The Comptoir national d’escompte de Paris (1848-1966)

Saran, archives, 1971, BNP Paribas Historical Archives


  • Date range: 1888-1976
  • Physical description: Paper, posters, photos, prints
  • Volume: 2,383 in UA
  • Physical location: with the exception of a few items kept at the ANMTR, the whole collection is kept in Dinan (Côtes d´Armor).


CNEP kept its archives for a long time in its own premises, in Paris as well as in the provinces or in its subsidiaries abroad. The bank’s merger with Banque Nationale pour le Commerce et l’Industrie (BNCI) in 1966, both nationalised, to become Banque Nationale de Paris (BNP), and the government’s desire for decentralisation in national companies changed its conservation policy. In June 1971, an archive building entirely dedicated to this archiving activity was opened in Saran in Loiret, by André Bettencourt, Minister of Regional Planning. This building, designed by the bank’s architectural teams, was specially dedicated to the conservation of the bank’s interim archives. This was a 20,000 m² building, allowing the storage of 450 kml of archives.

Around the year 2000, while the group’s archive management policy turned towards outsourcing, this was not the case for historical archives, which continued to be stored internally. Concentrated on the Combs-la-Ville site, the historical archives were then transferred in 2020 to the Taden site in the suburbs of Dinan. Kept in the old securities safes, the historical archives of the BNP Paribas group were thus kept in optimal conditions.

Conditions for access and use

  • Access condition: communicable with authorisation
  • Language: French
  • Material characteristics and technical constraints:

In addition to the paper archives, we keep: posters, which make up the AF series, divided into four sub-series according to the poster size; a collection of photos, from several collections that have been reorganised. The photographs are marked “Fi” and reorganised in several sub-series within the Fi series; a library, made up of monographs and serial publications; a collection of periodicals; objects, classified under the OB series.


Following the economic crisis of 1847, which saw 829 banking institutions fail between 1846 and 1848, and the revolutionary turmoil of February 1848, the money markets were paralysed. Payments in cash replaced supplier credit and trade discounting. Faced with this situation, urgent measures were needed to revive trade. The provisional government, led by Louis-Antoine Garnier-Pagès, issued a decree to set up comptoirs d’escompte or local banks offering short-term credit to unblock bank lending and stem the recession of the years 1845-1848.

The creation of the comptoirs d’escompte, established at French department level, brought together the State, the municipalities and the business community. 66 comptoirs were created, including Comptoir National d’Escompte de Paris (CNEP), created by decree on 10 March 1848. With a share capital of 20 million francs, CNEP was constituted in the amount of one third in cash by the subscribing partners, mainly those of the corporation of booksellers and publishers, in the amount of one third in bonds from the City of Paris, and in the amount of one third in Treasury bonds from the State.

The law of 10 June 1853 authorised the transformation of the comptoirs d’escompte of 1848 into public limited companies, “without any assistance or guarantee from the state, departments or municipalities”. Eleven counters, including that of Paris, followed this direction and became private companies. CNEP was definitively released from state protection and participation, and became Comptoir d´Escompte de Paris (CEP) in July 1854

CEP specialised in discounting (escompte), and on its creation, it defined a new growth strategy to support trading in all its transactions, by broadening the scope and regions of its business. The decree of 25 May 1860 allowed it to set up agencies in the French colonies and abroad. In addition, the signing of a free-trade treaty with the UK in 1860 facilitated the roll-out of large-scale retail. Thus, CEP saw rapid international growth, making it the first French bank to have created, from scratch, a network of agencies abroad.

From 1860, the company set up banking support points along the most intense or promising trading axes in the vicinity of the Indian Ocean and in the Far East: branches were opened in Shanghai and Calcutta (1860), Réunion, Bombay, Hong Kong and Saigon, then London, Yokohama (1867), San Francisco and Alexandria (1877), Melbourne, Sydney (1881) and Madagascar (1885). It was known as the “French Bank” in the East. A stated intention was to compete on their own territory with British banks and trade, which French companies, exporters and importers, wanted to free themselves from: the first agencies to open were in areas of British influence. But it was also a way of finding new supply areas for Europe, which in the 1860s experienced a real cotton shortage due to the Civil War in the United States. It was not until 1867 that the first provincial agency opened in Nantes, which maintained close relations with the West Indies. Then came Lyon (1868), the capital of silk, and Marseille (1869), the colonial city. These openings in trading metropolises served as a link between French production and the rest of the world. 

Ahead of the war in 1870, CEP was the leading French bank. Discounting remained its main activity, but at the same time, it saw growth in deposits and agency-related activities. But faced with the country’s general breakdown after the French defeat of 1870, CEP’s operations slowed, mainly because of the monetary crisis in 1871. The appointment of Edouard Hentsch as head of CEP in 1874 temporarily transformed it, directing its activities towards major industrial and financial affairs. CEP thus became a mixed bank, raising large amounts of capital.

In 1887, faced with the deterioration of the economic climate for CEP in the Far East, a direct consequence of the crisis in the Lyon silk industry, various conflicts in the Far East and the financial crisis of 1883, CEP was involved in some hazardous copper transactions: it was discovered that the bank had financed industrialist Eugène Secrétan, causing the biggest speculation of the history of copper production. It helped his Société des Métaux, via pledges of around 60 million francs, which enabled it to control large stocks of copper[]. Through an alliance with English, American, Swedish and Spanish producers, which provided it with three years of production and the equivalent of the global supply, i.e. 540,000 tonnes, the industrialist tried to make enormous capital gains, with the agreement of the CEP Chairman of the Bosard of Directors, Edouard Hentsch, a partner in Hentsch Frères. Unfortunately, production continued, the market slowed to combat this spurious rise, and copper prices collapsed. 

Faced with the increasingly massive mistrust of clients who wanted to recover their assets, and following the suicide of director Eugène Denfert-Rochereau, CEP had to go into liquidation. Aware that CEP’s closure would endanger the entire financial system, Finance Minister Maurice Rouvier decided to come to its aid. Banque de France guaranteed an advance of one hundred million francs (0.5% of the then GDP) at the government’s request, to be able to ensure savers and investors could withdraw their assets. In return, it asked for its portfolio to be handed over, and a commitment of 20 million francs from other bankers. The bank’s share price fell by a factor of ten. The amicable liquidation of the Comptoir d’Escompte de Paris became necessary in April 1889, one month before the start of the Universal Exhibition in Paris.. Directors were obliged to make a financial contribution from their personal fortunes, several of them being prosecuted for false accounting and monopolisation.

Thanks to its network and its international know-how, it was decided to reconstitute CNEP, which was recreated in June 1889, inheriting the CEP’s client base. Alexis Rostand, former director of the Marseille agency, takes over the management.. The bank was transformed into a large deposit bank and remained very active abroad and in France: in 1919, it helped create the French American Banking Corporation (FABC), a symbol of the institution’s establishment in the United States. At the same time, it widened its spheres of influence to North Africa (in 1893 in Tunisia, and from 1897 with the opening of several agencies in Morocco).

In France, the banking institution prospered, expanding its national network and taking part in numerous issues on the Paris market: in 1913, it ranked among the top six by capitalisation on the Paris Stock Exchange. Despite the crisis of 1929 and the Second World War, during which it took part in loans, it was, at the end of the conflict, France’s third largest deposit bank, with 530 agencies and branches. 

CNEP worked very actively for the industrialisation of France, establishing links with many expanding companies. This concerned companies in the field of public transport, electricity, gas, mining and metallurgical industries. Thus, to meet medium-term credit needs, CNEP helped create Crédit National and, on an equal basis with Crédit Lyonnais, UCINA (Union pour le Crédit à l’Industrie Nationale) in 1919.

On liberation, CNEP was one of the four large deposit banks nationalised (along with BNCI, Crédit Lyonnais and Société Générale) by the Minister of Finance René Pleven (law of 2 December 1945).

From 1945 to 1966, CNEP maintained the main lines of its strategy defined in the interwar period: selective establishment of its offices, centralisation of administrative and accounting operations. In 1966, it had 733 agencies in the provinces and more than 100 in Ile de France, practically double that in 1946 (441). Abroad, it gained footholds in the UK, the United States, Belgium, India and Australia.

In 1966, on the decision of Minister of Finance Michel Debré, Comptoir National d’Escompte de Paris merged with Banque Nationale pour le Commerce et l’Industrie (BNCI) to create Banque Nationale de Paris (BNP). Power went to Henry Bizot, chairman of CNEP and appointed chairman of the new institution, and Pierre Ledoux, CEO of BNCI, who became CEO of BNP.

Additional sources


Comptoir national d’escompte de Paris, 1930, brochure de 20 p.

N. STOSKOPF, “La fondation du Comptoir national d’escompte de Paris, banque révolutionnaire (1848)” [“The foundation of the Comptoir National d’Escompte de Paris, a revolutionary bank (1848)], HES, 2002, volume 21, number 3, pp. 395-411

N. STOSKOPF, Alphonse Pinard et la révolution bancaire du Second Empire [Alphonse Pinard and the banking revolution of the Second Empire], 1998, HES, 20 p

F. TORRES, Une banque moderne. Histoire de la BNP et de ses deux maisons-mères [A modern bank. History of BNP and its two parent companies], Public Histoire, 1992, Paris, volume 1

F. TORRES, Banquiers d’avenir. Des comptoirs d’escompte à la naissance de BNP Paribas [Bankers of the future. From comptoirs d’escompte to the birth of BNP Paribas], 2000, Albin Michel. 

G. DE LASSUS (dir.), The History of BNP Paribas in India, 1860-2010, BNP Paribas India, 2010, 116 pp.

R. HENTSCH, Banquiers à Genève et à Paris au XIXe siècle [Bankers in Geneva and Paris in the 19th century], 1996, 318 p.

C. BELOT-RONZON, Alexis Rostand (1844-1919), musicien et banquier [“Alexis Rostand (1844-1919), musician and banker], Provence historique, volume 54, fascicle 216, 2004, pp. 195-228,

H. BONIN, “Le comptoir national d’escompte de Paris dans l’entre-deux-guerres” [“Comptoir National d’Escompte de Paris in the interwar period”], Etudes et Documents IV, CHEFF, 1992, p. 292-299

H. BONIN, “Le Comptoir national d’escompte de Paris, une banque impériale (1848-1940)” [“Comptoir National d’Escompte de Paris, an imperial bank (1848-1940)”], Revue française d’histoire d’outre-mer, 1991, Volume 78, Numbe 293, pp. 477-497. More particularly, pp. 486-493

N. ICHOU-COUSSEMENT, Les employés de banque du CNEP et de la BNCI : parcours de travail et temps de vie (1848-1970), [The bank employees of CNEP and BNCI: work and life paths (1848-1970)] doctoral thesis

V.A. NGUYEN,  La vie boursière du Comptoir National d’Escompte de Paris, 1848-1945 [The stock market life of Comptoir National d’Escompte de Paris, 1848-1945], memoire