I recently released my novel BIRTHRIGHT in Kindle and print, in which I wanted to show how the great banking families, like the one in my novel, the Kronengolds, began in banking and grew into dynasties . Here’s an excerpt:
The beginning of the nineteenth century was turbulent and unpredictable. Winds of democracy, unleashed by the French Revolution, were blowing across Europe, sucking war behind them like debris, until war in the person of Napoleon became the gale itself. In such times clever men could do well.
In Frankfurt there was such a man, Solomon ben Abraham, the only son of the goldsmith Abraham ben Itzakh. He had grown up with none of his father's superb skill at transforming cold, hard metal into gleaming beauty, and his father had feared for the boy's future: For generations beyond memory the family had produced renowned goldsmiths, so useful to the nobility that their house had been left relatively unscathed by the butchery that periodically assaulted the Jewish ghetto. Abraham soon realized, however, that his son had been born with a gift as rare as his own. He understood money in a way that amounted to a kind of genius. He could manipulate it with all the dazzling facility of an artist his paints or a composer his notes. By age ten Solomon could calculate exchange rates and all the coin values of Europe's profusion of duchies and principalities and nations at near instant speed. Before his bar mitzvah he had turned the front room of the family house into a store, from which he sold Abraham's work at prices the artisan had believed impossible and to which he soon added other goods imported from all over Europe.
As the years passed the store outgrew these quarters, and Solomon, now a young man, rented part of the house next door. He could have afforded to build his own by then, but there was no empty land left behind the heavy gates that, on Sundays and Christian holidays, locked Jews into the overcrowded Frankfurt ghetto. For the sign above his store he chose three golden crowns, the mark his father and those who came before him engraved on the bottom of their gold articles. Crowns had been chosen to denote family pride and derived in feeling from the five gold balls that were the insignia of their former patrons, the Medici, whose goldsmiths the family had been. The turmoil that followed Lorenzo's death drove Solomon's ancestors from Renaissance Florence, and they settled eventually in this bustling Teutonic city on the Main River. Beneath the three crowns—the insignia was reduced from five to three as a show of respect—Solomon directed the sign painter to write, not merchant, but money changer, and he took the gold crowns for a surname: Kronengold. In money itself, he sensed—one of the few careers permitted a Jew—was his future and the future of the sons his shrewd, virtuous wife had started to bear him.
If one were then to have picked a family that would rise to dominate the finances of Europe, surely one would have skipped the little building with three crowns over its door on a street only twelve feet wide in a teeming ghetto of outcasts. But Solomon Kronengold understood money. And his wife bore clever sons. And that was the beginning.