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The Paris banking house

de Rothschild Frères, Paris

James de Rothschild (1792-1868), the youngest of Mayer Amschel's sons, settled in Paris from 1812, but the Paris bank, M M de Rothschild Frères, was only constituted in 1817, with James, Amschel (1773-1855), Salomon (1774-1855), Nathan (1777-1836) and Carl (1788-1855) as partners. After James's death in 1868, his son Alphonse (1827-1905) assumed the leading role in the firm, followed by his son Edouard (1868-1949), and then Edouard's son, Guy (1909-2007). In 1981, following the election to the French Presidency of Francois 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. Following nationalisation of the business, the Rothschild family established a new banking operation, Rothschild & Associés Banque, using the family company Paris Orléans. In 2003, the French and English Rothschild businesses were merged, unifying their capital under Rothschild & Co, registered in France. For further information, see The Paris house: history »  

The records of the Paris banking house

For many years up until the Second World War, the archives of the Paris house survived remarkably intact, held in the bank's premsies in the rue Laffitte, Paris. During the First World War, between August and December 1914, the Paris bank briefly moved to Bordeaux, and a number of cases of documents disappeared between 1914-1918. From 1938, M. Ettinghausen of the Paris house began the destruction of older records, including records of accounts and sundry correspondence; these destructions continued until 1940.

The 'General Inventory of the archives of M M de Rothschild Frères' includes information about records of the business. Completed in 1872, this inventory describes the papers which comprised the archives, essentially the series of correspondence and accounting records dating from 1812-1872. A summary 'General Directory' was in use c.1938. A further 'Inventory of business records and personal files' was prepared between 1950 and 1951 by M. Laurent. This inventory was intended to list the files that had been lost up to the Second World War.

In 1972, the French Rothschild family deposited the archives of de Rothschild Frères with the Archives Nationales de France in Paris. These papers were subsequently transferred to the Archives Nationales du Monde du Travail in Roubaix, France, where they remain held on deposit.

Records of the Paris banking house held in France

The Trustees of the Rothschild Archive are responsible for the collection of archives of de Rothschild Frères, located in the Archives Nationales du Monde du Travail in Roubaix, France. The collection spans the dates 1811-1974, and has been catalogued with the reference 'Fonds 132 AQ'. The archives of the Paris house are important documentary evidence of the economic and financial history not only of France, but the wider world. An example is the series of correspondence exchanged between Paris and Brussels, which constitutes is an essential source for study of the economic and financial history of Belgium. As a whole, the collection is dominated by the business correspondence from agents and correspondents of the Paris house, but the bank's significant interests in rail and natural resources are also reflected in the collection. 

A summary catalogue of the collection (in English) is available in this Guide, see Papers of de Rothschild Frères » The archivists of the Archives Nationales du Monde du Travail continue to develop and refine the catalogue, and the most up-to-date version of the catalogue of Fonds 132 AQ will be found on the website of the Archives Nationales du Monde du Travail. Full catalogue of 'Fonds 132' AQ here » [note: this link takes you to the homepage of the Archives Nationales du Monde du Travail, you should then look at the list on the left (Fonds d’archives/liste alphabétique/Banque/Rothschild) for the link to the full catalogue].

Researchers wishing to study these papers should note that they should first register with the Rothschild Research Forum, and then make an application to the Archives Nationales du Monde du Travail, Roubaix. Further information about how to access the collection at Roubaix can be found here »

Records of the Paris banking house held by The Rothschild Archive

The Rothschild Archive London holds papers of the French banking house that survive in the records of the London banking house, together with other small accessions of material that have been deposited with the Archive. 

The archive also holds business and private papers from the French family that were seized during the Second World War and later taken into the custody of the Soviet Army. The files were stored at the Centre for Historico-Documentary Collections in Moscow, catalogued as Fond 58. In 1994, with the cooperation of the Chairman of the Committee for Archival Affairs of the Government of the Russian Federation, these documents were transferred to The Rothschild Archive London. The collection, known as 'The Moscow Papers (58 series)' consists of 1,402 files relating to 26 members of the Rothschild family and their relatives.

A further collection, 'The Lafite Papers' consists of private papers retained by the family from the bank vaults, following the nationalisation of the French bank in 1981. These contain the accounts of members of the family, files concerning the family's properties, wills and charitable activities, as well as a number of business files.

Destruction of records of the Paris banking house

The extent of records lost can be measured by the 'General Inventory of the archives of M M de Rothschild Frères' of 1872. Approximately 2,500 volumes were shredded, and amongst the most regrettable loses were newspapers 1812-1874; 312 volumes of 'livres de caisses' 1812-1869; 248 volumes of  'livres d'effets' 1812-1870; and 287 volumes of Current Accounts 1811-1866. Much correspondence was also lost, including volumes of copy letters: 129 volumes of French copy letters 1812-1850; 58 volumes of German copy letters 1812-1859; 33 volumes of English copy letters 1818-1850; 16 volumes of Spanish copy letters 1835 to 1852; and 93 volumes of 'copie marchandises' 1849 to 1869.

During the Second World War, the bulk of the archives that remained in the bank in the rue Laffitte were seized by the occupying forces. The Lafite papers, (transferred to The Rothschild Archive in 1994) inlude a 'Declaration of the seizure of accounting records of de Rothschild Frères, Paris by German occupying forces', dated 17th April 1946. Signed by Maurice Janicot, Director of the 'Domaines  de la Seine' and appointed liquidator of the Paris Rothschild Bank from 1941-1944, the declaration states that all accounting records relating to operations of the Banque de Rothschild Freres prior to 1938 were either destroyed or seized by the Nazis during 1940-1941. In 1940, the Germans relocated the bulk of the archives to Germany, but it is believed that the papers transported were only briefly inspected upon their arrival, and many boxes remained unopened.

After the war, with the assistance of the Service de récupération artistique and the Office des biens et intérêts privés, the papers were recovered. However, of the 800 cases of documents sent to Germany, only 600-650 were returned, resulting in the further loss of papers, including much early correspondence before 1838.