The records of N M Rothschild & Sons are arranged by departments according to a catalogue compiled around 1920 by clerks at a time when the Bank's filing system was being reorganised. Within each department every series of records had a unique number assigned to it for ease of reference, although, in archival terms, it carried and revealed no organisational significance. The first Archivist, appointed in 1978, arranged the records in order of department and assigned a Roman numeral reference code to each, prefixing the departmental series number with this numeral. Thus the records of the Accounts Current Department bear the prefix I, the American Department II and so on, in alphabetical order. There are nine departments in total, which are as follows:
Accounts Current Department whose records include foreign accounts, 1806-1914; Rothschild banks and private accounts, 1822-1930; Government accounts, 1850-1930 and stock accounts, 1870-1926.
American Department whose records include American stock accounts, 1888-1918; American Government and general accounts, 1831-1930; American railways, bullion and commodities accounts, 1844-1917.
Bookkeepers Department whose records include home, foreign and stock ledgers, 1809-1914 and journals, 1817-1865.
Bullion Department whose records include bullion invoices and account sales, 1816-1930; bullion ledgers 1819-1914; refinery accounts and stock books, 1846-1914, bullion cash books, 1857-1905 and bullion correspondence, 1897-1914.
Cashiers Department whose records include cash books, 1813-1930; balance books, Jones Loyd and Masterman, 1811-1823 and Bank of England balance books, 1873-1914.
Correspondence Department whose records include correspondence from agents, 1802-1930; Rothschild family private business correspondence, 1814-1930; copies of house correspondence, 1814-1925 and sundry correspondence series, 1802-1920. Given the loss of much of the archival history of the other Rothschild banking houses in Paris, Frankfurt, Vienna and Naples, the correspondence addressed to the London house from each of these is of great significance in reconstructing the full extent of Rothschild business operations across Europe.
Estates Department whose records include account books and receipts for Gunnersbury, Mentmore, Aston Clinton, Halton, Ascott and Tring, 1854-1916.
Loans Department whose records include specimen bonds and loan prospectuses, 1818-1930.
Stock Department whose records include stock books, 1904-1918; dividend books, 1832-1864 and client stock ledgers, 1817-1872.
|Administrative / biographical background:
This City of London merchant bank traces its origins to the textile business established in Manchester in 1799 by Nathan Mayer Rothschild as a means of extending the merchanting business of his father, Mayer Amschel Rothschild of Frankfurt. Nathan acted as a commission agent, co-ordinating the supply of British textiles to continental markets both for his own account and for the account of his father. This business gradually diversified to trading in other goods and to bill broking and shifted its geographical focus increasingly to London.
In 1809 Nathan Mayer moved to New Court, St Swithin's Lane, in the heart of the City. With increasing interests in bullion, specie and government securities, the move towards a wide-ranging merchant banking business was completed in the following years. While commodity trading remained significant to the business throughout the century, Nathan Rothschild's withdrawal in 1811 from the Manchester firm he had founded marked the end of the first phase of activity in England.
A major early transaction was the supply of gold coin to the Duke of Wellington's army fighting in Europe, an achievement that highlighted an important characteristic of Rothschild operations during the nineteenth century. This was close co-operation and speedy communication between the international network of Rothschild family houses which, in the early nineteenth century, were located at Frankfurt, London, Vienna, Paris and Naples. They were bound by interlocking partnerships and much business was undertaken by them on joint account.
By the 1820s, N M Rothschild & Sons was a leader in sterling bond issues in London, their major competitors being Barings and their clients including the governments of France, Russia, Prussia, Austria, Portugal and Naples. While continental Europe was, during the first half of the century, their most important territory, significant links developed elsewhere in the world, particularly with the governments of Brazil and Chile, with the government of the United States of America and with American railway companies.
In 1847 finance was raised for the British government for the alleviation of famine in Ireland and in the mid-1850s for funding expenditure during the Crimean War. In 1875, £4 million was advanced to enable the government to acquire a controlling interest in the Suez Canal. In the last decades of the century, N M Rothschild & Sons was probably the most important London-based bond-issuer for sovereign clients. During the Boer War, with Morgan Grenfell, it managed important debt issues for the British government. Under the leadership of 'Natty', 1st Lord Rothschild, aided by Carl Meyer, substantial interests in South African gold mining companies were acquired. Here Rothschilds supported leading figures such as Cecil Rhodes and were closely involved with Wernher, Beit & Co. Bond issuing for overseas corporate clients inevitably led to similar transactions for British-based corporate entities including, at the end of the century, the Manchester Ship Canal Co.
Bullion dealing continued to be extremely important. The bank was often a major supplier to the Royal Mint of gold for coinage and from 1852 to 1967 operated its own refinery. The firm's position in the bullion world was reinforced when, in 1919, it was chosen by the Bank of England to manage the gold market in the gold price-fixing.
Throughout Rothschilds' history private banking has been a significant, if lesser, component of its business. In the nineteenth century, the most distinguished private clients were drawn from the Court of Hesse, the Duchy of Baden and the House of Saxe-Coburg and included Albert, the Prince Consort.
In the years following the First World War, the firm's bond issuing business was largely confined to joint issues with Barings and Schroders and sometimes with Morgan Grenfell, with a shift towards raising finance for corporate clients such as the London underground railway companies and F W Woolworth. In the 1980s and 1990s the bank developed a substantial corporate finance business with a particular expertise in privatisation. Bullion dealing and the provision of resource financing in the mining sector built upon longstanding traditions. The business was incorporated with limited liability in 1970.
In 1810, Mayer Amschel Rothschild created Mayer Amschel Rothschild & Söhne, with himself, Amschel, Salomon and Carl as partners. By signed agreement, Mayer Amschel bound his male descendants into one Rothschild firm, the partners of which renewed their agreement periodically, simultaneously dividing the combined profits of the firm according to the share allocated to each of the partners. Many of these agreements and balance sheets survive in the Archive.
Whilst all adult male members of the family in the five original sites of Rothschild operations were brought within the terms of the partnership agreements, Vienna and Naples were in effect satellites of the Frankfurt bank; in 1831 for example, Salomon refers to forthcoming Russian business as being a partnership deal 'with all three houses, Paris, London and Frankfurt.'
In view of the close business ties between the members of the family, which continued even after the formal links were dissolved in 1909, the London Archive offers a good insight into the workings of the firm as a whole. Joint accounts can be found within the records of the Accounts Current Department, I, and some entries have been noted in the descriptions of the series above. The private correspondence of the partners received by NMR in London is extremely detailed and reveals much about the intricacies of business as well as brotherly tensions.
On the death of Mayer Amschel in 1812, his eldest son, Amschel Mayer, succeeded as head of the bank. As he died childless, the sons of his brothers (Anselm, son of Salomon, and Mayer Carl and Wilhelm Carl, sons of Carl) assumed responsibility for the business successively from 1855. Wilhelm Carl died in 1901 leaving no male heir, and the Frankfurt house was liquidated, the remaining business being transferred to the Disconto Gesellschaft of Berlin, which established a Frankfurt office in order to handle its new business. Joseph Nauheim, a senior clerk at the London house, managed the liquidation on behalf of 1st Lord Rothschild.
Nauheim had much to say about the archives. 'There is an enormous accumulation of books, letters, documents etc., etc., dating from the year 1800 to the present time and there are also deposited the books and documents of the Naples House which were taken to Frankfurt in 1855.' The rent of the vault in which the records were stored was £300 per annum. In 1902, Nauheim was able to report to Lord Rothschild that all the books of the House up to the year 1817 and all documents, private correspondence and important letters had been forwarded to the Paris House, the records for the period 1 January 1890 to 1901 were to be stored in the Frankfurt office and the rest, including letter copy books, and boxes of begging letters, had been destroyed. Nauheim took back to London some documents relating to the liquidation of the business, and documentation relating to the Rothschild family trust in Frankfurt.
James, the youngest of Mayer Amschel's sons, settled in Paris from 1812, but the Paris bank, MM de Rothschild Frères, was only constituted in 1817, with James, Anselm, Salomon, Nathan and Carl as partners. After James's death in 1868, his son Alphonse assumed the leading role in the firm, followed by his son Edouard, and the latter's son, Guy. In 1981, following the election to the French Presidency of François Mitterand, the Paris bank was nationalised and the family obliged to leave the rue Laffitte, which had been the base of the Paris house since Baron James's days. Guy de Rothschild has written about the events surrounding the nationalisation of the business in his book, Contre Bonne Fortune, translated into English as The Whims of Fortune.
The business records of the Paris House, originally available in the Archives Nationales in Paris, are currently located in the Centre des Archives du Monde du Travail at Roubaix. They are dominated by the business correspondence from agents and correspondents of the Paris house, but the bank's interests in rail and natural resources are reflected in the collection. A catalogue of the collection (132 AQ) is available in the Rothschild Archive, London.
The family retained private documents from the bank's vaults, which are now housed in the Rothschild Archive, London and known as the Lafite papers.