Japan Family History · London Family History · South African Family History · Yokohama Family History

Simon Marcus and Family of London, South Africa, Amsterdam, Surrey and Yokohama.

Simon Marcus, was a jeweller from Amsterdam[i] who settled in London before 1820 and is listed in the register of Freemasons[ii]  as a jeweller of 25 Bevis Marks, later of 2 New Street, Covent Garden[iii]. By his death in 1852[iv], he had produced ten children with his British born wife, Eleanor Levy. His business interests had transferred from jeweller to African merchant.

Simon Marcus was the first recorded Jew in South Africa, running an import and export business from Potchefstroom in the Eastern Cape[v]. As such an early settler and with experience within the jewellery trade, he and his family were in a prime position to play an important part in the gold and diamond markets. As will become apparent, the next generation benefitted from some unusual luck of being in the right place at the most opportune moment.

The last of Simon’s London born children arrived in 1832 and two further children were born in South Africa between 1833- 1837. No member of the family can be found in London during the 1941 census and only one son,  Frederick, was in England in 1851[vi]. It is safe to assume this is the period the family is resident in the Cape of Good Hope.

In 1841, Leopold Ruf, a 28 year old from Strasbourg, arrived in London. He arrived in May, one month after the census of that year[vii], his movements are quite easy to trace, as he travels to and from France[viii].

lowther 3
A contemporary description of the Lowther Arcade [ix]
 In 1849, Ruf married Eliza Moss, sister of Simon Marcus’s son Lewis’s wife Priscilla and Frederick’s wife Esther[x] and by the end of the year, had set up in business as a “Fancy Goods and Toy Shop Keeper”, in the Lowther Arcade, which, in 1850, was described thus:

A covered walk or arcade, surmounted with glass domes of elegant design, leading from West Strand to St. Martin’s churchyard, chiefly inhabited by German toymen, who deal in children’s toys, cheap brooches, pins, cast glass articles, &c[xi].

The business appears to have been funded by the Marcus and Moss families, so it is perhaps not surprising that Lewis also played an active part in the business[xii].

Descriptions of the Lowther Arcade appear to be entrancing. But closer inspection of the imported “objects” insured by Marcus and Ruf, rather changes this picture.

In August 1853, the business is insured as “part of the premises used for the Exhibition of Aztec children[xiii].

aztec liliput
The Aztec children were the talk of the town. [xiv]

The ‘Aztec children’, Maximo and Bartolo[xv], were exhibited throughout the world and seem to have been remarkably happy, according to the many descriptions of their behaviour at the time. But one cannot help but feel sad at this side of 19th century exhibition culture.

[Posters for the exhibition appear on the British Library’s website, but unfortunately, their copyright laws mean they cannot be posted here [xvi] ]


The partnership between Marcus and Ruf was dissolved in 1859. Lewis Marcus remaining a Cape, then Japan importer, and Leopold Rus an importer, each living at significantly more affluent addresses at each census, until their deaths in 1884 and 1887.


In order to find an occupation, Lewis Marcus’s eldest son, Maurice, went to his Uncle Frederick in South Africa (the uncle who was staying with the family in London in 1851). Maurice’s cousins, Ellen (b 1852) and Edith (born 1866) had married into other established South African Jewish families, the Lilienfelds and Rothschilds.

The Lilienfeld connection was life changing for Maurice. The first South African diamond discovered was sold to Gustav Lilienfeld, Ellen’s father in law in 1869 and his son Leopold bought the farm which became the gold mining town of Kimberley[xvii]. In 1870, Maurice returned to London with the first parcel of South African diamonds to reach the UK [xviii].

With the money obtained, Maurice bought a 3rd share in the company which became the Robinson gold mining syndicate[xix].  Some less than scrupulous deals involving the sale of pieces of land, which had not produced any diamonds but did contain gold, only furthered the wealth of the partnership and Maurice returned to London, running the selling part of the operation from there[xx].

The opening of Japan to the West in 1859 gave new business opportunities and they were quickly picked up by the British importers and commission agents[xxi]. Maurice Marcus’s younger brothers had reached the age to seek employment of their own. Simon (born 1847), Alfred (born 1851), Edward (born 1853) and David (born 1858) [xxii] arrived in Japan, between 1864 and 1867, to work for Marks & Co., Auctioneers and Brokers, Yokohama # 77[xxiii]. Simon Marcus was a member of the Yokohama Lodge of Freemasons. Simon joined as the Lodge opened in 1869, with his employer Alexander Marks, both being listed as “storekeepers” In 1870, the Marks and Co. business was sold, and the Marcus brothers started their own business, S. Marcus & Co. Importers and Commission Agents.

alfred marcus
A envelope sent to Albert Marcus in Japan care of Illies & Co (photo from Meiji Portraits [xxiv].
There seems to have been little difficulty in sending objects from East to West. Guide books of the period all declare that “curios” are one of the main attractions of visits to the East and many firms advertise that they will ship things home for the purchaser[xxv]. This undoubtedly made it more possible for firms who did not venture to leave the British shores to obtain goods from the East and provided business for the many British companies based there.


club hotel guide.jpg
Advert in Douglas Sladen’s 1891 guidebook: The Club Hotel Guide. Yokohama: 1891.


There is little definition made between the age of the goods and it seemed to matter far less to the sellers and indeed buyers, than it might today. The Victorian taste was for clutter and curiosities, rather than for antiques deemed to have a secure provenance. The ability to turn a quick penny for high fashion, legitimately or rather more shadily, was more important than the source and age. This is perhaps why, in the 21st century, so many people’s Great Grandma’s Chinese vase, thought to be of great antiquity by her descendants, turns out to be Japanese and the age of Great Grandma.

club hotel guide 2
Another advert from Advert in Douglas Sladen’s 1891 guidebook: The Club Hotel Guide. Yokohama: 1891.

Between 1881 and 1885, all the Marcus boys return to the UK and Simon, Alfred and Edward get married to Jewish girls and settle down to London life.


37-40- The South side of Charterhouse Square was rebuilt in the 1870s, for which this is an architect’s drawing, it looked slightly different when built. David Marcus’s shop was at #40 (image from http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol46/pp242-265)

Edward and Alfred Marcus settled down to English life, became “antique dealers” and Simon joined the stock market in 1902. David Marcus, however, had imported ideas from Japan. During the 1890s, he patented a number of different concepts, in the UK and USA. Two derive from processes he has seen whilst living in Japan. Two of them contain processes involving Toxicodendron vernicifluum (formerly Rhus verniciflua), the Chinese lacquer tree[xxix].

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David had premises in London at an old family address in Charterhouse Square, tantalisingly described in Progress, Commerce: Illustrated London, 1893:

In the early 1890s the whole of No. 40 was occupied by David Marcus, importer and agent of Eastern manufactured goods: ‘The basement is reserved as a show-room for Oriental carpets and furniture; the ground floor is divided in front into a splendid show-room, and at the rear forms the well appointed office; while the upper floors are fully utilised as show and stock-rooms’[xxxi].

Maurice Marcus, after retiring at the beginning of the 20th century, seems to have lived a very quiet life in a Surrey mansion, equipped with every modern luxury, even central heating. Until he died, his wealth seems to have remained undiscovered, even by the sister who lived with him. His interests involved gardening, charity, Jersey cows and collecting china[xxxii].

After Maurice Marcus died, in 1923,  his sister donated three pieces from his extensive ceramics collection to the V and A, all three being 19th century in date and made in Kyoto[xxxiii]. The rest of his collection was presumably dispersed and remains untraced.

“Given by Miss Marcus, in memory of her brother Maurice Marcus”

kyoto marcus 1
“Bowl of earthenware, painted outside in red, green, purple and yellow with a dragon pursuing a pearl. Base unglazed.” 19th century. # C.43-1924 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
kyoto marcus 2
“Tea bowl of stoneware, painted in enamel colours. On the outside, seven sages in a bamboo grove. The mark ‘Ninsei’ is introduced into the design.” 19th century. #C.39-1924 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
kyoto marcus 3
“Tea bowl of stoneware, painted in enamel colours and gilding over a crackled white glaze. On the outside are a crane and a duck beneath a weeping willow. Base unglazed.” 19th century #C.41-1924 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London


27 Adverts posted in the Surrey Mirror advertising Maurice Marcus’s house, after his sister’s death. (“Surrey Mirror.” BNA. March 3-28 1933. Accessed May 22, 2017. http://bit.ly/2pVJqHD.)

Simon Marcus (son of Myer) 1789- 1852 married Eleanor Levy 1799-1872.

Their children-

Hannah 1815-1897

Lewis 1817-1884 married Priscilla Moss- Maurice, Simon (m. Laura Hyam), Isabella, Alfred (m. Florence Myers), Edward (m. Rachel Solomon), Arthur, Jane, David (m. Clara Sheppard), Henrietta and Ruth.

Julia 1819-1893 married Henry Elias Van Weerden

Frederick 1826-1883 married Esther Moss

James 1827-1893

John 1831-1894 married Sarah Defries

Matilda 1831(?)- 1912 married Alexander Van Weerden

Edward 1832-1877 married Frances Horne

Alfred 1835- 1903 married Kate ?.




[i] Also known by his Hebrew name- Simha ben Meir- “Simon son of Myer”

[ii] “England, United Grand Lodge of England Freemason Membership Registers, 1751-1921,” Ancestry, 2014, accessed May 22, 2017, http://ancstry.me/2rxXSCq. Joining the Freemasons was simply a form of business networking during this period (membership required). http://www.jewishgen.org/jcr-uk/Newman_papers/Jews_in_English_Freemasonry.htm

[iii] “Jewish Traders/Businesses in London – 1769-1839,” Jewishgen, 2017, accessed May 19, 2017, http://www.jewishgen.org/databases/jgdetail_2.php (membership required)

[iv] “DIED in London on the 30th August 1852, Mr. Simon MARCUS, in the 64th year of his age, for many years a resident in this Colony, leaving a large Family and circle of Friends to deplore his loss.” (South African Commercial Advertiser 1852)

[v] Paul Cheifitz, “A history of the Jewish community of Potchefstroom and environs” (Master’s thesis, University of Cape Town, 2009), 2014, 6, accessed May 22, 2017, https://open.uct.ac.za/handle/11427/10234.

[vi] “1851 Anglo-Jewry Database,” Jewish, , accessed May 22, 2017, http://www.jewishgen.org/databases/jgdetail_2.php (membership required)

[vii] “England, Alien Arrivals,1826-1869,” Ancestry, 2010, accessed May 22, 2017, https://goo.gl/mneXNf.

[viii] “All Immigration & Travel results for Léopold Ruf.” Léopold Ruf – Ancestry.co.uk. Accessed May 22, 2017. https://goo.gl/D1oLsZ.

[ix] Yonge, Charlotte M. 1850. Victorian London. Accessed May 22, 2017. http://www.victorianlondon.org/shops/arcades.htm.

[x] “Marriage of Leopold Ruf and Eliza Moss,” Ancestry, accessed May 22, 2017, https://goo.gl/FH9LwR.

[xi] Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London (London: John Murray, 1850), 304.

[xii] Rigal, George. n.d. “JEWISH SURNAMES IN LONDON-REGISTERED INSURANCE POLICIES” Jewishgen. http://www.jewishgen.org/databases/jgdetail_2.php.

[xiii] Rigal, George. ibid

[xiv] Maximo and Bartalo’s origins were constantly discussed during the period they were exhibited. It was even suggested that they might have been Jewish. (Qureshi 2011)

[xv] Adam Yamey, Exodus to Africa: from Mosenthal to Mandela (Adam R. Yamey, 2015), 138.

[xvi] Previously, diamonds had come solely from India, often via Amsterdam.

[xvii] A.P Cartwright, Gold paved the way: the story of the Gold fields group of companies (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1967), 18.

[xviii] MM had 6173 shares to Robinson’s 8424. Robert Vicat. Turrell, Capital and labour on the Kimberley diamond fields, 1871-1890 (Cambridge, Mass.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2008), 116.

[xix] Yokohama, accessed May 22, 2017, http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/yokohama.

[xx] Another son of Lewis and Priscilla, Arthur, born 1854, cannot be found after the 1861 census, presumably dead.

[xxi] Although the names are similar, there appears no familial association. Bernd Lapach, “Marcus Family,” Meiji-portraits, 2017, accessed May 22, 2017, http://www.meiji-portraits.de/meiji_portraits_m.html#MARCUSAlfred.

[xxii] See (Sladen 1891), (The Trade of the World 1887), (The Directory & Chronicle for China, Japan, 1888), (Huish. 1892) for example.

[xxiii] Unfortunately, it has not been possible to trace the success of the patents.

[xiv] “Charterhouse Square area: Introduction; Charterhouse Square,” British History Online, accessed May 22, 2017, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol46/pp242-265#fnn148. (Quoting from Progress, Commerce: Illustrated London, 1893, p. 169)

[xv] William Rubinstein, ed., Palgrave Dictionary of Anglo-Jewish History (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 643.

[xvi] “Donated by Isabella Marcus.” V&A Search the Collections. Accessed May 22, 2017. http://bit.ly/2qwmknG


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