The Rothschild Archive



Melanie Aspey

Based on the business records of the merchant bank N M Rothschild & Sons, The Rothschild Archive is the responsibility of a charitable trust created in 1999 to ensure the future of the collection and to encourage the development of an international centre for research into the many facets of history in which the Rothschild family has played a part.

In spite of enormous interest in the Rothschild family and detailed research on the family itself and its role in society, large tracts of the Archive remain almost untouched. When the archivists produced a Guide to the Collection they had to break the seals on dozens of packets of papers that had been wrapped up in the 1920s when a basic list of the collection was compiled. Some areas of potential interest to business historians are described below.

Nathan Rothschild as a Manchester textile merchant, 1798 to 1809

Nathan Rothschild left his native Frankfurt in 1798 to travel to Britain and to establish his own division of the family trading business, which depended heavily on British textiles. The records of this business - correspondence and accounts - document the network of contacts built up by the firm, both in Britain and throughout Europe. Nathan dealt with printers in Paisley and Yorkshire, and shipped his goods to the continent via Hull. Four volumes of cutters' payments and wages books name the local workers paid to finish off the cloth, while the jewel in the crown of the collection, 'The Cotton Book' is a record of the samples of the textiles that Nathan sold to his customers.

The London Business

After a decade in Manchester, Nathan Rothschild moved to London. He took premises in the City of London, with a warehouse attached so that he could continue to trade in goods, but the next decade was dominated by the family's work for the British government, supplying coin to Wellington's armies and paying subsidies to British allies.

The business remained interested in certain commodities, and the Archive contains voluminous correspondence from the bank's contacts with shippers, dock companies and forwarding agents across Europe. One of the more fascinating aspects to the correspondence is the possibility of tracing business networks. For example, G. S. Meyer from the Bradford firm of Meyer & Schönfeld , which dealt mainly in worsted stuffs, opened an account with Rothschilds in London in December 1838 with a letter of credit for £5,000 by Michaelson & Benedicks. The account was designed to allow purchases from small producers around Leeds, Manchester and Bradford. Michaelson & Benedicks of Stockholm had enjoyed a business relationship with Nathan Rothschild's father in Frankfurt since 1791.

The Rothschilds were responsible in large part for the development of railway systems in Europe. The family and their technical advisers toured Britain to examine the growing railway network, subsequently placing orders for raw materials and components with Nasmyth Gaskell & Co., Bridgewater Foundry, Patricroft, Manchester (for locomotives for the Kaiser Ferdinands Norbahn in Austria) and with Stephenson and other companies. Members of the family in Britain were directors of the French Chemin de fer du Nord, and received detailed weekly accounts of the running of that system, which even noted incidents of line guards being asleep on duty.

The Royal Mint Refinery

Nathan Rothschild began to deal in bullion from 1809 and his successors retained a close involvement with many aspects of this precious commodity, receiving gold dust from agents in California and Australia, securing rights over the Spanish quicksilver mine in Almadén (in order to sell the quicksilver to refiners of gold and silver bullion) and in 1852, taking over the lease of the Royal Mint Refinery in the East End of London. The Refinery business was sold to Engelhards in 1967, at which point many of its records were destroyed but enough survive to make a study of the history of the business a potentially rewarding project.

Further information about the Archive is available at www.rothschildarchive.org Please address any enquiries to info@rothschildarchive.org

Back to the links page.