New Elan in an Old Clan

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(See Cover ) For seven generations, one European family has dominated an incredible part of all that money can buy. Its escutcheon—a profusion of noble coronets, intrepid lions and soaring eagles—is carved in stone amidst the proudest vineyards of Bordeaux. On the Continent's most prized race horses, its blue and yellow colors proclaim a devotion to the sport of kings that has produced profit as well as pleasure. From its London and Paris banks, the family's millions have been sent forth to back more than 100 business enterprises on six continents. Some of its stately dwellings are the kind of mansions that mere San Simeons hoped to imitate, and the family moves comfortably through international society and top-level business circles. This ancient and unusual banking dynasty shields itself from the curious eye of the public, but the map and history of Europe have been changed by its action and etched with its name: the House of Rothschild.

Rothschild gold has powered the ambitions of prime ministers, princes and popes. It has financed wars and reparations treaties, changed the course of politics and bailed out armies and na tions. The Rothschilds strung railroads across the Continent, gained control of the Suez Canal for Britain, supported oilfields in the Caucasus and the Sahara, carved diamond mines in the African veld. Seldom unimaginative in the use of their money, they paid for the expedition that exhumed the mummy of Egypt's long-lost King Tutankhamen, have supported countless hungering artists and endowed many hospitals. To be a Rothschild has usually meant the possession not only of money but of the ability to enjoy it fully; this has resulted in a family trait of diversity. From the fruitful Rothschild family tree, heavy with shrewd financiers, have come half a hundred outstanding legislators, scientists, sportsmen and war heroes—as well as a few playboys. But as many Rothschilds have lived out lives of luxurious ordinariness; the family shrewdness and sophistication has not been evenly distributed.

No modern family—neither the Krupps nor the Philipses nor the Thyssens—has been so important for so long in European business. Newer dynasties such as the Rockefellers and the Fords have made more millions, but modern standards of wealth do not really measure the Rothschilds. The fortune of the family's financiers totals anywhere from $500 million to $1 billion, but ledgers cannot reflect the Rothschild lands, their possessions and influence accumulated over the generations, their priceless collections of art. Though the Rothschilds' fortune has been subdivided more than 100 times over the years, it still seems inexhaustible. The family stands as elegant proof that to be truly rich in Europe is to be richer than anywhere else.

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