In the beginning: Gutenberg Bible

August 24th, 2014, 2pm

It was 25.6°C with few clouds. The breeze was gentle.

Let’s begin with the easy part. If you are a bibliophile in New York City, you should visit The Morgan Library and Museum. In addition to a fantastic permanent collection that has not one, but three, Gutenberg Bibles they have excellent visiting shows. The current exhibition is of items from Oxford’s Bodleian Library including both an early copy of the Magna Carta and Tolkein’s hand-painted dust jacket for The Hobbit.

Now for the hard part. It’s impossible to get past the fact that this was once someone’s private library. The entire room that was once the office of The Morgans’ own personal librarian, the portrait of J.P. Morgan’s wife painted by John Singer Sargent, all point to the fact that one family’s wealth made it possible to collect these cultural signifiers and preserve them. For me, this raises a whole bunch of questions. How were both the objects themselves and the wealth used to buy them acquired? Why were these objects acquired over other objects? What was left out and why? And how do today’s equivalents of the Morgans, the tech and hedge fund billionaires, compare in terms of philanthropy? Will they have the same kind of legacy? One could also argue Google’s effort to digitize the world’s knowledge will have exponentially greater impact and accessibility than any library started by the Morgans or Carnegies. Still, I can’t help but feel like the philanthropy by the current crop of billionaires is rather thin. Maybe it’s because we are living in the same time period and their contributions won’t be evident until some time in the future. I’m sure Pierpont Morgan’s image today is different than it was 100 years ago. Or maybe it’s because the efforts of today’s tech billionaires is getting drowned out by stories about Hobbit weddings.

Shu, tobiah, Craig and David Wade said thanks.

Share this moment

Michael Silva

a somewhat undisciplined existence.

Other moments in New York

Create a free account

Have an account? Sign in.

Sign up with Facebook