How one young man’s passion for stamps led to a global business. From a one-man local business to a global enterprise. A brief look into the exciting history of Rapp Auctions.
How it all began
When Peter Rapp was born in Uzwil, not all of the signals indicated an automatic road to success even in Switzerland, a country that had been spared from the ravages of the war. Peter Rapp came into contact with stamps at an early age thanks to his grandfather, himself an avid philatelist. During his time at school and in the school holidays, Peter Rapp learned all about his grandfather’s collection and quickly became an enthusiast for the world of philately.
At the age of 15, he started on a course of technical vocational training and was certified with honours a few years later. In the long run, however, the world of technology was not able to keep up his enthusiasm. The world of philately was much closer to his heart even when he was still a young man. In the 1960s, Peter Rapp applied for a position with the young auctioneer Hartmut Schwenn, who at that time was known worldwide. In 1967, Schwenn was looking for a philatelist who could assume the direction of his branch office in Zurich. Peter Rapp applied for the job and introduced himself personally as a 22-year-old philatelist to Hartmut Schwenn. Fortune smiled on him! He was hired for the Zurich branch and took over the position on 1 October 1967. Since preparations had not been completed in Zurich, he was able to spend several months at company headquarters in Frankfurt, where he gained valuable experience. While he was there, the respected and highly experienced head philatelist Karl Simon took him under his wing and provided him with the singular opportunity to learn from a true expert. Peter Rapp began working as the branch office director in Zurich in 1969, where he remained until the end of the first quarter of 1970.
In 1970, unnoticed by the general public, Peter Rapp founded Peter Rapp AG in Switzerland. He wanted to concentrate on what he could do well, what he had learned: auctioning stamps. A bold move, but his family and the capital in terms of competence as well as good material that he had acquired in the years before came to his aid. He was able to conduct his first auction, in 1971, in the conference rooms of the Zurich railway station buffet. Total sales of 720,000 Swiss francs were his well-earned reward.
«For decades, Rapp has been one of the world’s leading auctioneers, renowned for its strong performance and its history of realising high prices.»
His family, especially his mother and his brother, actively worked in the company during the first years after its formation. Peter Rapp AG found its first home on one floor of his mother’s restaurant, the «Eisenbähnli», in Wil. Sales for the second auction in 1973 doubled thanks to the substantial support from his collector and dealer friends as well as (in no small part) his family. He had broken through the ceiling of a million Swiss francs. An auction took place at the Hotel International in Zurich-Oerlikon in 1975.
The mark of ten million Swiss francs was passed for the first time at the auction in 1976. In 1979 and 1980, Rapp Auctions posted two sales figures that even today hold the worldwide records for sales at stamp auctions: 25 million Swiss francs in sales in 1979 and 33.2 million Swiss francs in sales in 1980. Unbelievable figures even for Peter Rapp.
Rapp auction building
Construction on Rapp’s own auction and business facility in Wil began in 1982. The dedication of the building took place on 30 September in the presence of several hundred invited guests. The business premises includes a large gallery for contemporary art as well as sufficient space required for the auction. The first auction in the company’s own building was held in 1985. The interest in this auction was so great that the auction hall threatened to burst at the seams despite its capacity of well over 300. The auction had to be carried over loudspeakers to adjacent rooms.
Marianne Rapp Ohmann, Peter Rapp’s daughter, began working in the family business in 1997. She joins her father as managing director and is responsible for the organisation and administration and for caring for the guests. Rapp Auctions can always count on highly competent and experienced specialists and employees in various sectors. It is remarkable to see how long the employees remain loyal to the Rapp family.
«We do not accept any compromises at all when it comes to the quality of the items we sell. We are absolutely discreet, maintain the best personal contact to important collectors and dealers all over the world, give buyers the greatest possible security and present the items that have been entrusted to us in luxury catalogues that need not fear any comparison.»
From modest beginnings to a large firm
During the past 45 years, Rapp Auctions has grown from its very modest beginnings into one of the most important market leaders. In 2001, Rapp Auctions was able to sell at auction the Alma Lee Collection on behalf of the respected Royal Philatelic Society of London, which is under the patronage of Queen Elizabeth. In the same year that the company celebrated its 40th year in business, Rapp was able to land a tremendous coup. The auction house sold the «Ticino» collection, a Swiss collection long believed to have been lost, and realised a sales price of more than 4.5 million Swiss francs. The media interest in that auction was enormous.
A continuous line of successes has been recorded in the numismatics sector as well since 2008. Sales for the numismatic section in 2014 alone came to 4 million Swiss francs. In the past 45 years, Peter Rapp has auctioned off stamps and coins for well over 450 million Swiss francs on behalf of his clients from all over the world.
A figure that obligates — now and for the future.