Mayer Amschel Rothschild and 'the House at the Green Shield'
Mayer Amschel Rothschild was born in 1744 in the Judengasse, in Frankfurt. Frankfurt was a major center of trade, with many bankers and wholesale merchants. After an apprenticeship in foreign trade and currency exchange in Hanover, he returned home in 1763, and became a dealer in rare coins. His coin business grew to include a number of princely patrons, and then expanded to include the provision of financial services to clients. In 1769, Mayer Amschel gained the title of "Court Agent", managing the finances of the immensely wealthy Elector of Hesse-Cassel. By the early years of the 19th century, Mayer Amschel had consolidated his position and began to issue his own loans.
The first place of business in Frankfurt was also the family home - at the House of the Green Shield in the Judengasse, where Mayer Amschel and his family moved in 1784. In 1796, Napoleon's troops attacked Frankfurt, accidentally setting the Judengasse on fire and destroying half of it, leaving 2,000 inhabitants homeless. The displaced Jews were allowed to live in the Christian part of the city for six months. Although the House at the Green Shield had not been damaged, Mayer Amschel took advantage of the relaxed city laws to rent space for all of his wares outside the ghetto, allowing his family full use of the house.
The Frankfurt bank
As a result of his succesful business dealings, Mayer Amschel amassed a not inconsiderable fortune and, in 1810, renamed his firm M A Rothschild und Söhne, establishing a partnership with his four sons still in Frankfurt, his son Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777-1836) having already established a business in Manchester and London.
The Frankfurt bank was, according to a rare contemporary description,'open plan' in its design: "He [Salomon] sits in his office in the midst of his clerks like a Padishah; below him are his secretaries, and around him may be seen a crowd of brokers, for ever coming and going. With a few words he dismisses each, for like a true business genius he knows at once what answer to give to every question, and what decision to arrive at on any business that may be laid before him for consideration... To speak to him privately on a matter of business is well nigh impossible; everything in his office is done openly as in a law court."
Closure of the Frankfurt business in 1901
By 1901, and the death of the bank’s last remaining partner, Wilhelm Carl (1828-1901), Frankfurt was no longer a significant financial centre. No family members in London, Paris or Vienna wished to move to the Prussian city, and the decision was taken to liquidate the House. The Frankfurt house closed in 1901, and the remaining business being transferred to the Disconto Gesellschaft of Berlin, which established a Frankfurt office in order to handle it's new business. Joseph Nauheim, a senior clerk at the London house, managed the liquidation on behalf of the Nathaniel, 1st Lord Rothschild (1840-1915).
The former Rothschild bank’s building at 146 Fahrgassse was lent to the Jewish community for various uses. One of the rooms at 146 Fahrgasse was used to display a Judaica collection. The original banking offices of the family were preserved on the first floor, and many family heirlooms and pictures were added to the collection. In 1902, the Judisches Haushaltungsschule (the Jewish School of Domestic Science), which had been established in 1897 to train Jewish school girls in ‘domestic knowledge’, moved to refurbished premises at 146 Fahrgasse. In 1903, the premises were given to the school by the Rothschilds, rent-free. In 1922, Adelheid (neé von Rothschild) (1853-1935), the wife of Edmond de Rothschild (1845-1934), with the aid of her mother Hannah Mathilde (1832-1924), Wilhelm Carl's widow, made a significant donation to the museum, renaming it the 'Museum jüdischer Altertümer und von Rothschild Museums' in honour of Hannah Mathilde's 90th birthday. The museum was liquidated under the Nazis in 1938, and the contents dispersed; it is believed that much of the collection remained in Frankfurt where it was lost during air raids. Two portraits of the Rothschild family that were on display in the Rothschild Museum were recovered after the war, marriage portraits of Charlotte (1819-1884), daughter of Carl Mayer (1788-1855) from the Naples branch, and Lionel (1808-1879), son of Nathan (1777-1836) from the London branch. These are now in the Israel Museum Jerusalem.