22nd January 1881. Riches of Croesus.
The Jewish Rothschilds were as rich as Croesus with wealth being flaunted in houses at Tring, Ascott, Mentmore, Aston Clinton, Waddeston, Halton and reflected in a Spectator article Today in 1881 on the wedding of a member of the Family. (1)
‘London society admires wealth so much that it is raising the Rothschilds to a position intermediate between that of English nobles and the Royal Princes. The marriage of Baron Leopold…was recorded on Thursday with all the particularity of a royal wedding…attended by the Prince of Wales and Lord Beaconsfield in spite of snow drifts, the Festivities were of the Arabian Nights’ kind’ (2)
The article went on: ‘The Rothschilds are probably proud of this, but they should read the history of the Fuggers who preceded them as the great loan mongers of Europe and who became, under the [Hapsburg] Charles V sovereign princes’.(3)
Whilst British High Street retail banking, such as Lloyds and Barclays was home grown, merchant banking elites came from Europe, many with Jewish roots.
So it was that in the 18thc Joseph Addison in the Spectator was able to comment on Armenians, Jews, Dutchmen, Danes, Swedes or Frenchmen in the Royal Exchange.
The Barings came from Bremen starting up in 1763 in Cheapside, Schroder Bros. came from Hamburg, whilst from Frankfurt came Nathan Rothschild who masterminded the payment of Wellington’s armies, as New York’s J. P. Morgan was to fund the first world war. Hambros came from Copenhagen whilst Kleinwort’s wealth came from financing sugar production in Havana.
In those clubbable days when in 1890 Barings got out of its depth in Argentina, Rothschild came to his rival’s rescue helped by Anthony Gibbs and Co and the Bank of England. Stability of the ship of finance mattered.
Then came the cold blast of the digital ‘Big Bang’ of the 1980.s with its anonymous abrasive dealers with their screens. The old guard family owners brought up on a deal by a hand-shake failed to understand the magnitude of change, and didn’t care so long as profits rolled in.
Importantly control was lost as seen in the 1990.s when ‘rogue dealer’, Nick Leeson in Singapore, overstretched himself in derivatives, tried to hide his losses and ran up a deficit of £800m, thus forcing the demise of Barings Bank founded in the 18th century.
Now few of the old London Merchant Banks survive as independent entities, though some names are subsumed in other companies.
Rothschilds survives though in 2004 the company brought 200 years of history to a close when it abandoned the gold market. So no longer would five shareholders chair daily meetings, dating back to 1919 at the Bank’s Swithin Lane offices, to determine the price of gold twice daily.
(1) archive.spectator.co.uk/article. P.3.
(2) 1881 was a particularly bad snowy winter.
(3) The Fuggers were from Germany as were many of the merchant banks.