Alphonse James de Rothschild : biography
Mayer Alphonse James Rothschild (February 1, 1827 - May 26, 1905), was a French, financier, vineyard owner, art collector, philanthropist, racehorse owner/breeder and a member of the prominent Rothschild banking family of France.
In August 1895, a crude letter bomb addressed to Alphonse de Rothschild was delivered to his Paris residence. Not at home, a member of the house staff had it forwarded to the de Rothschild Frères offices where it detonated, seriously injuring the chief clerk.
On his passing in 1905, Alphonse's son Edouard took over as head of the family business.
As an art collector
Over his lifetime Alphonse de Rothschild put together a massive collection of artworks. He was an avid collector of the Dutch Masters as well as an important assembler of Islamic works of art. In 1885 he was made a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts and would donate and/or bequeath approximately 2,000 pieces to many different museums.
Alphonse de Rothschild was an enthusiastic supporter of thoroughbred horse racing who in 1852 at the age of twenty-four became a member of the Paris Jockey Club. He eventually purchased a rural property near Touques, Calvados in the Basse-Normandie region where he built the Haras de Meautry horse breeding farm. There, he laid the foundation for a breeding operation that would prove highly successful for more than one hundred years and one that under the guidance of his descendants remains in operation today. Alphonse de Rothschild raced in an era before the creation of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Among the major races his horses won were:
- Grand Prix de Paris - (1) - Le Roi Soleil (1898)
- Prix de Diane - (3) - Brie (1878), Crinière (1889) Brisk (1894)
- Poule d'Essai des Poulains - (3) - Brio (1887), Heaume (1890) et Le Nicham II (1893)
- Prix du Jockey Club - (2) - Kilt (1876) Heaume (1890)
- Prix de la Forêt - (2) - Kilt (1876) Le Nord (1891)
- Prix Morny - (4) - Louis d'Or (1879), Strelitz (1880), Fresca (1893) Thélème (1903)
As a financier and investor
Alphonse de Rothschild inherited a large fortune on the death of his father in 1868, including share positions in de Rothschild Frères bank and the Northern Railway company. He began his training in finance at a young age and his father put him in charge of the bank's gold bullion operations.
During the 1860s, great debates raged across Europe and the United States as to an appropriate monetary system for the changing times. In France, the prominent Péreire brothers bankers were proponents of paper money in contrast to Alphonse de Rothschild who defended preservation of France's bimetallism system. Initially, Alphonse had an influential supporter for his position through his long friendship with statesman Léon Say, a former employee of the Rothschild's Northern Railway Company who became the Minister of Finance in 1872. However, as part of the Latin Monetary Union France joined most of the rest of Europe and adopted the gold standard by 1873. In 1880, Alphonse de Rothschild put together the deal that saw the family take control of Société Le Nickel (SLN), a nickel mining business in New Caledonia.
During the Franco-Prussian War, Alphonse de Rothschild had guarded the ramparts of Paris on the eve of the Prussian siege. When a peace treaty was finally agreed to in January 1871, his bank would play a major role, not only in raising the five billion francs France was obliged to pay in reparations to the new German Empire, but in helping bring about economic stability. France made a dramatic financial recovery and repaid the reparations bill ahead of schedule which, under terms of the armistice, brought about an end to the German occupation of northern French territory in 1873. In contrast though, that same year, both the Berlin and Vienna stock markets crashed, plunging all of Central Europe into an economic depression. However, in less than a decade Alphonse de Rothschild would witness considerable economic upheaval in France. The collapse of the investment bank Société de l'Union Générale precipitated the 1882 stock market crash that triggered a downturn in the economy. In 1889, the Comptoir d'Escompte de Paris bank went into receivership and shortly thereafter the Panama scandals erupted, culminating in an official enquiry being conducted into the matter in 1893 by the French parliament.
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