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The cliché of fabulous new wealth is “rags to rags in three generations”, but each generation of the Rockefellers kept on building up the current account, while spreading the philanthropic interests.

That is what makes these two dynasties so exceptional – not just their dizzying wealth, but the fact that they have held on to it for so long: and not just the loot, but also their family companies.Other banking dynasties have fallen by the wayside – SG Warburg, founded by Siegmund Warburg in 1946, was swallowed up by Swiss Bank Corporation in 1995; its asset management side, Mercury Asset Management, was taken over by Merrill Lynch in 1997.Almost immediately, NM Rothschild became a major force in the City, bankrolling the Duke of Wellington during the Napoleonic Wars. The son of a travelling salesman, he made a fortune in food supply, before turning to oil refining in Ohio.By 1868, he owned the biggest oil refinery in the world, in partnership with his brother.And the youngest brother, David, is still with us, at 96, now the Rockefeller patriarch and still hurling dollar bills at charitable institutions.

In 2005, he gave away £64 million to the Museum of Modern Art and Rockefeller University – each.Barings Bank, the oldest merchant bank in London, founded in 1762, collapsed in 1995, thanks to the disastrous £827 million punt taken by Nick Leeson.Lehman Brothers remained under family control until the death of Robert Lehman in 1969 – the bank’s collapse in 2008 was the spark that lit the greatest recession since the Thirties.Those deep foundations produce a lasting infrastructure, a lasting familial obligation to the business, and that lasting association in the popular mind between a particular surname and great wealth .Also, the Rockefeller and Rothschild families were consciously dynastic from the moment their businesses began.The founder of the Rothschild empire, Mayer Amschel Rothschild, was born in Frankfurt, Germany, the Jewish descendant of a 16th-century Rothschild, Izaak, who took his name from the sign outside his house – “Zum roten Schild” (“At the sign of the red shield”).