Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812), founder of the Rothschild business was born in the Judengasse, in Frankfurt, where he established a successful business as a merchant trader and court financier.
His father Amschel Moses had a business trading in a variety of goods, and in 1757, with the help of family connections, the young Mayer Amschel was apprenticed to the banking firm of Simon Wolf Oppenheimer in Hannover, where he acquired useful knowledge in foreign trade and currency exchange, before returning to his brothers' business in Frankfurt in 1763.
Early trade in coins
Mayer Amschel Rothschild became a dealer in rare coins and won the patronage of Crown Prince Wilhelm I of Hesse (who had also earlier patronised his father) to whom he became a personal supplier of collectable coins. A catalogue of the coin collection of David Samuel Madai (1709-1780), Verzeichniss der auserlesenen und hochstansehnlichen Thalersammlung des zu Halle verstorbenen Hofraths David Samuel von Madai was published in Hamburg in 1788, and this volume was in the collection of business papers of Mayer Amschel in Frankfurt. Madai was a Hungarian physician and numismatist who worked in Germany. He was the author of various medical writings, but was mainly known for his valuable collection of coins. He specialised in dimes and thalers. From 1765 he published catalogues of his collection, which gained a high reputation. After Madai's death in 1780 his collection as offered for sale by the Hamburg dealer Pierre Texier, and his collection of over 9,000 pieces was purchased by Friedrich August I of Saxony for the Dresdner Münzkabinett, one of the largest and most important numismatic collections in Germany.
Madai's catalogue of his collection of coins constituted a numismatic manual which Mayer Amschel used to give precise identifications for the coins which he, in turn, offered for sale 'by mail order' through catalogues he published regularly over two decades from c.1770. This copy of Madai’s catalogue bears marks and interfoliated annotations, believed to be in the hand of Mayer Amschel, who used this, and earlier catalogues, to indicate, against each item, his own prices and those fetched in other auctions. Through his shrewd analysis of the coin market, and his transparency in pricing, Mayer Amschel established his reputation as a dealer. A copy of Mayer Amschel's coin sales catalogue dating from c.1770, listing rare Greek, Roman, Austrian and French gold and silver coins and their prices, survives in the collection of the Jewish Museum, Frankfurt.
M A Rothschild
Mayer Amschel’s coin business grew to include a number of princely patrons, and then expanded to include the provision of financial services. In 1769, he gained the title of 'Court Agent', managing the finances of Wilhelm I who became Wilhelm IX, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel on the death of his father in 1785. In 1806, Napoleon invaded Hesse in response to Wilhelm IX's support for Prussia. On the advance of Napoleon's army, Wilhelm IX was forced to go into exile in the Duchy of Holstein. The dilemma of how to conceal his coffers from the occupying forces was solved by Carl Friedrich Buderus (1759-1819), his financial adviser, who recommended that all his stock be confided to the House of Rothschild because they were best placed to protect his funds, and he thus entrusted part of his vast fortune to Mayer Amschel Rothschild for safekeeping. Mayer turned to his son, Nathan, in London. Nathan invested £550,000 of Wilhem IX's funds in British government securities and bullion. These investments proved extremely lucrative and, by the time Wilhem IX returned from exile, had accrued considerable interest, and the Rothschilds' reputation for trustworthiness and astute financial management was firmly established.
M A Rothschild und Söhne
As a result of his these dealings, Mayer Amschel amassed a not inconsiderable fortune and, in 1810, renamed his firm M A Rothschild und Söhne, establishing a partnership his three sons, Amschel, Salomon and Carl (Nathan having already moved to England and James being too young to sign). Nathan’s increasingly successful business provided a model for his brothers back in Frankfurt. In 1812, James Mayer Rothschild (1792-1868) established a banking house in Paris. Salomon Mayer Rothschild (1774-1855) settled in Vienna in 1820. Carl Mayer Rothschild (1788-1855) set up business in Naples in 1821, leaving Amschel Mayer (1773-1855), to head the Frankfurt bank. From these roots, the Rothschild banking business spread out across much of Europe becoming the most successful international bankers of the age.