Today, in our continuing series about New York City’s often-overlooked gems, we visit the Morgan Library & Museum, formerly the Pierpont Morgan Library, located in the Murray Hill neighborhood on Madison Avenue between 36th and 37th streets.
John Pierpont Morgan was a financier during the so-called “Gilded Age.” Between 1890 and 1913, his company organized or financed 42 major American corporations. In about 1890, Pierpont, as he preferred to be called, began collecting important manuscripts and works of art from around the world. In 1902, he engaged McKim, Mead & White, renowned architects, to design a building in the same block as his home to hold his collection. When completed in 1906, the classic marble building cost $1.2 million (about $30 million today) and featured marble blocks cut so precisely that they did not require mortar between them. The library opened in 1910, with Belle da Costa Greene, the African American heroine of 2022’s “The Personal Librarian,” its librarian and curator. By the time of Morgan’s death in 1913, his massive collection included ancient manuscripts, Egyptian art, Renaissance paintings, Chinese porcelains and much more.
After Morgan’s widow, Frances, died in 1924, his son, John Pierpont Morgan Jr., known as “Jack,” created a public institution to own the library and its collections. Today, the Morgan Library & Museum houses the nation’s second-largest collection of musical manuscripts, including the score for “Symphony No. 35,” autographed by Mozart, and Bob Dylan’s notes for the lyrics to “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Other highlights include a 15th-century picture Bible from France, a 15th-century Gutenberg Bible, the journal Henry David Thoreau used in writing “Walden Pond,” and a manuscript of “A Christmas Carol,” with Charles’ Dickens’ handwritten changes. My personal favorites include 1-inch cylindrical seals from ancient Sumer that can be rolled to create detailed, three-dimensional images.