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Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812)

Mayer Amschel Rothschild laid the foundations on which his five sons and their descendants would build a Europe wide banking empire.  Mayer Amschel was born in 1744 in the Judengasse, one of eight children of Amschel Moses Rothschild (d.1755) and his wife Schönche Rothschild (née Lechnich, d.1756). Amschel's father had a business in goods-trading and currency exchange. He was a personal supplier of collectable coins to the Prince of Hesse. 

With the help of relatives, Mayer Amschel secured an apprenticeship under Jacob Wolf Oppenheimer, at the banking firm of Simon Wolf Oppenheimer in Hanover, in 1757. The grandson of Samuel Oppenheimer taught Rothschild useful knowledge in foreign trade and currency exchange, before he returned to his brothers' business in Frankfurt in 1763. He became a dealer in rare coins and won the patronage of Crown Prince Wilhelm of Hesse (who had also earlier patronised his father). His coin business grew to include a number of princely patrons, and then expanded through the provision of financial services to Crown Prince Wilhelm. In 1769, Mayer Amschel gained the title of "Court Agent", managing the finances of the immensely wealthy Elector of Hesse-Cassel who became Wilhelm IX, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel in 1785. Business expanded rapidly following the French Revolution when Rothschild handled payments from Britain for the hire of Hessian mercenaries.

By the early years of the 19th century, Rothschild had consolidated his position as principal international banker to Wilhelm IX and began to issue his own international loans, borrowing capital from the Landgrave. In 1806, Napoleon invaded Hesse in response to Wilhelm's support for Prussia. The Landgrave went into exile in the Duchy of Holstein, but Rothschild was able to continue as his banker, investing funds in London. He also profited from importing goods in circumvention of Napoleon's continental blockade. As a result of these dealings, Mayer Amschel amassed a not inconsiderable fortune and, in 1810, renamed his firm M A Rothschild und Söhne, establishing a partnership with his four sons still in Frankfurt, (his son Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777-1836) having already established a business in Manchester and London).

Mayer Amschel Rothschild died on 19 September 1812 in Frankfurt am Main. He was buried at the old Jewish cemetery in Frankfurt, located next to the Judengasse. A park was named after him, and also a street (Rothschildallee). In 1817 he was posthumously ennobled by the emperor Francis I of Austria. 

For further information about the life Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812) see Founder: Meyer Amschel Rothschild and his time, by Amos Elon (Harper Collins, London, 1996). Few records of the early business survive, see The Frankfurt banking House; M A Rothschild for further information of papers that survive.

Mayer Amschel Rothschild, artefacts, c.1800

000/2494, 1 item

Black lacquered and gilt chinoiserie snuff-box reputed to belong to Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812). Presented to Anthony de Rothschild (1887-1961) by the Earl of Rosebery in 1951. A manuscript inscription inside the lid reads: 'Given in June 1951 to Anthony de Rothschild A Grandson of Lionel de Rothschild, by the Earl of Rosebery, A grandson of Mayer de Rothschild. Lionel and Mayer were sons of Nathan Mayer' and a manuscript inscription inside base reads 'The box was worn by the later Meyer Amschel Rothschild of Frankfurt a/M [am Main] who died there December 1812. Peace to him Amen, Amen. Given to J M Samuel buy his son Nathan Mayer Rothschild soon after his father's death'. The snuff box was for many years displayed at New Court.

Mayer Amschel de Rothschild, memorial, 1813

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Photocopy of: Musterhaftes Leben des verewigten Herrn Bankiers, Meyer Amschel Rothschild, mitglieb des herzoglich Frankfurtischen Wahlfollegiume. Die Denkmal fur vieren edlen Israeliten und allen freunden der Zugend gewidmel von Salomon Jacob Cohen, (Johann Friedrich Wenner, Frankurt am Main, 1813). Although in poor health, Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812) was appointed to a seat on the Frankfurt Electoral College, despite objections to the naming of a Jew to this body; this memorial by the Jewish members of the Electoral College, dedicated by Salomon Jacob Cohen, was published in his honour in 1813.

Mayer Amschel Rothschild, will, 1812

000/87/2, 1 file

Copy of the will of Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812), dated 17 September 1812, together with a modern transcript, in English, 1812. These papers were transferred to the Archive from the New Court vaults. It is likely that these papers were sent to New Court when the Frankfurt business was liquidated in 1901.