In 1968, Reinhold Cassirer, a German collector, dealer and the husband of Nadine Gordimer, one of South Africa’s most celebrated authors and the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, started Sotheby’s South Africa, now known as Stephan Welz & Co., in Braamfontein in central Johannesburg.
The first auction took place on 24 November 1971 and was held in Lawsons Corner, Jorissen Street in Braamfontein in a car showroom, premises which now house the Wits Art Museum. The sale was taken by Paul Thomson, a director of Sotheby’s London who flew out for the occasion. The sale realised R92 000 and 1 000 people attended the sale, with seating for only 400!
Zake Nakedi joined the company in 1970, finally retiring in 2016 after 46 years with the company. Having started as a porter, he finished his career as a director of the company and retired with a wealth of knowledge of South African art as well as many close relationships with clients. Stephan Welz started in 1972, previously having been employed in Hammanskraal at a paper factory.
The company has been at the forefront of fine and decorative art auctions for 50 years, in various iterations, and will continue to do business with the same levels of discretion and integrity that it has for the last five decades
The first auctions comprised mainly paintings, Cape silver and the odd Africana book, other categories being added later. Antony Wiley joined the company circa 1975, around the time that Reinhold Cassirer retired and Welz took the reins as the managing director.
Danny Swart then joined and stamps became a large part of the business, sometimes comprising three auctions annually. The first stamp sale took place in 1979 at the Good Hope Centre in Cape Town. Swart retired in 2015, having ended his career as a stamp consultant in Cape Town.
The first house sale was the contents of Whitehills, a property owned by Gordon Richdale, a wealthy Johannesburg resident. The first house sale in Cape Town was the contents of Newlands House, a property now owned by the Department of Public Works and previously occupied by Gwelo Goodman and Joyce Newton-Thompson. Some of the more notable house sales included the collection of the Holt sisters. The property was known as Nederburg and the sale was marked by purchases made by Dr Marino Chiavelli, a larger than life character who developed a reputation of buying strongly at auction.
Some of the more unusual sales included a sale of game at Makouvlei in the Orange Free State on a farm belonging to Anglo American. There was also a vintage and veteran car sale, which included motorcycles. The sale took place on what is now part the West campus of Wits University. There has only been one auction out of the country, a house sale that took place in Zimbabwe. The house had to be cleared of snakes and other unwelcome guests before the sale could take place.
The company also managed the Nederburg Wine auction, auctioneer Patrick Grubb coming out from London to take the sale. During the 1980s the company held the Cape Independent Winemakers Guild auctions, the auction being was by a series of tastings being held in Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg.
The Africana collection of Sir Alfred and Lady Beit was one of the highlights of auctions held in 1991.The sale realised R2 021 750, a huge sum at the time. Another notable event was the sale of a painting by Adam Willaerts of Table Bay, the first recorded painting of the Cape. The painting was produced circa 1636, and sold in 1984 for R190 000. It now resides in one of the most important collections in the country.
Two other important works by Thomas Baines from the Beit collection fetched R280 000 and R220 000 on the sale in 1991, the works today would probably fetch somewhere in the region of R3 million to R5 million each.
The company has had many notable staff members over the years. Most notable is probably Stephan Welz, who steered the company through the politically difficult 1980s, and who more than anyone established the credibility and the market in fine and decorative art auctions. Many previous members of staff are now employed within the art auction world, having cut their teeth at Stephan Welz & Co.
The company has been at the forefront of fine and decorative art auctions for 50 years, in various iterations, and will continue to do business with the same levels of discretion and integrity that it has for the last five decades. The company strives to unlock the true value of every South African’s precious collection and artworks.
Stephan Welz & Co. has premises in Alphen Estate, Cape Town and Killarney Country Club, Johannesburg and will gladly evaluate and consign fine collectables upon appointment.
Get in touch via Johannesburg: +27(0)11 880 3125, Cape Town: +27(0)21 7946461 or visit www.stephanwelzandco.co.za