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The World of Private Banking

Author(s):Cassis, Youssef
Cottrell, Philip
Reviewer(s):Austin, Peter

Published by EH.NET (June 2010)

Youssef Cassis and Philip Cottrell, editors, The World of Private Banking. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate Publishing, 2009.? xxv + 302 pp.? $115 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-1-85928-432-2.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Peter Austin, Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, St. Edward?s University.


Occasionally, one has the chance to look simultaneously at something historical and something very much still with us.? This applies to the business of money that, if all goes well, is almost invisible to everyday life.? Today issues of finance are more visible than usual and a realm that prides itself on discretion is under scrutiny. The World of Private Banking represents a time when discretion and reputation were all.? This edited volume contains fifteen chapters that group and connect in a sensible manner, so that reading the whole creates an impression of something greater than the sum of its parts.? It is hugely descriptive though, for the most part, it is not new scholarship.? It covers various aspects of private banking from the late eighteenth century to the First World War, and a bit beyond.? It has an expansiveness that belies the simplicity of its title.

If there is one name associated with private banking, it is Rothschild, and it is with this five-tentacled bank that the collection begins.? In his ?Rise of the Rothschilds,? Niall Ferguson portrays the bank as it was — a sort of multinational.? He is most concerned with origins, the rise of the organization between 1810 and 1836 — that is, before the great banking changes of the mid-nineteenth century.? Derived from his two-volume history, this essay is the collection?s one case study and concerns itself with Rothschild?s size, its bond-dominated business, the partnership structure, the family itself, and reasons for the bank?s success, including its well-known communications network.

In its role as ?The World Pump,? the Rothschild House might today be called a ?non-state actor,? and like today, myths grow up around the inclinations and capabilities of such organizations.? As Ferguson describes, Rothschild was indeed powerful, even in its early decades, based on a number of factors — not least of which was its great geographical reach, and its reliance not on a single market.? Ferguson?s account is florid with personalities and comments about the ingredients of Rothschild?s operations.? One of the most interesting aspects here is Ferguson?s revelation that the House often improvised in its operations, had no systematic accounting, and lost track of considerable amounts of money.? If there is a weakness to this excellent essay, it is that the Ferguson does not choose or prioritize the most important elements of Rothschild?s success.? Was it superior communication, ruthlessness toward rivals, Jewish solidarity??? In the end, for Ferguson, it appears that Rothschild?s performance came from a combination of things, but the bank remained at heart a family concern, from which emanated its intensity and its methods.

In the three decades after 1815, Rothschild?s closest rival was Barings, and John Orbell?s comment on the British house complements Ferguson well.? Rothschild was much larger than Barings, but in his ?Private Banks and International Finance in the Light of the Archives of Baring Brothers,? Orbell highlights the unparalleled range of Barings? financial activities that assured it greater profitability.? Ferguson?s lens focuses squarely and powerfully on one large piece of the private banking puzzle: Rothschild.? By contrast, I believe Orbell does in exemplary fashion what this collection does as a whole so well: reviews and explains the vocabulary, mechanics, and roles associated with the international finance generally; the merchant/private banking enterprise specifically.?

Orbell?s primary assignment here is to articulate the private banks? source of greatest strength and longevity: its international scope.? From Calcutta, Canton and Madrid to Rio de Janeiro, New Orleans and Moscow, Barings was active, and this remained an advantage that private banks maintained over their joint-stock rivals even after these began to eclipse private bankers in home markets after about 1850.? Not only does this chapter locate Barings? activities geographically, it places them in relation to Baring rivals.? Perhaps of all chapters, Orbell?s is unique for its weaving together of merchant banking themes with archival resources.? The gaps are most interesting.? In my own work on Barings in Canada, Massachusetts and England, I can indeed confirm the perplexing absence of material in the Barings record to do with trade finance before 1900.? But in all, the Barings archive is complete and quite well-managed.? It is an orderly record of one of the most important merchant banks to fuel modernization and growth around the world, particularly in the nineteenth century.? Orbell illustrates this process magisterially.

Barings was one of the nineteenth century?s great international financial enterprises.? In the United States, however, it had no peer before 1840, and Edwin Perkins takes a look at Barings? operations there, along with snapshots of five other major banks in the United States in his essay, ?The Anglo-American Houses in the Nineteenth Century.?? A scholar whose early work focused on the House of Brown, Perkins describes the activities of banks in the antebellum United States when it was an emerging market in the way we think of China, Brazil, or India today.? Perkins reminds us that the American market exploded with activity after the Civil War, and that it was European capital flowing increasingly to maturing American financial institutions that helped to settle and develop the enormous home market of the United States — a home market so large and rich that the United States has historically deemphasized exports since independence. The largest theme in Perkins? work is this transition to American financial control on its own soil.

In the 150 years or so before 1914, private banks were exclusive entities.? Today, they are most often found within larger public companies as in the so-called ?private banking? division of a Wells Fargo Bank or even a Charles Schwab.? The salience of Perkins? essay is that we know that the development of a mature American banking system gained traction with the withdrawal of Barings after the financial difficulties of the Andrew Jackson years; that the reasons for withdrawal by Barings were varied, but in part had to do with the disagreeable style, pace, and practices of American finance.? In the portraits of a Brown, a Seligman, a Kuhn Loeb, or a Morgan, this essay previews the rise of raw American financial power released in the 1840s, and subsequently developed.? The fortunes of discrete patrician private banking of the kind described here, particularly British, correspond inversely with the development of the American market and the spread of American democracy and values.? Perkins? essay describes the transition from a time when Anglo-American houses prioritized Britain and British finance to a time when they prioritized business on the western side of the Atlantic.?

International themes continue with Alain Plessis? interesting article on the ?eccentric, quasi-magical world? of the so-called ?Haute Banque? — a very ?small group of powerful houses? in Paris, usually partnerships, international in orientation, whose membership was unofficial, changeable, and difficult to define.? Their mystery was increased because (with the exception of Rothschild) Plessis finds these French banks left few records compared to their British and American counterparts.? Unraveling events in business history is notoriously difficult — in financial history, particularly so.? In contrast to other fields, personalities attracted to commerce and money tend not to be expressive, impressionistic or prone to lengthy description since they tend to see more value in action rather than thinking and writing.? There are exceptions here of course, but the haute banque?s secrecy is in line with Pierpont Morgan?s French aphorism of ?pense moult, parle peu, ?cris rien? (?think a lot, say little, write nothing?).

International operations were the lifeblood of many private banks.? But in the phrase of Alain Plessis, the Parisian haute banque was ?a world open to foreigners? in a manner unlike others in private banking.? Plessis describes cosmopolitan organizations ?incompletely assimilated? into French elite society since they had roots of foreign origin and desired to keep connection with family members outside France.? To be sure, origins and loyalties were by country.? They were also by faith.? He describes wedlock alliances among Christians and among Jews in order to build banking organizations; of major Jewish and Protestant bankers and their children married off to foreign wives and husbands, to people established in France but with foreign origins, often of the same religion as themselves.? Here was international banking with a vengeance.? Here was the source of the Rothschild mystique, a combination of myth and reality mentioned by Ferguson, made more mercurial and (for those so inclined) more mysterious by family members moving around from country to country for intelligence to find new markets and to keep family ties current.?

Plessis on the haute banque introduces the reader to the general phenomenon of religious and ethnic minorities in trade and finance.? Armenians in Turkey, Chinese in Malaya, Greeks in Cairo, and Lebanese in Buenos Aires come to mind.? Here, authors Ginette Kurgan-van Hentenryk and Martin K?rner concentrate on the idea of financial solidarity along religious lines with their chapters on Jewish and Protestant banking.

Kurgan-van Hentenryk broadens aspects of Plessis? essay as she covers the origins of the haute banque at the time of the Bourbon Restoration, a closed circle of twenty banks of Protestant and Jewish financiers that placed loans for Europe?s conservative monarchies after 1815.? But she does so much more.? Here is the story of Jewish private banking and its spread across Europe in the nineteenth century with imminent names like Stern, Bischoffsheim, Bleichr?der, Fould, Oppenheim, Goldschmidt, Cassel, Lazard, Mendelssohn, Seligman, and Rothschild; and later in the United States with Warburg, Schiff, Goldman, and Soros.

Kurgan-van Hentenryk divides Jewish banking activity into four phases: the Hofjuden period, the nineteenth century through the First World War, the interwar/Nazi period, and the post-1945 years.? At all times, she says, Jewish private banking based itself on trade — whether in commodities, capital, or most recently in ideas and services.? It is a fascinating journey in many respects.? The author emphasizes that, particularly before the 1850s, much of the Jewish private banking story took place in Austria and the German states (Vienna, Frankfurt-am-Main, Cologne, Hamburg, Berlin), from which it ramified to other parts of Europe, the United States, and Europe?s colonial possessions.?

It is the story of financial diaspora.? It is also the story of risk-taking in the face of adversity.? Much of Kurgan-van Hentenryk?s essay discusses Jewish participation in projects many non-Jewish private bankers spurned: railroads and early industrial finance.? In this regard, Jewish private bankers, as described, were integral to the early development and promotion of joint-stock banks that culminated in the creation of the Cr?dit Mobilier in France, and the so-called D-banks in Germany.? Kurgan-van Hentenryk illustrates the quick changes to finance during the middle decades of the nineteenth century with the new ?mixed? banking or joint-stock instruments.? Joint-stock banks were, after all, as key to the finance of the 1871 Franco-Prussian War indemnity as private banks (Barings, Rothschild) had been to the Napoleonic indemnity of 1815.? The shift of instruments so profound over just a few decades seems worthy of the phrase ?Big Bang.?

What did not change was a certain anti-Semitism that persisted on the Continent, of course, well into the twentieth century.? It was a prejudice, according to Kurgan-van Hentenryk, not easily mitigated by wealth, accomplishment, or education.? In this regard, she describes a defensive and fascinating kind of clannish behavior, the important role of women for family ties, and a historical pattern of strict endogamy with a goal to deepen networks, and to conserve and increase wealth among families.? Weaving through her account is the presence of the Rothschilds, and it is unclear if the general fortunes of Jewish bankers were hurt or helped by the blossoming of the Rothschild house after 1815.? In this excellent account, the differences, if any, between Sephardic, Ashkenazi, and even Hasidim Jews in their associations, networks, or business successes are also unclear.? After musing on the influence of Jewish financiers in politics, Kurgan-van Hentenryk ends with a question ?what path is next for Jewish private bankers: integration or some sort of innovation?? Whatever the path, she implies adaptability and survival for Jewish bankers, private or not.

Following this account, Martin K?rner turns our attention to Protestant financiers, who he says operated ?from Lisbon to St. Petersburg? by the eighteenth century.? Though a minority, the place of Protestant bankers was historically much less clear for K?rner than Jews are for Kurgan-van Hentenryk, even in the wake of the Reformation.

K?rner describes solidarity among Protestant bankers in the sixteenth century, and the financial networks that started to form — first in several parts of Switzerland, later between various European Protestant groups in the German states and between Huguenot factions in France.? This said, K?rner devotes most space to the growth of Swiss (Calvinist) financial power, particularly in relation to France.? He recounts in highly technical terms the money transfer routes of Protestant bankers who used Geneva as a financial hub, and, like several essays in this collection, K?rner?s account is useful for explaining the mechanics of government loan finance.? But the chapter remains in large measure a description of Swiss Protestant bankers? influence on the French crown.? Starting with the reign of Louis XIII, K?rner depicts the start of a sort of Huguenot haute banque which only grew in influence with the French court as demand for capital increased under the ambitious Louis XIV.? What is fascinating to see here is Catholic monarchs who elevated Protestant bankers to positions of social and political power in Catholic countries in periods of inter-denominational pressure.? This is particularly arresting when the pattern survived in France even after the 1685 revocation of the Edict of Nantes.?

It is indeed interesting to see K?rner explain how Huguenots fled France during her wars of religion and set up shop as merchants and bankers in all the economic centers of Europe.? The difficulty here is that, except for Paris, these other ?economic centers of Europe? are, in the main, given short attention.? And while this essay has clear strengths, it leaves significant areas tantalizingly unaddressed.? Lutherans, Anglicans, Anabaptists, and Methodists are unmentioned, as well as the regions in which they operated.? Did they form networks?? Even if this essay?s focus were only Swiss/Calvinist?French relations, one large weakness would remain.? K?rner does not provide a reason why Catholic monarchs and princes did not employ Catholics bankers.? It is true that Catholics at times accepted Protestants to avoid the services of Jews, as K?rner mentions, but were Catholic bankers inadequate to solve the financial exigencies that befell France, for example, after her Religious Wars?? Were the financial troubles of the pre-Revolutionary decades so unusual that His Most Catholic Majesty Louis XVI could only summon the services of the talented and Protestant Jacques Necker?? K?rner is frustratingly mute.?

If Ferguson (Rothschild), Orbell (Barings), and Perkins (Brown et al.) treat the overarching development of the private bank, the volume?s editors, Youssef Cassis and Philip Cottrell, treat its crisis in two substantial contributions.

In his masterful ?Private Banks and the Onset of the Corporate Economy,? Cassis describes the emergence of a ?new bank? between 1835 and 1865 which he says represented a seismic change in savings and financial participation by the populations of Europe.? This joint-stock, deposit, and investment banking vehicle presaged the onset of unprecedentedly large capital accumulations demanded by a rapidly-industrializing European society in the half-century before the First World War.?

Cassis? essay is a description of slow change across time, not decline and quick fall.? It first reviews what a private bank was — its character, purpose, legal form, and pedigree.? Cassis then describes the great advantage of the private bank in the long term: not the servicing of small and medium-sized businesses in its various domestic locales, but the financing of international trade and the issuance of foreign loans — that is, the exclusive world of the haute banque.? Though a French term, Cassis touches this idea of the haute banque from Paris and Brussels to Berlin and Vienna, and the discussion is a good complement to Plessis? chapter.? However, if there is an emphasis here, it is Britain where one can see the effect of joint-stock banking on private bankers most clearly.? The decline of the private banker, says Cassis, was no steeper than in Britain, ?yet nowhere did private bankers flourish more than in the City of London.?? Here he presents the central paradox of the nineteenth century related to joint-stock ascendancy: while private bankers lost ground as domestic deposit institutions throughout Britain as a whole, they redoubled their commitment to international activities which strengthened financiers in the City, particularly in short-term acceptances.

Philip Cottrell drives home Cassis? case of Britain with his study of the actual mechanisms that changed finance in the City of London: by legislation of 1826, the arrival of limited liability laws and the explosion of domestic limited joint-stock banking in the early 1860s, measures he calls collectively ?London?s First ?Big Bang.?? In addition, Cottrell surveys the competition to private banks, particularly in the international sphere after the growth of joint-stock banks.? Written about so well by Geoffrey Jones, these limited-liability laws followed by the 1862 Companies Act greatly expanded overseas corporate banks and colonial banking, and even spurred the formation of myriad varieties of finance companies.? ?The ?Big Bang? largely sounded the death knell of personal private enterprise within most of London?s financial markets,? writes Cottrell.? ?Private banking persisted in the City, but its days were numbered.?? As Cottrell and Cassis comment, the decline would take time, and David Kynaston also contributes to this discussion of decline (see below).? Cassis and Cottrell (among others in this collection) voice the central irony that private bankers themselves sowed the seeds of their own destruction by sometimes creating joint-stock banks as vehicles to finance industrial projects that, in the end, despite the private bankers? best efforts at control, ultimately replaced them, certainly domestically.

Dieter Ziegler gives us a look at Germany.? Specifically, he asserts that Alexander Gerschenkron?s explanation for the first capital driver of nineteenth-century German industrialization should be private banks, not universal banks.? Here we have a specific substantiation of Kurgan-van Hentenryk?s account (?Jewish Private Banks?) of the origins of the D-banks.? We also have a substantiation of both Jewish and private inputs to railroad and industrial finance before the full onset of joint-stock banking, which was resisted with few exceptions (e.g., Bavaria) throughout the German states, including Prussia.? Inspired by the Credit Mobilier after 1852, nevertheless, Ziegler finds that innovative consortiums assembled by private bankers in the German states and Hapsburg empire ?proved to be the decisive factor for the nascent universal banks? that financed the earliest railroad projects (e.g. 1836, from Vienna to Bochnia in Galicia).

Of course, one of the facts of banking is that joint-stock banks began to trump private bank capital in Europe and the United States after 1850.? Nevertheless, Ziegler is concerned with timing.? Gerschenkron neglected to show that the first successful joint-stock banks were founded by experienced private bankers.? Thus the start of Gerschenkron?s leading sector take-off had a private bank ?spark-plug.?? By the mid-1850s when the first stock credit banks were founded, the basic railway net connecting almost all important Zollverein States was already built.?

Ziegler says that historians should tweak Gerschenkron to include the input of private bankers in the German industrial story.? What of Italy?? Do we need to adjust Gerschenkron?? Luciano Segreto thinks so.? In his ?Private Bankers and Italian Industrialization,? Segreto describes a pre-unification Italy with few consequential financial institutions, a peninsular quilt of regions and cities through which a few private bankers threaded their way often as Protestants or Jews, and who had the strongest financial contacts with interests outside Italy itself.? He finds no competence or inclination to cooperate on anything like an Italian Zollverein.?

At times, Segreto gives the impression of impatience with the historical circumstances he describes before the birth of the Kingdom of Italy.? In the pre-unification period, for example, Segreto describes attempts to form Italian financial organs based on sericulture or shipbuilding in the manner of Belgium?s Soci?t? G?n?rale, or the later Cr?dit Mobilier and Credit Anstalt.? He laments, however, that these enterprises were ?too advanced for the times and above all for the socio-economic context in which [they] operated, [which were before unification] still loath to make a coherent commitment to industrial development.?

Many things changed in the 1870s.? Suddenly, there were national projects and private bankers who had once individually identified only with particular states or with foreign interests were called on to underwrite large projects with a nationwide scope such as railroads — so that bankers from Genoa, Turin, Livorno, and Florence were brought together for a common purpose.? Cooperation also occurred on a regional basis with no banking center more active than Milan, now free from Austrian surveillance.? Segreto points out that, by the 1880s, Milanese commercial banks had joined forces with banks in Turin and Genoa.? The assembly of an Italian credit system led to a national banking system and Segreto parallels the fever of bank establishment with that of antebellum American or Meiji Japan.? In this expansive environment, Segreto implies, private bankers with political ties were active in such sectors as foodstuffs, petroleum, textiles, mining, transport, and real estate but they were, in Segreto?s words, ?flanked by the large commercial banks.??

Unfortunately parts of this essay are quite difficult and vague, making it unclear until the last section what exactly private bankers? roles were in post-unification Italy.? Moreover, Segreto presents mixed banks as a feature of Italy by 1914.? But it is far from clear how we got here.? Whatever the path, however, the destination emerges from Segreto?s essay.? He asserts that private bankers played a particular role after 1890 — something Segreto calls ?functional ?re-specialization.??? After several decades in which ?all operators in the sector? (I assume financial) were kind of industrial-financial generalists, Segreto finds that private bankers switched to the role of facilitator and smooth point of contact between industry and the mixed bank.? He sees? the private banker as the subtle deal-closer in a mixed bank venue, and substantiates his assertion with a persuasive chart that? lists private banker involvement in 31 major industrial enterprises in Italy from 1884 to 1913.? Segreto also reports the decline of private banker ranks in the years after the First World War.? He implies that the less-than-subtle events of the 1920s and 1930s had something to do with this.

J.P. Morgan?s motto may have been to ?write nothing? (ecrit rien).? When carried out, this makes business history research difficult.? However, written archives do exist and readers will find four sections (five authors) on archives of various family businesses and banks in this collection — two British, one Continental, and the Rothschilds that straddled both.? These essays break up The World of Private Banking nicely and provide updates, insights, and personnel connected to research collections.? They also tease researchers with leads to plug holes in the financial history literature.

Except perhaps for John Orbell?s chapter on the well-established Barings, the archive chapters remind the reader that the nature of archives is fluid.? Even with the oft-studied House of Rothschild, Melanie Aspey points out that a large portion of records of the Vienna branch were retrieved from Moscow less than a decade ago.? Aspey?s partner on the Rothschild archive chapter, Victor Gray, corroborates Niall Ferguson?s comment that the papers remain split among the French, Austrian, English, German and the Italian (Naples) branches.? Of these, London is most complete.? But according to Gray, we may never know what we are truly missing since all the Houses of Rothschild were subject to what all private banks are subject: periodic purging by family members.?

Still, millions of letters need cataloguing due to volume, difficulty of categorization, and language — of which six are used in the Rothschild papers.? Language is a barrier also to what Victor Gray sees as the treasure trove of the House: the Judeo-German (Judendeutsch) correspondence in German using Hebrew letters.? These are Rothschild family and business letters used to skirt competitors and to survive as Jews in the police state of Metternich.? As of 1998, only one in seven of these letters was translated.? Additionally, there are hundreds of thousands of international letters from Rothschild correspondents and agents which are starting only now to get scholarly attention, but remain largely unexplored.? John Orbell mentions something similar about Barings? London Wall accounting records which (I can attest) are vast, complete, yet seldom used; and await the eyes a scholar of a certain temperament.?

As Gray and Aspey?s archive discussion complements Ferguson?s Rothschild chapter, so Gabriele Teichmann?s discussion of the papers of Salomon Oppenheim Jr. & Company complements Ziegler?s chapter on private bankers and German industrialization.?? For that matter, one could sensibly pair it with Kurgan-van Hentenryk?s ?Jewish Private Banks.?

Teichmann?s chapter is useful as an advertisement for an archive of intrinsic importance.? Oppenheim was an institution active in the many industrial sectors of a country which, upon unification, proved the most potent in twentieth-century Europe: Germany.? In her discussion of archive resources and the Oppenheim family, Teichmann highlights Cologne, a pivotal city for the history of the industrial Rhineland, and hence for the history of twentieth century Europe.? And it is not without irony that this contributor to German vitality was a Jew.

The last part of Teichmann?s account called ?Social Studies? explores family related topics of the Oppenheims.? This is the exclusive focus of Fiona Maccoll?s ?Banking and Family Archives? in this fourth of four archives chapters.? Here, Maccoll reinforces the idea of family as a cardinal difference between private and other bank types.? Initially, I found Maccoll too prolix with step-by-step family data — that is to say, who said what, to whom, and when.? This task is for the researcher to discover and present.? However, the archivist can be the handmaiden in this endeavor, and Maccoll does this.? Her chapter steers the reader to archival materials that involve people, family, and relationships.? Seemingly banal, the idea of family was one of the distinguishing entrance criteria for private bankers until its twilight in the late twentieth century.? And it is the potential for personal information relevant to operations that is so seductive about the Rothschild Judendeutsch letters, according to Gray and Aspey.? For Maccoll, though, family papers provide data on private banking operations — sometimes indirect, sometimes oblique — that simply does not exist in other banking venues.

Some material in these chapters will not be as useful to those familiar to archives as to those newer to the field.? Still, the range presented here from French (Gray and Aspey) to German (Teichmann) to British (Maccoll and Orbell) has something for everyone, regardless of experience.? Finally, the internet has transformed so many things, and private bank archives are no exception. Gray addresses these issues at some length in regard to the Rothschild archives.

I suppose it could be said that a banker spends half his life making money, the other half giving it away.? Pat Thane touches on the issue of ?giving it away? in her chapter ?Private Banking and Philanthropy: the City of London, 1880s-1920s.?? It is one of the half dozen essays one should read here if pressed for time, not for its superiority per se, but because it bears on a dimension of money-making not touched elsewhere in the collection.? Thane?s chronological focus is tight, her themes limited for the most part to the British Royals and Jewish philanthropy, and her essay is effective as it stands.? Readers may grow impatient with Thane?s dependence on Frank Prochaska?s work for her Edwardian discussion.? And though there is rich coverage of Baron and Baroness de Hirsch, the Bischoffsheims, and Ernest Cassel, some will likely find the account less than satisfying with Schroeder?s the sole House outside the Jewish sphere.? What of Barings, Hambro, and Coutts, or the Quaker legacy?? To say nothing of moving the chronology to the earlier decades of the nineteenth century?? These queries aside, I suspect that the ambition of the essay was deliberately and ruthlessly limited, and, for what it does, it does quite well.? My complaints are meant to inspire others to complete the task that Thane has begun.? She has whetted appetites terrifically.

David Kynaston closes this collection with thoughts on the years in the City after private banking?s ?moment? has passed: its denouement from 1914 to 1986.? He depicts a vocation aware of its decline — a ?closed world, in which family, wealth and social connections counted for more than industry or ability.?? He describes a world anchored to a past ideal, a pre-1914 order of Old Etonians, ill-suited to compete in a time that was starting to see nothing irregular or wrong with the rise of a clerk to bank president.? One example of Kynaston?s idea of nebulous decline? is Edmund de Rothschild?s 1998 memoir, A Gilt-Edged Life.? Here, Kynaston describes a floating comfortable life; a scion of a rather laconic, somewhat frivolous dying breed — reminiscent of the exhaustion of Thomas Mann?s Buddenbrooks — without the animal spirits needed to survive in the rough and tumble world of the later twentieth century.??? Kynaston? illustrates this sense of floating among private banking families with other convincing anecdotes of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.? The second ?Big Bang?? (see Cottrell for the first) made this intangible sense of? drift and decline abruptly concrete for the private City banker in 1986, as the Houses of Lazard, Warburg,? Hill Samuel, and others — once financial whales — became minnows, and new whales arose with names like Citibank, Chase Manhattan, and Banker?s Trust.? My own work on Barings illustrates this well.? Its conservative principles allowed the partnership to weather the Panic of 1837 brilliantly.? Unfortunately, Barings? culture learned the wrong lessons from these successes, and it failed to adapt and innovate in later years.? Indeed, the first time Sir Peter Baring had heard of the ?clerk? Nicholas Leeson, it was too late.? Certainly in its classic form, Kynaston artfully declares the demise of private banking in the City, for only after death can one call for obituaries, which he does.? In the main, the private banks are gone.? Long live the private banks, Kynaston says — in house histories!

One need not read this book chapter by chapter in order.? I recommend the reader start anywhere in the book and fan out.? I have followed this free course in my remarks above.

In closing, one of the virtues of this collection is the overlapping explanations by several authors of the same terms of trade and finance.? Multiple mentions of acceptances, bills of exchange, country banks, merchant banking in different contexts, as well as key dates in the financial history of the period that this volume represents provide a review for the expert, a primer for the novice.

Technically, I appreciated the publisher?s choice to choose footnotes over less convenient endnotes.? Wherever located though, the citations and bibliography present a fantastic tour of current and classical literature on finance and banking with lacunae only of Peter Temin, W.W. Rostow, John McCusker, and Peter Rousseau.

This is not easy material.? However, the level of writing in this volume is high, no doubt made higher by skilled editing.? The uses of this collection are many, not least as a tonic for the current American fashion to present globalization as something new.? On most every page, one finds accounts of men and organizations working in the business of international affairs, indeed global since the start of the nineteenth century.? Part research guide, part family history and part financial/trade primer, this collection is, finally, part museum-piece — for the world of the private banker is largely gone.? Nonetheless, like good museums, this book repays a visit, has much to teach about the present, and presents important things knowledgably and with style.


Peter E. Austin is a historian at St. Edward?s University in Austin.? He is the author of Baring Brothers and the Birth of Modern Finance (Pickering & Chatto, 2007).? He is currently at work on a book on the 1960s.

Subject(s):Business History
Financial Markets, Financial Institutions, and Monetary History
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):18th Century
19th Century
20th Century: Pre WWII