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Bass History of Business

Seligman Collection

The J. and W. Seligman Company, established in 1864, was one of America's early investment banking houses and provided a strong connection between the United States and Europe. The firm grew from Joseph Seligman, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1837 and worked for Asa Packer in Mauch Chunk (now Jim Thorpe) Pennsylvania before becoming an itinerant peddler. With his savings, Joseph financed the immigration of his seven brothers, one sister, and parents over a period of years. Joseph's brothers--William, James, Henry, Jesse, Leopold, Isaac and Abraham--would play a role in the development of the Joseph and William Seligman firm. His sister, Babette, would marry Max Stettheimer and bring another into the family's ventures. 

The Seligman archives contain the history of the family and some records of the various ventures of the brothers before the decision to enter investment banking. The years as peddlers and store keepers are not fully covered by correspondence, however, but by recollections of family members. The banking years began in New York in 1862, and a Frankfurt, Germany branch opened in 1864. For short periods there were branches in New Orleans, and San Francisco. The latter, the Anglo-California Bank, was subsequently acquired by the Crocker Bank. Eventually there would be branches in London and Paris, all guided by the New York office. 

The Seligman archives take a variety of forms but reflect the internal correspondence between the partners in various branches as they bought and sold bonds, formed syndicates, and shipped gold or silver, as well as personal letters about the family or family matters. 

  • Private Letter Book One: Letters written by Joseph Seligman between October 1868 and September 1873. Covers Civil War persons and events including negotiations for the 1871 refinancing of the Civil War. 
  • Private Letter Book Two: Letters by Leopold Seligman from January to August 1872. Main topic is the financing of the Erie Railroad. 
  • Private Letter Book Three: Letters written by Leopold and Isaac Newton Seligman (Joseph's son) from August 1872 to May 1873. The Erie and other companies are frequently mentioned. 
  • Private Letter Book Four: Letters by Leopold and Isaac N. Seligman between May 1873 to January 1874. A microfilm record extends this to 1898. Contains more on the Erie as well as the Panic of 1873. 
  • Private Letter Book Five: Letters by Isaac N. Seligman written between 1898 and April 1899. 
  • 2 letter books by Isaac N Seligman covering December 1904 to October 1916, including letters to President Theodore Roosevelt.
  • Letter Book of Henry Seligman (Frankfurt Branch) for August 1899 to June 1902. 

Albert and Frederick Strauss were hired in 1866 and became the first non-family managing partners in 1901. 

  • Frederick Strauss Letter Books, six volumes from Octorber 1899 to April 1927, covering various individuals, underwriting the securities of an assortment of railroad, mining, commercial, and other firms. 
  • Albert Strauss Letter Books, April 1903 to October 1927. Albert was involved in the financial reorganization of General Motors in 1910 and was a director until 1925. Also of note is correspondence regarding the William Cramp and Son Ship and Engine Building Company. 
  • The Inland Letter Books contain early records dealing with U.S. firms. These books contain statements and receipts for shipments of merchandise, monies, gold, silver, and stocks and bonds. These records also include correspondenece with San Francisco's Anglo-California Bank concerning gold transfers, illustrating its importance in finance at the time. 
  • The Foreign Letter Books contain records of dealings with the firm's foreign branches and other international banking houses. 
  • The Syndicate Books cover the period 1879-1913. There are over 2,000 pages detailing syndicates for railroads, steel and wire, the Panama Canal, the Peruvian National Loan, the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, investments in Russia, Standard Oil Company, shipbuilding, bridges, bicycles, mining, and a variety of other firms and industries. 

In addition, there are 23 boxes of letters, photographs, and clippings about the firm from its beginning to the present. These include a photograph of Mary Todd Lincoln and an appeal by Joseph Seligman to President Grant to take action to provide for presidential widows. Other photographs include Wall Street, several U.S. Presidents, financiers, and railroad scenes. 

The Seligman Archives continue to grow as more materials are received from the firm.