Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2005 Issue

Search Through J.P. Morgan's Private Collection -- from Your Home

Welcome to Corsair, from the Morgan Library website.


By Michael Stillman

A century ago, one of America's most remarkable men put together one of the most remarkable collections of books, manuscripts and art. He was J. Pierpont Morgan, a name still familiar today, even if many have forgotten why. Morgan was a banker, at one time so wealthy and powerful that he personally financed the United States out of its financial crises (we could use him today). He did the same for Wall Street when it faced financial distress. Morgan formed several landmark corporations, including General Electric, based on Thomas Edison's company, and U.S. Steel, created when he bought out Andrew Carnegie for a cool $480 million (back when $480 million was serious money). In an era when the captains of American industry were at the height of their wealth and power, Morgan was the biggest of all.

Part of that fortune was used to create a collection of books, manuscripts, and art. Morgan collected all types of manuscripts of importance, rather than a limited field. As a result, his collection includes handwritten items from people as diverse as Napoleon, Marie Antoinette, Isaac Newton, Queen Elizabeth I, Thomas Jefferson, Henry David Thoreau, Abraham Lincoln, as well as very old items predating the invention of printing. Printed material starts, of course, with Gutenberg's Bible. It was an amazing collection, but even more remarkable is how the collection has grown over the years, even though Morgan himself has been gone for nearly a century. Morgan created a library to which he gave much of his collection. That library has not only survived, but thrived since Morgan died in 1913. Today, the Morgan Library in New York is a major repository of important cultural works. As a result of a gift of the entire library by Pierpont's son, J.P., Jr., it is now a public institution. Nine decades of additions have increased its collections to well beyond what Pierpont Morgan ever held. And now, this wonderful institution has moved into the 21st century with online resources that would have undoubtedly amazed Mr. Morgan. Among his holdings were railroads, which would have enabled people from the other side of the country to visit his library in just a few days. He could hardly have imagined that in 2005, people from the other side of the world could search his library in a fraction of a second via the internet.

The Morgan Library now offers an online catalogue to its collections, "Corsair" (named for Mr. Morgan's yacht), accessible to all through the internet. Corsair is based on the software used to search other large collections, such as that of the Library of Congress, Yale and Columbia Universities. Today, it can access listings for 95% of the material in the Morgan Library, including books, manuscripts, bindings, and artworks. The search engine is both complex and easy to use. Complex in that it affords numerous ways to search the collection to pinpoint what you seek, and yet it is straightforward and totally intuitive. Corsair was evidently designed for those of us who are unwilling to read instructions before beginning a project. You simply enter the parameters of the material you seek, and in one search, a listing of all applicable items possessed by the library will be generated.

Rare Book Monthly

  • Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Winston Churchill. The Second World War. Set of First-Edition Volumes. 6,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: A.A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard. A Collection of The Pooh Books. Set of First-Editions. 18,600 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Salvador Dalí, Lewis Carroll. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Finely Bound and Signed Limited Edition. 15,000 USD
    Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ian Fleming. Live and Let Die. First Edition. 9,500 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter Series. Finely Bound First Printing Set of Complete Series. 5,650 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ernest Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms. First Edition, First Printing. 4,200 USD
  • Potter & Potter Auctions
    How History Unfolds on Paper:
    Choice Selections from the Eric C. Caren Collection
    Part IX
    Starting 10AM CST
    April 18, 2024
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: [RUTH, George Herman “Babe” (1895-1948)]. Signed photograph. Circa 1930s. 191 x 248 mm. $1,500 to $2,500.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: HARRISON, Benjamin. Document signed (“Benj Harrison”) as governor of Virginia, certifying the service of Daniel Cumbo, a Black Revolutionary soldier. $6,000 to $9,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: ONE OF THE FIRST PRINTED ANNOUNCEMENTS OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. $4,000 to $6,000.
    Potter & Potter Auctions
    How History Unfolds on Paper:
    Choice Selections from the Eric C. Caren Collection
    Part IX
    Starting 10AM CST
    April 18, 2024
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: FIRST PRINTING OF LINCOLN’S IMMORTAL GETTYSBURG ADDRESS. $4,000 to $6,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: HIGHLY IMPORTANT MORMON ARCHIVE. ALLEY, George. Archive of 23 Autograph Letters Signed by Mormon Convert George Alley to His Brother Joseph Alley. $10,000 to $20,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: [AVIATION]. [ARMSTRONG, Neil A.] Aviation Hall of Fame Gold Medal MS64 NGC, Awarded to Neil Armstrong in 1979. $2,000 to $3,000.
    Potter & Potter Auctions
    How History Unfolds on Paper:
    Choice Selections from the Eric C. Caren Collection
    Part IX
    Starting 10AM CST
    April 18, 2024
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: NEWLY DISCOVERED FIRST PRINTING OF "WITH MALICE TOWARDS NONE... " FROM THE ONLY NEWSPAPER ACTUALLY ALLOWED TO PARTICIPATE IN LINCOLN’S SECOND INAUGURAL PROCESSION. $4,000 to $8,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: THE MOST IMPORTANT GEORGE WASHINGTON DOCUMENT IN PRIVATE HANDS; GEORGE WASHINGTON’S COMMISSION AS COMMANDER IN CHIEF, 1775, ONE OF ONLY TWO ORIGINALS. $150,000 to $250,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: A VERY RARE ACCOUNT OF BLACKBEARD’S DEATH AND ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT PIRATE ITEMS EXTANT. $3,000 to $5,000.
    Potter & Potter Auctions
    How History Unfolds on Paper:
    Choice Selections from the Eric C. Caren Collection
    Part IX
    Starting 10AM CST
    April 18, 2024
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: EDISON, Thomas. Patent for Edison’s Improvements on the Electric-Light, No. 219,628. [Washington, D.C.: U.S. Patent Office], 16 September 1879. $2,000 to $3,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: [VIETNAM WAR]. The original pen used by Secretary of State William P. Rogers to sign the Vietnam Peace Agreement, Paris, 27 January 1973. $10,000 to $15,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: SONS OF LIBERTY FOUNDER COLONEL BARRÉ ANNOTATED TITLE-PAGE, “WHICH OUGHT TO ROUSE UP BRITISH ATTENTION”. $4,000 to $6,000.

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