In 1890, when his father died and left him the family’s London banking house and millions of dollars, J. Pierpont Morgan began collecting on a grand scale. Over the next three decades he spent $60 million (nearly a billion dollars today) on books and art. “Morgan’s collecting tastes could only be described as encyclopedic—what he amassed in such a short period encompassed virtually the full range of artistic and human achievement in Western civilization, from antiquity to modern times,” explains today’s Morgan Library and Museum.
Morgan’s scholarly nephew and a young librarian he hired helped guide him through many extraordinarily savvy purchases. Initially he kept, and displayed, his manuscripts and artwork at his homes. Eventually he outgrew those quarters, and so he asked the architect Charles McKim to design “a gem” of a building next to his home in New York City, for publicly displaying his gathered objects.
When Morgan died in 1913, up to three quarters of his enormous net worth was tied up in his book and art collection. He left the disposition of these objects to his son, Jack, with the requirement that the objects be “permanently available for the instruction and pleasure of the American people.”
Jack was forced to sell some objects to pay taxes. Others were donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford. Morgan’s collections of books, manuscripts, and drawings, however, remained intact and became the core of the Morgan library when it opened in 1924 as a public institution, with its own board, private endowment, and one of the world’s most impressive set of documents.
- Morgan Library, themorgan.org/about/history-of-the-morgan