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Sources for The Guide

The Guide forms an essential part of the finding aids for the Archive. Its express purpose is to convey to potential researchers information about the range of documents held in the Archive and to encourage greater use of a unique resource. 

The first comprehensive catalogue to the collections was published as a printed document in 2000 - The Rothschild Archive: A Guide to the Collections, ed. M.Aspey (RAL London, 2000). The current online Guide evolved from this document. 

The Guide is not an item-by-item listing of the records in the Archive. The detailed work needed to approach such a level of cataloguing for a collection with letters which can be numbered in the millions continues, and the Guide will reflect current progress. 

The primary sources for the Guide are:

  • The ‘Old Catalogue’ (Roman numeral RAL references)
  • ‘New’ Accessions (000 RAL references)
  • The Catalogue of ‘Fonds Rothschild’, Roubaix         

The ‘Old Catalogue’

The ‘Old Catalogue’ describes the records of the London banking house. When the first Archivist was appointed in 1978, his initial task was to supervise the return of the volumes and parcels which made up the Bank's archives, from Exbury in Hampshire, the home of Edmund de Rothschild (1916-2007), where they had been housed for safe-keeping during and since the Second World War. Accommodation was secured within the Bank's City offices and sorting and listing work began in earnest.

The only finding aid which then existed was a catalogue (the ‘Old Catalogue’) compiled around 1920 by clerks at a time when the Bank's filing system was being reorganised. The clerks were probably responsible for parcelling up the old records and recording the contents of each parcel or volume with covering dates, although some of this work may have been done when the material was sent down to the archive store, then housed beneath the courtyard of New Court. Within each department every series of records had a unique number assigned to it for ease of reference, though, in archival terms, it carried and revealed no organisational significance.

When the archives were returned to the Bank, the Archivist arranged the records in order of department to reflect the sequence imposed by the compilers of the Old Catalogue in 1920. He assigned a Roman numeral reference code to each department and prefixed the departmental series number as allocated in the Old Catalogue with this Roman numeral. Thus the records of the Accounts Current Department bear the prefix I, the American Department II, and so on, in alphabetical order. Papers which had remained in New Court rather than going to Exbury were cleared out of the Bank's Vault and placed with the main Archive. The majority of these records related to Bank business, but some private family papers, mainly relating to deceased estates, were also accessioned.

The Guide based on the ‘Old Catalogue’ was designed to make the Archive both intelligible and accessible to researchers. Records relating to Nathan Rothschild's early business in Manchester have been placed first followed by the largest block of records held in the Archive, those generated by departments of the London Bank, N M Rothschild & Sons (most of the departments were in fact mere divisions of the General Office). These follow the alphabetical order imposed by the first Archivist. As the numbering system of the Old Catalogue follows no archival logic, an artificial structure has been imposed on the records within each Department to assist the researcher. For example, the records of the Bullion Department have been divided into accounting records and correspondence, and the latter division has been further subdivided into incoming correspondence and copies of outgoing correspondence.

Two further sources of information are useful for understanding the structure of the Bank around the turn of the 20th century and the function of some of the record series. In 1908, Charles Rothschild carried out a review of the Bank's accounting practices with a view to improving the speed at which the balance sheet could be drawn up. A list was prepared "of the books and records which enter into the framing of the accounts", not all of which have survived. Questioning of the various departmental heads revealed a lack of understanding as to why some accounts were recorded in a particular series (the Indian 4½% Rupee Account within the records of the American Department caused particular consternation). It became apparent that there was much repetition of work by different departments, especially in relation to Rothschild family stocks, which were handled by the Accounts Current Department and the Private Accounts Department. The report that Charles Rothschild produced provides some comfort to the archivist who tries to understand an accounting system that was, in part at least, unintelligible to those working with it. See 000/170 for papers relating to this report.

‘New’ Accessions

‘New’ Accessions largely describes accessions and acquisitions of records since 1999, when The Rothschild Archive Trust was created. These include business records transferred from the Corporate Records Department of N M Rothschild & Sons Limited, papers and artefacts deposited with, and gifted to, the Archive by members of the Rothschild family, and material donated to the Archive or purchased by the Archive. The range of subject matter of  ‘New’ Accessions is extremely broad, reflecting the business of the five Rothschild banking houses in London, Frankfurt, Paris, Vienna and Naples, and many aspects of the private lives and interests of the Rothschild family, and their estates, including letters, diaries, photographs, household and estate papers, papers concerning philanthropy, artefacts, artworks and books.  To differentiate these accessions from earlier records described in the ’Old Catalogue’ , carrying a roman numeral prefix, these records have an identifying reference number beginning with ‘000/’.

Continuations of ‘Old Catalogue’ series

Since 1999, the Archive has taken in accessions of records from the Corporate Records Department of London business N M Rothschild & Sons Limited which are continuations of series identified with an ‘Old Catalogue’ roman numeral prefix. These series now have two references; their original roman numeral reference and a new, ‘000/’ number. They are known by both references; these are indicated in Guide entries where appropriate.

Collections of papers

The ‘New Catalogue’ includes several distinct collections of papers – ‘collections within The Collection of The Rothschild Archive’. The Trustees of the Rothschild Archive London are particularly grateful to the late Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, the late Mr Edmund de Rothschild and the Rothschild family at the Exbury estate, the Rothschild family formerly of Rushbrooke Hall and the Rothschild family formerly of Ashton Wold for depositing important collections of family archives with the Trustees of The Rothschild Archive.

The Archive also holds important deposits of papers of the French and Austrian family. The ‘Lafite Papers’ relating to the family in France, date from the late 19th century to the 1930s. These papers record the involvement of family members in areas such as the theatre, philanthropic organisations, the development of Jewish colonies in Palestine and the management of estates and art collections. A further collection, known as ‘The Moscow Papers’ comprises two separate series: 'The Moscow Papers’ (58 series) – papers of the French Rothschild family and 'The Moscow Papers’ (637 series) – papers of the Austrian Rothschild business and family’; these papers were seized during the Second World War and returned to the family in 1994 and 2001, and deposited with the Archive in 1984 and 2002 respectively. These collections will be found described in the appropriate sections of the Guide.

The Catalogue of ‘Fonds Rothschild’, Roubaix

The Trustees of the Rothschild Archive London are also responsible for a large and significant collection of records of de Rothschild Frères, which are currently held by the Archives Nationales du Monde du Travail in Roubaix, France. This collection is formally known as Fonds Rothschild : Banque Rothschild Frères à Paris et Famille Rothschild,  Fonds 132 AQ. The Catalogue of ‘Fonds Rothschild’, Roubaix describes the records of the Paris banking house held in France. The collection spans the dates 1811-1974. The collection was extensively catalogued by Bertrand Gille in the 1960s, and the catalogue, ‘Fonds 132 AQ’ has been revised and updated by archivists of the Archives Nationales, and is continually being refined and developed. The collection is dominated by the business correspondence from agents and correspondents of the Paris house, but the bank's interests in rail and natural resources are also reflected in the collection. 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.