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Earliest Drake Kleinwort ledger, 1866

​Earliest private ledger, 1866

Gold, Mexican cotton and enemy debts: archives of Kleinwort Benson Group, merchant investment bankers

In June 2017 London Metropolitan Archives announced the completion of the cataloguing of the business archives of Kleinwort Benson Group, highly influential City of London-based merchant investment bankers. This outstanding archive documents the origins of the group’s constituent companies, its partners and staff, clients and business concerns across Europe and world-wide since the late eighteenth century. Richard Wiltshire tells more.

Two banking families

The archives reflect the history of two families in banking, the Kleinworts, an Anglo-German family originating in Holstein, and the Bensons, originally from the Lake District.

Kleinworts, merchants and foreign bankers, was founded in 1855 by Alexander Kleinwort although its origins are traced to Herman Greverus, who established a business as a merchant at 3 White Hart Court, Lombard Street, City of London between 1829 and 1830. Kleinwort formed a partnership with Edward Cohen in 1851 as Greverus and Cohen and retired in 1855, whereupon Alexander Kleinwort became Cohen's partner, and the firm was restyled Kleinwort and Cohen. Kleinwort had served an apprenticeship and gained some experience as a merchant in Hamburg before going, in 1838, to Havana, Cuba, then an international trading centre based upon its sugar, coffee and tobacco production. In Cuba he became acquainted with his future business partners, Edward Cohen and James Drake, and gained further experience as a merchant and banker. He established the business with them in London becoming Drake, Kleinwort and Cohen. Upon Drake’s death the firm then became Kleinwort, Cohen and Company. 1867 saw the move to 20 Fenchurch Street where the firm remained through the twentieth century.

In 1881, Herman Greverus Kleinwort, Alexander's elder son, became a partner, and, in 1883 when Edward Cohen retired, Alexander's younger son, Alexander Drake Kleinwort, also became a partner, the firm being renamed Kleinwort, Sons and Company. Alexander senior died in 1886 and the business was continued by his two sons until 1907 when their nephew Herman Anton Andreae also became a partner. Alexander Drake Kleinwort (died 1935) was created a baronet in 1909 and Herman Greverus Kleinwort retired from active participation in the partnership in 1914.

The First World War could have ruined this Anglo-German firm, but their business as supplier of silver in London saved them from what they lost in acceptances and transactions with Germany. The 1930 banking crisis in Germany also could have been a disaster as the bank’s assets were frozen, but their diverse base saw benefits from the civil war in Spain.

In 1927, Sir Alexander Drake Kleinwort's two sons, Ernest Greverus Kleinwort and Cyril Hugh Kleinwort, were brought into the partnership and were joined in 1945 by Herman Kleinwort Andreae, son of Herman Andreae. In 1948 the partnership became a private limited company, Kleinwort, Sons and Company Limited and in 1955 Kleinworts Limited was created as a holding company.

In 1961 a merger with rival firm of Robert Benson, Lonsdale and Company, investment bankers, created Kleinwort Benson Limited. Robert Benson was a family firm with Quaker origins in the Lake District. Established in the 1770s, by the 1850s Bensons had moved to London to become investment bankers acting as agents across the world. They provided capital for the Western expansion of the American railroad system and in 1940 acquired Mexican Cotton Estates of Tlahualilo Limited. This firm was established in London in 1903 as the holding company for the Mexican company Compania Agricola Industrial Colonizadora Limitada del Tlahualilo S.A. The business was involved in cotton cultivation and managed cotton plantations in the La Laguna region of Northern Mexico. The company had, at times, a difficult relationship with the Mexican government which is documented by correspondence, reports and memoranda in the collection (CLC/B/140/MX01 to MX06). The firm increasingly specialized in the management of investment trusts. In 1947, Robert Benson and Company Limited merged with Lonsdale Investment Trust Limited and the banking business became a wholly-owned subsidiary of a company operating under name of Robert Benson, Lonsdale and Company Limited.

Herman Anton Andreae letter, 1915

​Herman Anton Andreae letter, 1915

In 1966 Sharps Pixley, bullion dealers were acquired by Kleinwort Benson Limited and later sold to Deutsche Morgan Grenfell in 1993. This firm had been formed in 1957 through the merger of two of London's leading gold dealers, Sharps Wilkins (established in 1778) and Pixley & Abell. In 1995 Kleinwort Benson was acquired by Dresdner Bank forming investment banking arm, Dresdner Kleinwort. This name was dropped in 2009 with the acquisition of Dresdner Bank by Commerzbank.

Scope and cataloguing project

The collection consists of comprehensive series of business records with archives of constituent predecessors, acquired companies and interests. They include partners’ and staff papers, operational material, accounting and financial records, client records, and staff and property papers. The records relate to company origins, partners and staff, clients and business concerns across the globe since the late eighteenth century.

The archive of Kleinwort, Sons and Company consisting of 853 volumes and files was first deposited in 1980 and 1981 and catalogued 1986-7. Extensive additional records numbering over 6200 volumes or files reflecting the wider banking group were received between 1998 and 2002 via the Hampshire Archives Trust (HAT). All records were gifted to the City of London Corporation in 1998 together with funding to catalogue the additional records box-listed by HAT. Since 1998 the bulk of the archive has been made available by prior appointment with no online descriptions available. In 2015 London Metropolitan Archives began a project to compile company histories, re-structure, re-package and label the collection with an archivist for one month and two interns covering one post for six months working on the collection.

Highlights and research

The collection commands wide research use including socio-economic studies such as monetary circulation, war time, supply of gold and commodities, case studies on business and departmental reorganisations, share issues and privatisation.

An excellent source about the families, their companies and interests and associated mergers is Jehanne Wake’s history 'Kleinwort Benson: The History of Two Families in Banking' (1997, Oxford University Press) (LMA library: 33.22 (KLE)). Staff interviews and other research papers relating to this publication and other histories are held in the collection in section CLC/B/140/KB08.

Highlights include Kleinwort, Sons and Company’s ‘subject files’ (series reference CLC/B/140/KS04/03) which contain reports and correspondence concerning business ventures, proposals and clients. They document global business concerns and provide a valuable insight to the working practices of the company. Issues faced by the firm and its clients are well-documented in the files dating from the early to mid-twentieth century including declined international business proposals and fraudulent and enemy debts arising in times of war. Partners’ letter books record their outgoing correspondence discussing both business and family matters. The letter pictured illuminates the views of Herman Anton Andreae in 1915 in support of the decision to establish conscription (enforced enlistment) of soldiers in the First World War (CLC/B/140/KS02/03/002).

The earliest records are those of Sharps Pixley Limited (CLC/B/140/SP01 to 06). The origins of the company date back to the eighteenth century when William Sharp started a diamond brokerage in 1778 near the Royal Exchange, City of London. A series of monthly ledgers from 1796 (CLC/B/140/SP03/03) and other bullion dealing series (CLC/B/140/SP04/01) have been very popular with academic researchers.

Rachel Cole looking at the earliest private register

​Rachel Cole looking at the earliest private register

Access

The archives are available for researchers to access. You can view the catalogue for this collection on LMA’s online catalogue under the reference CLC/B/140. Users should note that some records are stored off-site and therefore available with 48 hours’ notice. Records dating from 1960 (which were formerly available by permission only) are now available for general access. A significant proportion of records are in German and some other languages.

Acknowledgements

LMA would like to thank Louise Harrison, archivist and interns Rachel Cole and Louise-Ann Hand for their work on the collection, listed with thanks to the Hampshire Archives Trust; Commerzbank through Dresdner Kleinwort for donating the records and funding the cataloguing project; and the ongoing interest shown by the Benson and Kleinwort families and Jehanne Wake, historian in making this collection available.

Published:
12 July 2017
Last Modified:
23 January 2018

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