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Papers of the London banking house: Secretariat Department files (31 series)

Papers concerning the response of the London bank, N M Rothschild & Sons to the Creditanstalt crisis will be found in files in the 31 series of the Secretariat Department of N M Rothschild and Sons (RAL 000/1117). One of the key documents is an edited typescript of the notebooks of Samuel Stephany from 1929-1931, possibly the work of Michael Bonavia.

On his first day at N M Rothschild & Sons, in the summer of 1931, Michael Bonavia was directed to work under the general manager, Samuel Stephany, who immediately passed the new recruit to his assistant, Michael Bucks. "Bucks ... found me a corner to sit in and gave me a copy of the day's Times to read. 'Look', he explained, 'the Credit-Anstalt has crashed and we are all terribly busy. You will get the hang of things if you keep your ears open - and, by the way, if we are all out, deal with the telephone for us, will you?" Bonavia, a recent  economics graduate  from Cambridge, admitted to feeling shattered that he had no real knowledge of how the interna­tional banking system actually worked, but the bank was subsequently able to take advantage of his particular talents. Later that year he pro­duced a paper entitled, Collapse of the Credit Anstalt: economic background to the crisis, (31/45).

There are 61 packets of files in total, with many of the packets containing more than one file. The series is made up predominantly of correspondence sent to Lionel de Rothschild and relating to the activities of the International Committee, set up to look after the interests of the foreign creditor banks as well as to look for a solution to the Credit-Anstalt’s difficulties.  In addition there are some files giving details of shareholdings in the failed bank (31/21, 31/22, 31/25, 31/41, 31/42), copies of the formal agreements that were drawn up between the creditors, the Credit-Anstalt and the Austrian Government (31/5, 31/8, 31/9, 31/10, 31/11, 31/12, 31/13, 31/14, 31/15, 31/16, 31/17, 31/41, 31/46, 31/47, 31/48, 31/49, 31/50, 31/51, 31/52, 31/57, 31/58, 31/59) and Austrian newspaper cuttings (31/2). 

One file, 31/44, titled “The Story of Credit-Anstalt” is especially interesting.  It provides a detailed account of the events that took place in the days immediately following the collapse and of the subsequent measures that were taken by NMR in conjunction with the other banks to deal with the unfolding situation. A chronology of the Creditanstalt crisis, compiled from papers in file 31/44 can be found here »

In addition there are some files giving details of shareholdings in the failed bank, copies of the formal agreements drawn  up between  the creditors, the Creditanstalt and the Austrian Government and a file of Austrian newspaper cuttings. Lionel, in his capacity as Chairman of the International Committee was the recipient and creator of much of the correspondence, and seems to have been the driving force behind the measures that were taken and the decisions that were made by the foreign creditors to sort out the Credit-Anstalt crisis.  The Rothschilds unsurprisingly came in for some criticism mainly from certain quarters of the Austrian press because to them their name was synonymous with the Credit-Anstalt bank, but on the whole it was acknowledged that they played their part more than most in trying to secure the future of the failed bank. An extract from the Report of the Directors of the Credit-Anstalt for 1930, submitted to the 75th General Meeting of shareholders held on 4 August 1931, supports that premise: “the Government, the Austrian National Bank and the firm of S. M. von Rothschild, recognising the importance of our institution as regards the whole economic life of Austria intervened in a manner worthy of acknowledgement and…enabled us to cover the loss and replenish the share capital to the amount of 177.5 million Schillings, at the same time protecting the interests of the old shareholders as far as possible” (31/7).  

A full listing of all available files in the 31 series relating to the Creditanstalt crisis will be found on a Rothschild Archive microsite. 'The Rothschild Business'. A Rothschild Research Forum account is required to access this site. Go to The Rothschild Business » or  Apply for a Rothschild Research Forum account here »

Note: some files relating to the Creditanstalt remain closed.