The history of Stephan Welz & Co.
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With over fifty years of experience, Stephan Welz and Co. maintains its commitment to knowledge, transparency, credibility, service and discretion, and its expertise in a range of categories including fine art, design, stamps, silver, furniture, collectable cars and jewellery.
Featuring salerooms in Johannesburg and Cape Town that have hosted over 700 successful auctions and a range of other events, the specialists of Stephan Welz and Co. can be relied upon to provide the highest levels of knowledge and service.
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 for literature started Sotheby’s South Africa in Braamfontein in central Johannesburg.
The first auction took place on the 24th November 1971 and was held in Lawsons Corner, Jorissen Street 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 1000 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. Penny Culverwell joined after Zake and left the company and now represents Bonham’s in South Africa. Stephan Welz started in 1972, previously having been employed in Hammanskraal at a paper factory.
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 Stephan 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. Danny finally retired in 2015 having ended 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 the buying of 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 has been responsible for building some of the most notable collections in South Africa, and a few of the more notable buyers over the years have included Marino Chiavelli, well known South African art dealer Louis Schachat from Cape Town and Robin Fryde, the well-known Africana dealer who owned Thorold’s in Johannesburg.
Louis Schachat and Robin Fryde in particular added significantly to both private and public collections in the years they were active in the art and antique auction world. Many important South African works were repatriated as a result of the auction house being able to offer works to the local collectors and institutions.
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 Wine Makers Guild auctions, the auction being preceded 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. It was done 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 000 000 - 5 000 000 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 and Co.
In 1987 the company changed it’s name to Stephan Welz and Co in Association with Sotheby’s and after the international 2008/2009 financial crisis the Sotheby’s connection came to an end in 2010.
The company has been at the forefront of fine and decorative art auctions for fifty 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.