets including the farm and the family home became subject to entail which Marks successfully imposed onto the 3rd generation after he and his wife had passed on. He wish to decree that it was to be only after the death of his last surviving of the tier of great grandchildren that the descendants would be free to sell Zwartkoppies. The Marks will was extraordinary as he (Sammy ) tried to rule from the grave and his strictures about his children and descendants not marrying out of the Jewish faith.
This legal device proved to be both a burden and a positive legacy, as this was the thread whereby the tale of bringing a museum into existence hangs.

The son of Sammy and Bertha,  Joseph or as he was called Joe, and wife, Kirsty,  continued living there until the 1970s (the widow of Joe died in 1978).  Joseph was the only son with a profession, he was trained as an agronomist.  He was the son who took on the task of farming Zwartkoppies in the 1920s left in the thirties and then returned after war time service after 1945.

By the 1970s  the question for the family trust was what was to become of the house and its possessions . It has become a magnificent white elephant.  The various prospects for an old age home, a sanatorium , a school, a hotel and so on came to naught. But in 1980 the germ of the idea of a museum began to bear fruit. There were only 4 grandchildren and the descendants by the fourth generation,  no longer lived in South Africa.
In 1984 the Trust estate of the Late Samuel Marks came to an agreement with the National Cultural History and Open-Air Museum to establish the Sammy Marks Museum in the Hall. It was Neill Maisels, ( Sammy and  Bertha’s astute and foresighted grandson) the executor of the estate who saw the potential for a unique museum.  Richard Mendelsohn writes of  Neill’s vision  and sums up what is still unique about the house “ Here was a wealthy upper- class , late Victorian residence captured in amber.  Its  Victorian and Edwardian furnishings , its glassware and ornaments, and its collections of silver, crockery and china were basically intact, little changed since the death of the owner more than half a century before, requiring only sensitive and skilled restoration.”  ( p255, Mendelsohn, 1991)

It was a  long drawn out negotiation to create the museum and begin a process of restoration that is still ongoing. Today the museum is a Ditsong Museum , and  some 25 years later the museum still attracts visitors wanting to glimpse this affluent life style of a man who left his indelible imprint on the shape of South Africa’s economy. He was a man who with his partners, made his fortune (and lost some fortunes too) and was able to indulge his own his tastes and be a benefactor of many public charitable causes as well as  many individuals (family and others) who could rely on his generosity.

The Marks papers were steered by Mendel Kaplan to the University of Cape Town’s Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies and Research archives and hence resulted in the Richard Mendelsohn biography (Sammy Marks ‘The Uncrowned King of the Transvaal”).  

The story of the house cannot be divorced from the story of Sammy Marks and his wife Bertha and their children. It is a story of an immigrant Jewish ill educated Jewish young man who had ideas and vision for the economic development of his adopted country. He was ambitious, entrepreneurial, shrewd and talented. He was an excellent financier and knew the importance of  peace and being on the side of the government of the day. He was the man who worked on averting hostilities between Boer and British. Marks and his partner Isaac Lewis had an enormous spread of business interests from liquor manufacture to beer brewing. The partners invested in glass manufacture, tanning, iron and steel, mining (diamonds, coal, gold), fruit and meat preserving, the milling of maize, cold storage. power generation. The range of interests reveals the shift in the economy from agricultural to mining and then to manufacturing. By 1904 Lewis and Marks ownership of farms in the Transvaal placed them among the top five private landowners. The business empire and partnership of Lewis and Marks lasted half a century, but in 1945 the controlling interest in Lewis and Marks was sold to Ernest Oppenheimer and the Anglo American company.
However while the furniture, goods and chattels are beautifully preserved, the house after 130 plus years needs some careful restoration. Errors in past later paint jobs need correcting, the paint needs stripping off and some wall paper is peeling. There is a begging box in the foyer appealing for restoration funds, I thought this a little odd considering the huge wealth generated through the Marks enterprises and the fact that we all pay taxes to the State. Why is it that objects cultural are last in line when it comes to state funds?  

In summary, the house as a museum is a period relic, a treasure, a burden and a fascination. It is a compelling must see place. I hope to return one day soon and to enjoy a picnic under the pines. Do come join me.

* * * 

I was recently given an eight page pamphlet: “The Life and Times of Sammy Marks” by S J N Maisels, "the administrator of the estate of the late Sammy Marks".  The pamphlet presents interesting photographs of Marks, his family and the exterior and interior of Zwartkoppies Hall. There is also an illustration of the official seal of Mark's Eerste Fabrieken Hatherley Distillery limited, established in 1882, plus the S M B monogram of Sammy Marks (large SM) and Bertha (small B). 

The pamphlet carries no date, though is listed in the World Cat as 1987. Marks' daughter Dolly married Israel Maisels. The authoritative biography of Sammy Marks was by Richard Mendelsohn: Sammy Marks 'The  Uncrowned King of the Transvaal' published by David Philip 1991. Mendelsohn does not mention this pamphlet, though it is clearly a publication associated with the Museum, which opened in 1986 and Zwartkoppies was declared a national monument in 1989. SJN or more familiarly called Neil Maisels was Sammy Marks' oldest grandson and the chairman of the Marks Trust. The Mendelsohn biography lists S J N Maisels as the author of Notes of an Epilogue to Sammy Marks Biography  (Johannesburg 1986) in the section unpublished papers and MSS. 

It is well worth reading the Mendelsohn biography of Sammy Marks ahead of a visit to Zwartkoppies. Marks was indeed the uncrowned king of the Transvaal, it was his foresight, vision, and risk taking that led Marks to venture into brewing, glass manufacture, fruit and meat preserving works, coal mining. He was a deal maker, investor and financier of the Transvaal Republic and later the Union of South Africa.   

There are three useful current pamphlets on Zwartkoppies available from the small shop.

Three Current Pamphlets available at the Sammy Marks Museum
Acknowledgement of photographic sources -  all external photographs are by K A Munro, some of the internal photographs are mine others are taken from public sources on the internet. Photography inside the house is discouraged but I found a discreet cell phone could be used effectively.  I should add that a google image search will  provide all the pictures of the interior that one could ever wish for.

Kathy Munro is an Honorary Associate Professor in the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of the Witwatersrand. She enjoyed a long career as an academic and in management at Wits University. She trained as an economic historian. She is an enthusiastic book person and has built her own somewhat eclectic book collection over 40 years. Her interests cover Africana, Johannesburg history, history, art history, travel, business and banking histories.

  1. Mendel Kaplan . Jewish Roots in the South African Economy (1986) chapters 5 & 6.
  2. Richard Mendelsohn : Sammy Marks ‘The Uncrowned King of the Transvaal’ (1991)
  3. S J N Maisels:  “The Life and Times of Sammy Marks”  8 page pamphlet (no date, circa 1988)
  4. D . Picton-Seymour: Victorian Buildings in South Africa ( 1976) p 301
  5. Dictionary of South African Biography, Volume 1, HSRC, 1969 entry for Sammy Marks p 515 -517  (one error spotted Bertha was not a widow)
Reproduced from The Heritage Portal

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

South Africa to come alive with the sights and sounds of 1930s Grand Prix Cars

In November 2018, South Africa will come alive to the sights and sounds of a grid full of 1930's Grand Prix cars for the first time in nearly 80 years. 

The occasion is the South African Historic Grand Prix Festival which is being organised as a celebration of the iconic racers that originally participated in the South African Grands Prix in the 1930s.

In this era, the South African GP took place at the Prince George Racetrack in East London between 1934 and 1939. These races were supported by two further events, the Grosvenor GP in Cape Town and the Rand GP in Johannesburg, the trio of events creating a mini 'Winter Series' for European and British racing drivers of the day. 

The UK organiser of the event, Speedstream Events, has undertaken considerable research to identify and trace as many of the original cars that participated in the South African events during the 1930's. The response has been tremendously positive, with several thrilling cars already committed to participating, including the Maserati 8CM with which Whitney Straight won the inaugural 1934 Grand Prix, the ERA which won the 1937 Grand Prix and the Riley Ulster Imp which finished second in the same event. 
1934 Maserati 8CM - Winner of the inaugural 1934 SA GP (3) Photo Credit - Dave Adams.
Other cars the organisers expect entries from include Bugatti, Alfa Romeo, Talbot, Frazer Nash, Aston Martin, MG, Railton, Plymouth as well further ERAs, Maseratis and Rileys. 
Billed as a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience for the owners, the South African Historic Grand Prix Festival will comprise of three elements taking place between the 25th November and the 2nd December 2018.

The first leg, on the 25th November, is a commemorative race at the East London Grand Prix Circuit combined with a parade around the original 11-mile long Prince George race circuit. This will present a fantastic opportunity for vintage car and Grand Prix enthusiasts to see these cars being driven in anger in the country for the first time in 80 years.
1935 ERA R4A - Winner of the 1937 South African Grand Prix (3) Photo Credit - Alan Cox
The Festival then moves on to a private tour (from 26-30 November) for the road going Grand Prix cars, where they will drive some of South Africa’s most scenic and exhilarating roads between East London and the Western Cape. 

The event will culminate in a two-day Grand Prix Garden Party close to Cape Town. This element will see the Grand Prix cars on display as well as being demonstrated, providing a further opportunity for the public to interact with the cars and owners in celebration of South Africa's proud history of hosting Grand Prix racing. The venue for this element will be confirmed in due course.

The Grand Prix Garden Party will be set in a high-end venue and offer ticket holders the opportunity to get up close to the cars in a relaxed environment. There will also be a limited number of VIP hospitality tickets available in the Drivers Club hospitality at both the East London race event and the Cape Garden Party which will provide a unique opportunity to mingle with the owners of the GP cars, as well as network with celebrities, motorsport heroes, and like-minded enthusiasts. 

While preference will be given to entries where cars have authentic South African Grand Prix history, the ‘By Invitation Only’ event is also open to owners of age-related Grand Prix cars who may wish to participate in this once-off experience. Total entries are limited to 25 cars.

Click here to view our website and here to visit our facebook page

Reproduced from The Heritage Portal 12 Oct 2017 

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Forgotten fountain returns to the limelight

The fountain neglected in the bush (Cullinan Heritage Society)
A fountain built by Italian POWs who were interred at the nearby Zonderwater POW camp around 1943 has been moved from its original position to a new site in the garden of the McHardy House Museum in Cullinan.

The fountain being secured (Cullinan Heritage Society)
The fountain was built in an area called Hallsdorp. The miners houses built in this area in the early part of the last century were demolished at the end of the Second World War. The area became derelict and the fountain was quickly forgotten.

Many decades later the Cullinan Heritage Society located the fountain and later applied for permission to move it to an area where it could be appreciated by the many visitors to the village. Volunteers of the Heritage Society worked to secure the fountain to prevent any breakage of the stone structure.
The fountain being secured (Cullinan Heritage Society)

The Petra Mine supplied the essential crane and transport to move the fountain. The operation progressed smoothly with no damage to 75 year old structure.

Crane lowering the fountain into position (Cullinan Heritage Society)
The Cullinan Heritage Society aims to restore the fountain to its original glory as soon as the necessary funds can be raised. The story of the fountain demonstrates what can be achieved when local enthusiasts, heritage officials and generous businesses work together for the common good.
The fountain's new home in front of the McHardy House Museum
 (Cullinan Heritage Society)

Reproduced from: The Heritage Portal

Article Author: John Lincoln

Monday, 27 March 2017

The Early History of Irene Farm

Article Author: South African Panorama

Irene is a wonderful village located less than twenty kilometres south of Pretoria. Visitors can feel the history around them whether staying at a local hotel, visiting the Smuts House Museum or touring the working farm. Residents are proud of the area's rich history and rightly so! Below are a few edited passages revealing the early history of Irene Farm. A longer version of the article appeared in a 1961 edition of South African Panorama.

A recent photo of one of the historic farm buildings (The Heritage Portal)

John Albert van der Byl was a man of foresight. Coming to Pretoria in the 1890s at the suggestion of Percy Fitzpatrick, writer, politician and adventurer, he bought with him from his previous home in the Bredasdorp district of the Cape Province a shrewd planning instinct and a love of gardens. Settling down some ten miles south-east of Pretoria, John van der Byl established himself, his wife and his young son Henry on a farm bought from a famous figure at that time, Nellmapius. But it was a farm in name only. Nellmapius, an adventurer, transport rider and financier whose name is linked with many stirring ventures in the early days of the Transvaal, had built himself a house there and surrounded it with some avenues of Casaurina trees.
The main residence (South African Panorama)

For Nellmapius the farm was merely an investment, a part of one of the several fortunes which he made during his lifetime. He named the farm after his daughter Irene, and lived in the house for a while. Then he sold to John van der Byl. The latter took the garden and expanded it; he studied the 11000-acre farm and developed it. He spanned it with a network of irrigation furrows. He farmed crops, cattle and ostriches. Finding little market for his vegetables and milk he decided to create one. He cut up one section of the farm into plots, establishing the village of Irene. Soon the farm had a growing settlement; there was a market for its produce; and John van der Byl had become the local squire.
Riding on Irene Farm (South African Panorama)
John and son Henry farmed in partnership during the 1920s, the period which saw the end of the ostriches and the accent being placed on making Irene Estates a dairy farm. Eventually John handed over the farm to Henry, who continued its development and expansion. Under the care of Henry's wife the garden prospered, the avenues were extended, the trees grew into giants. The first Mrs van der Byl had landscaped the acres around the house into an old-world garden; Henry's wife added fountains, arbours and greenhouses, carpeted the shade with violets - which used to be sold in the village together with the farm's vegetables and dairy products. Nellmapius's house was enlarged, rivalling Pretoria's most gracious homes.

A remarkable avenue of trees (South African Panorama)
This was a period of elegance: transportation was by Cape cart - light two-horse carriages - and the main road to Pretoria crossed the Van der Byl farm, becoming the main avenue where it passed the door of the residence. But this was no inconvenience, for cars were almost unheard of, and scarcely two carriages passed during a day. The peace of the garden remained undisturbed. Its hydrangeas, wisteria and irises set the theme of quiet beauty.
Smuts House next door to Irene Estates
(The Heritage Portal)
Distinguished visitors came to the farm. Among these a neighbour, General Smuts, called in frequently. Smuts used to seek mental relaxation in long walks through the veld. Doornkloof - his farm - sliced into Irene Estates like a wedge. Often he would begin his walk by calling in on the Van der Byls and wandering for a while with them enjoying nature's beauty in the garden. Then he would be off at the cracking pace which he knew would leave his official bodyguards straggling miles behind. For him the veld was something to be enjoyed alone.

The Van der Byls are still deeply involved in Irene and have opened up a number of spaces for the public to visit. Click here for all the details.

Below are some more photos of the Irene Farm