The Guide: American Department

The first established links between N. M. Rothschild and the United States date back to 1821 when the bankers R. & J. Phillips in Philadelphia became agents for NMR business in the USA. Phillips were the first in a series of agents who were used to develop NMR's business interests in the country and correspondence from them can be found among the records of the Correspondence Department.

From the Bank's accounts it is clear that by the end of the 1830s substantial and wide-ranging investments had been made in municipal and State stock, in canal and mining shares and in finance houses. The main activities carried on through the agents were in the fields of bullion and bills of exchange.

In 1833 NMR entrusted the New York banking house of J. L. & S. Josephs & Co. with the representation of its business interests in that city. The firm worked in conjunction with R. & J. Phillips.

In the following year, 1834, NMR succeeded in obtaining the business of undertaking the United States Government's banking interests in Europe, hitherto in the hands of Barings. The Rothschilds represented the U. S. Government until 1843, when John Tyler became President and Barings' ally Daniel Webster was appointed Secretary of State. Webster promptly restored the accounts from Rothschilds to Barings.

The disastrous New York banking crisis of 1837 saw the failure, along with many other banks, of the Rothschilds' New York agents J. L. & S. Josephs. This coincided with the arrival in New York of August Belmont, a confidential clerk employed by the Frankfurt Rothschilds. Though on his way to Havana on behalf of the London and Paris Rothschilds to investigate the affairs of the Spanish Government, on discovering the crisis in New York, Belmont turned his attention to sorting out Rothschild interests there. He quickly realised the potential of New York's growing economy and suggested that the Rothschilds appoint him as their agent in New York. The firm of August Belmont & Co. acted in this capacity until 1925.

The discovery of gold in California in 1848 awakened NMR interest, given the Bank's substantial involvement in bullion trading. A second important Rothschild agency in the USA was rapidly established in San Francisco in 1849 by Benjamin Davidson and John May. The connection persisted until the impact of the gold rush had diminished. Letters from the American agents are mainly filed within the Correspondence Department.

As far back as 1839, NMR had been involved in the business of raising finance for the U. S. Federal Government and its institutions. In that year, NMR, together with the Paris house of de Rothschild Frères, contracted for a £900,000 loan to the U. S. Bank.

It was, however, in the 1870s that the Bank's involvement in this area was at its fullest. In 1872, NMR raised a $15 million bond issue for the City of New York to finance municipal improvements and in the following year, with Baring Brothers, raised a 5% funded loan for the US Government for a massive $300 million. A loan of equal size was raised in 1876, this time in conjunction with J. S. Morgan & Co. and Seligman Brothers and in 1877 a further $700 million, with these same partners, together with Rose & Co.

The last major issue raised on behalf of the Federal Government was for $62 million, in 1895, with J. S. Morgan.

The scope of the records in the American Department is wider then the name suggests. Rothschilds' non-European business interests, in Australia, Mexico, China and India, were dealt with by the American Department.



Current accounts

Agents' correspondence

Agents' and other accounts

Government and banks' correspondence

Stock accounts

Sundry correspondence


Outgoing correspondence

Business areas

Letters of credit


Current Accounts

American Accounts, 1831-1918* II/3/0-46, 47 volumes

Although numbered consecutively, the volumes in this series are not entirely homogeneous and present something of a problem of interpretation. One volume for 1833-1839 (II/3/1) is labelled 'Private American Accounts' and volume 6, 1852-1873, records Australian accounts only. The dates on the remaining volumes are not completely consecutive until volume 16, which, like 17 and 18, is labelled 'C'. Volumes 9 and 11 contain accounts with British companies dealing with American imports, for example the London & St. Katherine Dock Company, the renting of quicksilver flasks and tobacco sampling. Volumes 19 to 36 (1886-1904) contain accounts for one year only, and are labelled 'R', between 1890 and 1904; these volumes are 'missing' volumes from the series II/20 described below. Volumes 37 onwards are labelled 'S'.

The volumes contain information on stock accounts, commodities, agencies and some private individuals. In the early years, accounts such as 'Philadelphia City 5% Stock', 'City of Newark', 'Boston & New York Canal Co.' predominate, but are outnumbered in later years, from about 1880, by railway company stock accounts. The books also contain records of transactions with Belmont and other American contacts, dividends collected by them, payments made by and for them, amount of remittances etc. They can be related to records in the Correspondence Department. The dividends collected, which appear in Belmont's account, correspond with those recorded as having been received in the American Railway Dividend Account at II/16. The number of individuals' accounts is small and includes Washington Irving (see also II/9/0-2), Alice Woodhall and William Waldorf Astor re the estate of John Jacob Astor.

The entries are mostly made from the correspondence, but in 1908 Charles Rothschild noted that for the purposes of the Journal, the bookkeepers posted from the accounts at the end of the year such amounts as do not appear in the Cash Book, Bills Payable, and Bills Receivable. He also reported that there were two series of American Current Accounts, marked 'R' and 'S'. 'R' is in fact 'American Stock Accounts', II/20.

American Government Accounts Current, 1835-1843 II/9/0-2 3 volumes

These volumes contain details of transactions between NMR and the United States Treasury for most of the period during which NMR were bankers to the United States Government in Europe. Recorded are details of payments to American consuls and agents, such as Thomas Aspinwall and Washington Irving, and to agents such as Nathaniel Niles in Vienna. There is an index in each volume. The entries relate to correspondence at XI/38/1 and /2 (page C:10) and to drafts at II/46/0 (page C:10).

American and 'Other' Accounts, 1874-1894 II/13/0-14, 15 volumes

There is something of a false start to this series, as it continues accounts that appear in II/3/14. The largest single account is for American coupons, noting payments of named dividends to various Rothschilds, the Ironmongers Company and private clients such as Adelina Patti and Count Montgelas. Other accounts include 'Bank of California Wheat Shipments', 'Bank of Bolivia' (detailing drafts) and the 'Earl and Countess of Gosford credit account'. There are several other accounts in the names of individuals, mainly concerning the buying of stock and the handling of dividends, but there are small accounts such as that for Mme Pauline Fowle recording charges for forwarding biscuits (II/13/1, 1875). Accounts for London dock companies feature, as do a few relating to Australian business, such as the winding up of the estate of J. Montefiore.

The Old Catalogue notes that "from January 1903, the books became known as Coupons Bought Account Books and were received in the archive from, and stored alongside, Dividend Office Loans Department Books". None has survived.

Agents' and other accounts

American Accounts Current, Belmont & Co., 1877-1879 II/14/0, 1 volume

This single volume records NMR's account with Belmont.

August Belmont & Co., Joint Account, 1882-1904 II/28/0-7, 8 volumes

A record of the joint account of NMR and August Belmont.

Belmont & Co., Joint Account Interest, 1881-1885 II/26/0, 1 volume

A statement of the interest of NMR's and August Belmont's joint account on American stocks and shares.

Belmont & Co., Interest Account, 1879-1885 II/27/0-1, 2 volumes

These two volumes contain statements of the interest on the general account.

American & India 41/2% Paper Account 1881-1882 II/4/0, 1 volume

In spite of the title on the spine, this volume contains, in addition to the named account, August Belmont & Co.'s 'their' and 'general' account.

Accounts with Varying Rates of Interest, 1885-1908 II/1/0-4, 5 volumes

This series and the following one both contain 'their' and 'general' accounts for the Belmont agency and were probably not seen as separate series when created, since the general account for 1885 is in volume 0 of this series, and that for 1886 in volume 0 of the following one.

Accounts with Varying Rates of Interest, 1886-1905 II/2/0-3, 4 volumes

See description for II/1 above. Other accounts included are for Lee, Higginson & Co., the Bank of Ecuador, and the Bank of Bolivia.

California Accounts, 1848-1883 II/31/0-5, 6 volumes

This series is mainly concerned with the Davidson agency in Mexico. It is only the last volume that contains other accounts, including the Nouveau Monde Company, a Spanish government advance and de Rothschild Frères, all relating to Californian business.

Bank of California Account, 1880-1911 11/25/0-19, 20 volumes

The volumes are divided into sections for 'their', 'our' and merchandise credit accounts.

Stock accounts

See Stock Department Records for 'American Stock Books', 1834-1916.

American Stocks, 1869 II/19/0, 1 volume

The accounts within this volume, covering only the period from June to August 1869, are the 'India Rupee 4% Paper', and the 'India Rupee 5%'. In 1908, the committee that met under Charles Rothschild could find no one who understood this account.

American Stock Accounts, 1888-1914 II/20/0-10, 11 volumes

The first volume in this series, entitled 'American Stocks and Shares', is in the same format as its successors, which begin in 1905 and are entitled 'American Stock Account R'. The accounts for 1890 to 1904 were entered in the series 'American Account R Books'. The record is of the dividend payments on around sixty accounts throughout the period, mostly American railway companies.


California Journal, 1856-1878 II/33/0, 1 volume

In this one volume are entries to be posted to Davidson & May's sundry account and to the accounts of the other houses and agents.

American Entries, 1860-1874 II/8/0, 1 volume

This journal contains entries for a variety of accounts to be credited (mainly clients for dividend payments) and debited (often agents such as Davidson for freight on gold). Many of the postings are to the American and Other Accounts series (II/3).

Business Areas

Tobacco Invoices and Account Sales, 1844-1891 II/81/0-7, 8 volumes

The number of companies represented within these volumes is not large and includes Cox Heisch & Co., Forster & Smith, George Scholey & Son, Ewart Myers, Morpurgo & Parente of Trieste for the Imperial Royal Tobacco Administration of Vienna (for 'Manilla Cheroots'), J. H. Connell & Co. of Dublin, Baring Brothers and David Erskine of Stockholm.

California Bullion Shipments and Account Sales, 1871-1874 II/32/0, 1 volume

A simple record of the composition of shipments and the dollar value of the bars and details of the date of sale and the price attained. The record here does not relate to entries in the Bullion Department's 'Account Sales'.

Copy Books Account Sales, Silver Ore, 1878 II/39/0, 1 volume

A handful of copy invoices relating to sacks of silver ore shipped to Liverpool and sold for the account of V. Farfan & Co., Tacna, Peru.

American Railway Dividend Accounts, 1876-1917 II/16/0- 22, 23 volumes

The series proper begins in 1880, recording dividend payments for investments in companies such as the New York Central, Illinois Central, Lakeshore, to members of the Rothschild family and associates and various banks. The first volume in the series (1876-1888) differs in that it first records expenditure of members of the family, for example payments by Lady de Rothschild (wife of Sir Anthony de Rothschild) for the passage to Canada of the Warren family, together with clothing and cash, the delivery of three horses from New York and two Japanese dogs to Lord Rothschild at Tring, and then includes an American coupon account.

Letters of credit

Several series have survived which relate to letters of credit for American individuals and companies to be paid by European banks have survived. The letters of credit from the American banks are pasted into each volume, usually with a sample of the client's signature. The volumes are indexed.

Credits, American, 1874-1923 II/40/0-7, 8 volumes

The transactions in this series involve the accounts of individuals.

Credits, Bank of California, 1880-1907 II/41/1-21, 21 volumes

In a format similar to the above series, but recording transactions with both companies and individuals.

Credits, London & San Francisco Bank, 1903-1905 II/42/0, 1 volume

This volume records transactions with companies and individuals.

Credits, Lee, Higginson & Co., 1902 II/43/0, 1 volume

One volume recording transactions with companies and individuals.

Letters of Credit and Guarantee, Bank of California, 1881-1884 II/60/0-1, 2 volumes

This series contains duplicates of letters from the Bank to NMR.


Agents' Correspondence

August Belmont & Co., General and Private Business Correspondence, 1837-1922
XI/62/0-40, 1837-1930*, 60 boxes II/51/0-37, 1881-1920, 73 boxes

The correspondence in this series is now to be found under two separate references: one in the American Department and the other in the Correspondence Department. Nevertheless they have been described here as one series since this is what they form.

The letters date from Belmont's first days in New York when he was handling business on behalf of NMR with the agents in Havana, his original destination. For at least the first year of the correspondence, Belmont wrote in German, but the bulk of the correspondence is in English. The private letters show Belmont dealing with the purchase of stock on behalf of NMR, shipping specie, handling bills and trading in tobacco, lead and quicksilver. Belmont provides a commentary on the markets and assesses political developments. There is a good deal of information in the series on all aspects of the American railroads including the organisation of railroad companies, new extensions to lines and the issue of railway bonds to cover construction costs.

General correspondence within the series is made up of routine advices of payments on letters of credit and acknowledgements of NMR's remittances. The entire series provides a clear picture of the operation of an agency.

August Belmont & Co., Private Business Correspondence, 1889-1920 II/55/0-25, 33 boxes

These mainly typescript letters are written on behalf of Belmont's house to NMR although a few, addressed to 'Lord Rothschild' and one or two to 'Mr Leopold', are more personal, handwritten notes, often referring to Leopold de Rothschild's and Belmont's shared interest in racing. The series basically covers various aspects of the general business. The letters include market reports, details of industrial disputes (such as the Pittsburgh steelworkers' strike), harvests and legislation. Among the letters there are printed reports and circulars mainly relating to the US cotton crop and various railroad companies, as well as the New York Weekly Financial Report and stock exchange quotations.

From 1902 to 1914, the correspondence includes private business letters from the company Ladenburg, Thalmann & Co., not all of which are complete. In the early years of the century there are also a few letters from Lee, Higginson & Co. writing from Boston. This firm undertook an exchange business with NMR from November 1901, and together with Ladenburg, Thalmann & Co. supplied NMR with news similar to that provided by Belmont on the financial and commodity markets. They also offered suggestions to NMR as to where profitable business might be done. The letters from Ladenburg, Thalmann & Co provide information on the movement of prices and the financial situation of commodity (coal, crops and bullion) and utility companies, including details of their organisation and management.

Ladenburg, Thalmann & Co., Letters Received, 1887-1888 II/52/0, 1 box

A short series consisting of routine business information from New York. Some private correspondence from this firm can be found from 1902 in II/55.

Lee, Higginson & Co., Letters Received, 1901-1920 II/53/0-9, 6 boxes

The first letters in this series from the Boston firm lay out the details of the arrangement that the firm entered into with NMR, including rates of commission, codes, and standardisation of the transmission of information. Besides the routine schedules of drafts issued by the firm on NMR, there are some detailed market reports and company analyses. The firm believed that NMR had superior knowledge of the copper trade, which features frequently in the letters, and encouraged investment in a number of concerns such as the Manhattan Railway Company.

Kuhn, Loeb & Co., Letters Received, 1910-1920 II/105/1, 1 box

The correspondence in this series relates to the handling of NMR's account and includes extracts of the firm's account with Kuhn, Loeb & Co. in New York.

Government and Banks Correspondence

United States Government, 1835-1842 XI/38/1-2, 2 boxes

The letters in this series relate to NMR's business as bankers to the United States Government in Europe, and consist of authorisations from the Treasury for the payment of the salaries of various consuls and agents, (for example 26 July 1837: salary of a diplomatic agent to be sent to the republic of Texas "whenever the President of the United States may receive satisfactory evidence that Texas is an independent power and shall deem it expedient to appoint such minister"); instructions on specific business NMR is to undertake on behalf of the Government, including the Smithson legacy, whereby NMR pursued the claim of the American Government to the funds left to them by James Smithson to found the Smithsonian Institution; and the arrangement with the French Government "in relation to certain French seamen killed or wounded at Toulon and their families" (14 December 1836).

Drafts of United States Consuls, etc., 1835-1840 II/46/0A, 1 box

The vouchers contained in this series relate to the authorisation of payments of salary found in the above correspondence.

Draft Lists, Bank of California, 1881-1906 II/46/0B-13, 14 boxes

The reports contained within this series are routine extracts from the accounts, stating the valuations made by the Bank of California on NMR.

Letters Received from Bank of California, 1880-1918 II/50/0-30, 31 boxes

In the early years, until around 1906, the correspondence consists especially of schedules of remittances by the Bank to NMR, confirmations of telegrams to NMR, copies of letters of credit, letters of introduction, notes of debits and credits of NMR's account etc. From 1906, the volume of correspondence is reduced and is concerned mainly with crediting NMR's account with dividend payments on American stock.

Bolivia National Bank, Letters Received, 1891-1897 II/56/0-2, 3 boxes

Routine correspondence consisting of schedules of drafts charged to NMR.

Sundry Correspondence

Letters Received, Miscellaneous, 1881-1920 II/54/0-46, 78 boxes

The letters in this series give a very clear picture of the breadth of business regarded by NMR as constituting 'American affairs'. A large proportion of the letters, from individuals and financial institutions, are concerned with dealings in American stock. In addition, there are a variety of market reports from India (Schoene Kilburn and David Sassoon) and Egypt, private reports about Australian business (for example the winding up of the Montefiore estate), the purchase of quicksilver by Hong Kong companies, and ephemeral letters from American companies and individuals. The letters are as diverse as those found in the 'Sundry' series in the Correspondence Department's files.

Outgoing Correspondence

American Letter Copy Books, 1834-1922 II/10/0-113, 114 volumes

Copies of outgoing letters relating to American business survive from 1834, with an index of correspondents within each volume. The earliest volumes consist mainly of letters to agents such as J. I. Cohen of Baltimore, R. & J. Phillips of Philadelphia and J. L. & S. Josephs of New York, and are concerned with routine remittance business. The incoming correspondence is within the Correspondence Department series, XI. Volume 1 contains a letter written to Cohen just after the death of N M Rothschild, acknowledging receipt of a portrait of President Jackson which had been intended as a gift for him. After 1837, letters to Belmont, initially in German, appear frequently. There are also letters to Tolmé, the agent in Havana, notably one dated 15 June 1837 acknowledging the recommendation he made that Francisco de Goyri should take over his responsibilities as agent. In 1848, during the visit to the USA of Alphonse de Rothschild of the Paris house, many letters are addressed to him concerning the placement of orders for tobacco. Later, letters to American clients and to clients elsewhere with American stocks predominate. Letters to Nellie Melba in New York, for example, are contained within the volume because they are concerned with her American stocks, not because she was temporarily resident there.

American Letter Copy Books, Private, 1909-1918 II/140/1, 1 volume

The majority of the letters in this volume are to August Belmont from Alfred, Leopold and Natty, and contain political and financial news and comment and the occasional piece of racing news. A letter dated 25 November 1909 contains the remark, "As regards our feelings at New Court, we always were Free Traders, but circumstances have changed and without going so far as to say that we have deserted the principles of Free Trade entirely, we are waiting to see what turn matters will take and what Tariff Reform, really means." In the same letter, Belmont is asked to buy on behalf of NMR a piece of silver plate to the value of $1,000 to present to Mr Luttgen of Belmont's office in honour of his 50 years' service. The volume also contains letters to close associates advising on American stocks, and other American business letters.

American Letter Copy Books, Copper, 1894-1895 II/11/0, 1 volume

This volume of copy letters, along with some enclosed incoming correspondence, is concerned with the negotiations between European and American copper producers to reduce the production of European copper, and the moves by NMR to concentrate the European sale of American deliveries of copper into its own hands. The negotiations broke down.

American Letter Copy Book, United States Loan, 1895 II/12/0, 1 volume

The letters in this volume are virtually all between August Belmont & Co. and NMR concerning the 1895 US Government 4% Loan, issued by the two firms in conjunction with J.P. Morgan & Co. and J. S. Morgan & Co. See transcript.

American Coupons Purchased, Copy Books, 1874-1904 II/5/0-2, 3 volumes

Brief notes recording the purchase and sale of American stock.

Return to beginning of American Department