Shortly after the War of 1812 began, Nathan, confident that the American politicians would renew his bank’s charter, turned his attention to Europe. He was anxious to send Napoleon to Russia. Like his father, he believed that more gold bullioto the Uralsn was needed if the number of central banks, and hence the amount of credit, was to grow. It was crucial to accumulate as much gold as possible, at least until the US paper dollar became as good as gold, but that would take a lot of gold and a lot of years. The problem in 1812 was that gold mining was still in its infancy, and that even exploiting alluvial gold deposits was a problem. However, it just so happened that the most advanced mining engineering school in the world was in Paris. L’École des Mines de Paris founded in 1783 had developed the latest techniques for extracting alluvial gold, and this gave Nathan the wherewithal to pursue his plan.
In 1803, alluvial gold had been discovered on the western slope of the Urals in Russia, and it was well known that the Tsar wanted to keep it a secret, for he didn’t want the serf population to start a gold rush. In 1810, Nathan who was setting the world price for gold bullion out of the City in London, was well aware of that situation. Therefore, he would entice Napoleon to go and force Tsar Alexander’s hand to open the country to private gold mining. Napoleon would take a corps of engineers with him, and once Alexander was forced into accepting, that elite corps would be sent to the Urals in order to launch and supervise mining operations. Of course, Napoleon was to keep all the proceeds from the sale of the mined gold. Nathan would open a Russian bank and buy all the gold as it was being produced while giving the Tsar his royalties. Letters of exchange in pounds would be sent to Napoleon in Paris, and the gold would find its way to Nathan’s vaults in the City. Napoleon and the Tsar would get the paper, and Nathan would get the gold.
Napoleon started the Russian campaign in June, 1812, and he was heading into a Russian winter which made absolutely no sense. After major losses, he entered Moscow. But since the retreating Russian Army had burned and stripped the city of supplies, it was a deadly place to be for a starving army. He could easily have gone on to Saint Petersburg to defeat Tsar Alexander and winter his troops in that city, but he chose to stay in Moscow for a whole five weeks instead. Napoleon was obviously waiting for an answer from the Tsar, to whom he had issued an ultimatum regarding opening the country to gold mining. After likely receiving assurances from Tsar Alexander that it would be done, Napoleon decided to spare Saint Petersburg, and took off as fast as he could for France, but not before dispatching to the Urals a contingent of 22 000 men headed by the engineers from l’Ecole des Mines de Paris. If Napoleon then took the same direct way back to France, knowing full well the countryside was totally devastated by the passing of his army on the way to Moscow, and that winter was around the corner, it was because he was in a hurry to reap the benefits of the campaign and was willing to gamble. Napoleon made it OK, but his army wasn’t so lucky. Winter set in early, and his army was completely annihilated.
Later that year, the Russian Senate issued an Act authorizing subjects and private companies to mine gold and silver ores providing they pay royalties to the Severnaya Kazna National State Bank. As expected, numerous private mining companies with Russian names started mining operations, and the country’s gold output was as much as 2 tons in that first year. Financing research and development in gold mining technology and buying the gold produced at the price set by Nathan in the City would become the modus operandi for all time.
Meanwhile, in Judengasse, Mayer’s health was failing. Upon receiving the bad news, Nathan duly rushed to Frankfurt, and was at his father’s bedside when he died on September 19, 1812. One can only wonder if the War in America declared on June 18, 1812, happening at the same time Napoleon was starting his Russian Campaign, didn’t adversely affect Mayer’s health. Did he think Nathan was in too much of a hurry? Did he think too many people were being killed needlessly in the name of gold? Or was 68 considered a ripe old age for the times? No matter, the greatest man who ever lived passed away in almost total anonymity in his German ghetto.
One thing is certain, Gretel must have reminded Nathan of the absolute necessity for discretion and anonymity so dear to his father. In London, Nathan had been doing exactly the opposite of what Mayer had always done, that is, keep a low profile while building the greatest financial dynasty of all time. Gretel couldn’t have been too happy with Nathan’s extravagant ways.
Nathan attended his father’s funeral with his son Lionel, who was four years old at the time. Gretel bonded instantly with her grandson, and when he took over the reins of power after his father’s death in 1836, Gretel was still living in Judengasse. She died much later, in 1849, and Lionel visited the old woman he loved as often as he could. Gretel had a great influence on him, for under his direction, the dynasty built by Mayer slowly went back to keeping a low profile, to the point where most people today wonder if it ever really existed. Nonetheless, to this day, Nathan’s bank in the City fixes the world price for gold out on a daily basis.