Sammy Marks was a character of note, and one of the most interesting personalities in the days of President Paul Kruger of the ‘Old Transvaal’. The Boer republic dished out some of the worst defeats delivered on the British. He was the son of a Russian Jewish tailor who fled from persecution to Kimberley in 1869, when he heard that diamonds were easy pickings. He also believed in living well.
The Man and His Family
Sammy was a natural for his time. He was sharp, astute, daring, and had phenomenal business acumen. He befriended Paul Kruger on the basis they were both from humble origins. This put him in a good position to acquire interests in lucrative deposits of coal, and gold geologists were discovering every month. Soon he was a very wealthy man.
A Humble Drawing Room
In 1898, the Transvaal Republic found itself unable to pay its civil servants because of the cost of fighting the British. Sammy Marks was so wealthy he literally bankrolled the country. My grandfather was a personal friend of Sammy. His son, my own father, told me Paul Kruger was so grateful he gave his pal the run of the state mint for a day.
Gift for Dinner Party Guests
Most rational people would have minted gold sovereigns, but not Sammy Marks. He had enough money already, so he minted gold threepenny ‘tickey’ pieces that were usually silver. Why tickeys, I asked my father? They were the smallest size coins son. Sammy wanted trinkets to give away at a party that night.
Sammy Marks Museum
The refugee son of a Jewish tailor built a forty-room mansion on a farm near Pretoria where his family lived well, by all accounts. By 1984, the house was semi derelict but intact in accordance with his will. It became a museum – perhaps the only museum – that recalls this period so perfectly. In fact, it is quite a place.