THE ROTHSCHILD NEXUS IN THE 19TH CENTURY
Without an efficient information exchange system, the Rothschild bank established throughout Europe wouldn’t probably have been able to become one of the largest banks in the world. The Rothschild bank wasn't certainly the first to have an international status, long before it, other banks such as those of the Medicis in Italy or the Fugger in Germany, needed to remain "connected" to be effective.That of the Rothschild family is a good example to study because there are still letters that are the witness to this past and which aren’t “hidden” in official or family archives.
|1861 : Odessa to Paris, Rothschild.|
1- Birth of a dynasty
2- A tenacious legend
3- Real facts or legend?
4- The Rothschild Laureate Napoleon stamps
1- Birth of a dynasty
The Rothschild family is a Jewish family of German origin which then settled in several countries and whose members had various nationalities. Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812) is considered the founder of the dynasty.
With 5 of his children whom he sent to create or take the head of a subsidiary of the family bank, he created a real network with well-established ramifications in London, Paris, Vienna, Naples and Frankfurt. These 5 branches of the family are symbolized by the 5 arrows of their family coat-of-arms.
|Coat of arms Rothschild family (source Wikipedia).|
The Rothschilds became known from the 18th century mainly in the fields of banking and finance, but they also diversified in the 19th century in the mining industry, rail transport and in the Bordeaux vineyards (Château Mouton Rothschild – 1853).
|Château Mouton Rothschild wine estate (Pauillac, France).|
They are also famous for their philanthropy and patronage.
2- A tenacious legend
Legend has it that the fortune of the Rothschild family was made at the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815. Warned by messenger before anyone else of Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo on June 18, 1815, Nathan Meyer Rothschild (1777-1836), founder of the London branch of the family, sells his shares on the London Stock Exchange, leading other shareholders to believe that Napoleon emerged victorious from the fight.
|Nathan Meyer Rothschild (1777-1836).|
Taken by panic, many shareholders in turn sell their shares, which causes a collapse in prices that Nathan Meyer Rothschild exploits to buy back at a low price what the others are selling off. Some time later, the (official) news of Napoleon's defeat reached London, causing prices to rise and giving the Rothschild family control of the English economy.
The letter below, from before the Battle of Waterloo and dated May 2, 1815, was sent from Paris to Nathan Meyer Rothschild. We can see that it was sent to England thanks to a forwarder from Calais, Mr. Choisnard. At that time, and since the end of February 1815 when Napoleon left his exile on the island of Elba, there wasn’t regular postal service between England and France. This historical period between Napoleon's return to France and his defeat at Waterloo is called the Cent-Jours.
|1815: Paris to London, N.M. Rothschild (@defenderium collection).|
The Rothschild family used the services of forwarders which was quite common at that time. This letter was sent to Calais or Boulogne by a private carrier and then by private boat to Dover where it was picked up by the English post to London.
3- Real facts or legend?
According to Victor Rothschild (1910-1990), a descendant of the British branch, this legend has its origins in an anti-Semitic pamphlet from 1846, " Histoire édifiante et curieuse de Rothschild Ier Roi des Juifs", written by the polemicist Georges Dairnvaell under the pseudonym of "Satan".
|Excerpt: "The vulture had followed in the trail of the eagle, |
Nathan Rothschild was in Belgium, his eyes fixed on Waterloo."
According to Dairnvaell, Nathan Meyer Rothschild was personally in Belgium observing the Battle of Waterloo. As soon as he realized that Wellington's victory was certain, he hurried to Ostend, and crossed the North Sea. He arrived in London 24 hours in advance of Wellington's messenger. Taking advantage of this, Nathan and his brothers made "twenty million" (francs or one million sterling ?), by first selling government consols (funded government securities of Great Britain) cheaply, as though they had knowledge of a French victory, and once the prices had dropped, making massive purchases.
|The interior of the Royal Exchange in the late 18th century.|
It’s more believable that instead of Nathan Mayer Rothschild being at Waterloo in person, the news of Wellington’s victory was sent by messenger pigeon, or by horseback, with a skipper already under contract and waiting with a ship to ferry the courier across the North Sea. That the Rothschilds had their own courier system was well known, and this story would seem to be a prime example of that. Due to the reputation gained by their courier network, the Rothschild family was approached by the government to use their network for wartime communications, including the employment of homing pigeons.
|Homing piegon, Middle Ages.|
The homing pigeon was already used by Egypt 3000 years BC and its use was common in the Middle Ages.
Victor Rothschild also found in the family archives a letter from a bank clerk to Nathan Meyer Rothschild which stated: "I have been informed by Commissioner White that you have acted well with the early information you acquired at Waterloo" . This confirms that Nathan Rothschild was able to make a profit, although the state of the market at the time and the absence of false rumors indicate that this profit couldn't amount to several million, as Georges Dairnvaell's pamphlet suggests.
Can this be considered insider trading?
This doesn't necessarily have a direct link with the subject of the article, but I find it interesting to mention this rather enigmatic philatelic subject.
Born in Paris, Arthur de Rothschild (1851-1903) was the youngest of four children of Nathaniel de Rothschild (1812–1870) and Charlotte de Rothschild (1825–1899), British living in France since 1850.
|Arthur de Rothschild (1850-1903), sponsor of the Red Cross.|
|1875: Bozen (Austria) to Paris, Rothschild.|
Perhaps all the letters from abroad to his family would have encouraged him to collect stamps. A few years later, surrounding himself with the advice of the great merchants of the time in Paris and Brussels, he quickly became a recognized specialist and the author of several books, including in 1880 « Histoire de la poste aux lettres et du timbre-poste ».
|Histoire de la poste aux lettres et du timbre-poste, 1880.|
He founded in 1875 with some friends “timbromaniacs” the French Society of “Timbrologie” (~stampology) and not of philately, a word created in 1864 and whose use at the beginning wasn’t unanimous.
We know little about his collection, it seems that it was sold for a sum well below its real value...
According to philatelic tradition (another legend...), the Emperor Napoleon III would have offered in 1869 to Arthur de Rothschild sheets of imperforate stamps from the Napoléon Laureate series (stamps sold to the public were perforated). All the face values exist except the 1 centime and 5 francs which in 1869 hadn’t yet been issued.
|Rothschild issue (@defenderium collection).|
Unfortunately, no document comes to certify that he had any imperial gift, so it remains a mystery. It’s possible to find franked letters dated from 1869 to 1871 with Rothschild stamps and their use on mail remains unexplained. See examples below:
|June 1870: Boulay to Terrasson (Roumet Histoire Postale Auctions 2019).|
|November 1869 : Marseilles to Toulon.|