Welcome toThe Rothschild Archive'swebsite

Sources for business history: catalogues of bank files

Sources for art history: Catalogue of the pictures of Alfred de Rothschild 1901

Sources for yachting history: Plans for Nathaniel von Rothschild's yacht Veglia 1905

Sources for natural history: Walter 2nd Lord Rothschild and his zebra carriage: c.1910

Sources for global financial history: Map of lines of the Brazil Railway Company: c.1920

Sources for business history: index cards to bank files

Sources for social history: Rothschild Hospital Paris: 1920s

Sources for business history: detail of a Rothschild bond coupon

Sources for architectural history: Halton House: 1890s

Sources for the history of travel: Lionel de Rothschild's tours of Spain: 1909

Sources for local history: Tring Park: c.1900

Sources for Royal history: shooting party with Edward Prince of Wales: 1893

Sources for political history: Lionel de Rothschild: first Jewish MP: 1858

Sources for sporting history: St Amant winner of the Derby: 1904

Sources for local history: gardeners at Aston Clinton: 1899

Sources for Rothschild family history: Lionel de Rothschild's yacht Rhodora: 1927

Sources for London history: entrance to New Court: 1965

Sources for design history: plans for Lionel de Rothschild's Rolls-Royce: 1930

Sources for business history: Rothschild gold bars produced by the Royal Mint Refinery: 1930s

Sources for business history: letters of August Belmont Rothschild Agent in New York: 1860s

Rothschilds and pigeon post

The speed and effectiveness of communications are hallmark of the Rothschild banking business founded by Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812) and his five sons. Efficient and accurate communications were essential to the Rothschild early business success.

Early communication networks

By 1812, the year of Mayer Amschel Rothschild’s death, the five brothers had grown used to travelling throughout Europe on business, and the importance of worthwhile up-to-date commercial data was crucial. To make the most of what they found on their travels, they developed the habit of writing detailed letters keeping their siblings abreast of what was going on in their sphere, whether it was the day’s business, the market opportunities and prices in the towns they passed through, or just the usual family comments on their brothers’ behaviour and character. Getting these letters delivered swiftly and securely was another matter. In an age when a postal system was developing at differing speeds and with varying efficiency across Europe, the Rothschilds relied on a network of trusted couriers.

Letters carried by pigeon

When the Rothschild brothers took to the air in their pursuit of speed we cannot say. But we can be certain that by the 1840s – and probably much earlier - the brothers had taken to the use of pigeons to carry short and important messages between them. Nathan Mayer Rothschild had a farm in Kent where carrier pigeons were stationed. One or two examples of letters carried by pigeon survive among the papers in The Rothschild Archive. They measure about 8 cm by 5 cm and still bear the folds where they were packed into the small container attached to the pigeon’s leg.This method of communication was one of the tools of success in the Rothschild business strategy during the period c.1820-1850, and part of the success of the Rothschild’s communication system was its flexibility, using a number of different means of transmission, including pigeon post, to suit the circumstances.

A letter written in August 1846 by Nathaniel de Rothschild from Paris (Nathaniel was Nathan’s son) says: “I hope our feathered messengers will have brought you in due time our good prices” Elsewhere in the letter he reveals, “A B in our pigeon dispatches means: buy stock, the news is good; C D…means sell stock, the news is bad”. (RAL XI/109/57).

The news of Waterloo

The most famous incident occurred on the night of 19 June 1815, when a courier arrived at New Court bearing the news of Wellington’s victory at Waterloo, a full 48 hours before the government’s own riders brought the news to Downing Street. Whilst it is true that the Rothschilds had an extensive communications network, and did use carrier pigeons, there is no evidence for the news of the English victory at Waterloo having been brought by pigeon. No original contemporary account or documentation concerning how the news of the victory at Waterloo in 1815 reached New Court survives in the collections of the Rothschild Archive London. The story has been repeated in many secondary sources published after the event, speculating on what may have happened. It is likely that a series of couriers on horseback brought the news to New Court.

 

Pigeon post letter 1846

Pigeon post letter 1846