Inside legendary financier JP Morgan's $900 million personal art collection, which has a hidden staircase, fake bookcases, and a secret vault
- The Morgan Library and Museum in New York City houses the art collection of famed financier JP Morgan.
- The banking firm he founded, now called JPMorgan Chase & Co., became the largest bank in the US.
- In the last two decades of his life, Morgan spent $900 million (in today's dollars) on art.
- His library includes some unexpected secrets, like hidden staircases, fake bookcases, and a steel vault.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more.
From the outside, the Morgan Library and Museum doesn't look like a space that would house three Gutenberg Bibles, letters from George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, and a manuscript from Mozart.The museum complex, which spans half a city block in midtown Manhattan, was originally a series of private residences owned by John Piermont "JP" Morgan, the legendary financier credited with rescuing America from a financial crisis in the 1900s.Advertisement
Morgan founded the banking firm now called JPMorgan Chase & Co. in 1871. Today, it's the largest bank in the US.
The complex 's multiple structures have since been sewn together and opened to visitors. A café and gift shop are located inside a brownstone that once belonged to Morgan's son, and Morgan's own private rooms - a study, librarian's office, and main library - are found in the museum's central building. An annex where Morgan's personal residence once stood now holds galleries.Morgan dedicated the last two decades of his life to searching for rare, expensive finds to add to his vast art collection. He spent $900 million (in today's dollars) on art and rare artifacts, some of which are still housed in his private rooms.
Business Insider toured these rooms as part of Open House New York, a weekend-long event that grants entry to closed-off sites throughout the city. Among the more fascinating elements of the complex were a hidden staircase, fake bookcases, and a secret vault. Take a look.
The Morgan Library and Museum is located a few blocks from the Empire State Building in midtown Manhattan.
A grand rotunda marks the entrance to JP Morgan's private rooms. The blue-and-white apse depicts classical figures inspired by the work of Italian painter Raphael.Advertisement
The standout artifact in this room is a plaster cast of George Washington's face created by a French sculptor. It's our best understanding of what Washington actually looked like.
The librarian's office, located off the rotunda, contains a collection of Mesopotamian seals that's considered one of the best in the world.Advertisement
Greene helped buy and sell millions of dollars' worth of art on Morgan's behalf. After Morgan died, she was appointed the director of his library in 1924.
The office has a trick bookcase that swivels aside to reveal a staircase.Advertisement
The staircase is hidden behind a door in the entrance to the librarian's office.
The librarian's office, though grand, pales in comparison to the main library. The room is filled with one-of-a-kind artifacts.Advertisement
In the center is a tapestry meant to depict one of the seven deadly sins: avarice.
The library holds three Gutenberg bibles — the largest number in any single collection.Advertisement
Another rare treasure is the Lindau Gospels, which contains the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John from the Bible. It was the first medieval manuscript that Morgan bought.
Morgan kept his favorite works of art in his personal study. He also used the room for meetings with friends, art dealers, and colleagues.Advertisement
Morgan liked smoking cigars so much that he damaged his study walls, so the silk had to be replaced.
From the study, a thick door opens onto a steel vault. It was once hidden by a velvet curtain.Advertisement
Morgan used to have a portrait of his father hanging above the mantle opposite his desk. But that painting has been replaced with a self-portrait of Morgan made to hide his biggest insecurity: his red nose.
The entrance to library features an airy public atrium. Tall glass windows let you peer out at neighboring buildings in Manhattan.Advertisement
The re-design added around 75,000 square feet to the campus. The new spaces allow in lots of natural light — especially in the reading room, where scholars can study the old manuscripts.
In addition to rare books and artifacts, the complex is filled with personal mementos from Morgan's life. This bell came from one of his yachts.Advertisement
Morgan began to withdraw from the finance world when the library was finished in 1906. He died seven years later.
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