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The Frankfurt banking house

M A Rothschild and M A von Rothschild and Söhne, Frankfurt

Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812) laid the foundations on which his five sons would build their Europe wide businesses. From humble beginnings he became Court Agent to numerous princes, and holder of the monopoly on the management of the finances of the immensely wealthy Elector of Hesse-Cassel. 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 the four sons still in Frankfurt. The Frankfurt house closed in 1901. For further information, see The Frankfurt house: history » 

Destruction of records of the Frankfurt banking house

As early as the 1860s, archives of the Frankfurt House were transferred from the bank's premises in the Fahrgasse to the so-called 'vaults' of an outhouse at 25, Groβe Friedberger Strasse. These deposits later included business records of the Naples House which had been transferred to Frankfurt after the Naples house was bank was closed in the early 1860s. The rent of the vault in which the records were stored was £300 per annum. Regrettably, on the death of  Wilhelm Carl von Rothschild, the last head of the Frankfurt bank, in 1901, 1,404 hundred-weight (approximately five railway carriage loads) of account books and banking papers were pulped.

Joseph Nauheim, a senior clerk at the London house, managed the liquidation of the Frankfurt business on behalf of Nathaniel, 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 oldest account book was dated 1795 and written in the hand of Seligman Geisenheimer, the founder of the Frankfurt 'Philanthropin' (a school for poor children). There were also old documents dealing with important transactions and the so-called amortisation books for each of the loans raised by Rothschild, letter copy books, and begging letters. In addition there was the documentation concerning the Crown prince of Hesse, correspondence between the different Rothschild banks and wills and testamentary papers. The archives of the Frankfurt business also included papers of the Naples house, which had been transferred to Frankurt in 1862 whe the Naples buisness was closed.

Thanks to the intervention of Nauheim, Dr Christian W. Berghoeffer, the former director of the Baron Carl von Rothschild Public Library in Frankfurt managed to rescue the oldest business letters and account books. He was authorised by Nauheim to set aside essential papers and make a number of copies, grouping the documents into six categories: documents prior to 1817, various 'ancient' documents, amortization books (one for each loan entered into), documents concerning the affairs of the elector of Hesse (up to 1866), relations between Rothschild houses, Rothschild family wills. The plan had been to preserve these documents as a ‘closed collection’, under the seal of the Frankfurt Rothschild Library.  

However, this proposal met with the opposition of the then head of the Paris House, Alphonse de Rothschild. All that was achieved was that the oldest of the selected documents were packed into 24 chests and taken to Brussels and later from there to the Paris Rothschild bank in the rue Laffitte; in 1902, Nauheim was able to report to Lord Rothschild that all the books of the Frankfurt House up to the year 1817 and all documents, private correspondence and important letters including documentation concerning the subsidy payments handled by the Paris house, (especially those relating to the war indemnity paid by France in 1815), had been forwarded to the Paris House. Anxiety, no doubt fuelled by the nervous atmosphere generated by the Dreyfus affair would not allow even the papers sent to Paris to remain intact; under the instructions of Neuburger, Baron Alphonse' right-hand man, many of the remaining papers of the Frankfurt business transferred to Paris were destroyed.  

According to the then-current German regulations, correspondence, and other important papers (including Account Books) for the period of ten years prior to the liquidation of the business had to be retained in Germany; thus records for the period 1 January 1890 to 1901 were stored in the Frankfurt office. However, these papers, were shredded in the spring of 1912 on the instructions of Herr Ulmann.

The few documents that remained were kept in Paris by the legal department. The papers were preserved in a special room in the rue Laffitte, separated from the archives of the Paris house. In 1940, these papers were destroyed on the instructions of M. Ettinghausen.

Records that survive

Nauheim took back to London some documents relating to the liquidation of the business, and documentation relating to the Rothschild family trust in Frankfurt, including the earliest Rothschild Partnership agreement, from 1810. Some business correspondence of the Frankfurt banking house survives in the papers of the London banking house. Other early material which was collected by Salomon von Rothschild (1774-1855) in Vienna, as well as a small number of later records of the Frankfurt house which the Viennese bank acquired in the course of its business survive in papers of the Vienna banking house. Papers of the Viennese Rothschild family were seized by the Nazis in 1938, and later taken by the Red Army to Moscow. These papers known as 'The Moscow Papers (637 series)' were deposited with the Rothschild Archive in 2001. A few papers of M A Rothschild & Söhne acquired by the Paris house are held at the Archives Nationales du Monde du Travail, Roubaix, France.