A couple weekends ago, I was finally able to make a visit to the beautiful Morgan Library & Museum in Manhattan. It’s been on my list for a long time because I have often seen photos of the fabulous multi-level library floating around the internet, and I really wanted to see this spectacular space for myself. And also, well, who doesn’t love a library?!?! Located on Madison Avenue between 36th and 37th Street, the Morgan Library & Museum (or “The Morgan” as it’s more commonly referred to) actually encompasses several buildings in which J.P. (Pierpont) Morgan once had his private library.
You probably already know of Mr. Morgan since his name is splashed about banks across America. What you might not know, though, is that he was an avid collector of books, art, gems, and more. He was also a benefactor to many cultural institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, and Harvard University.
His library was completed in 1906 next to his own Madison Avenue residence. It was designed by Charles McKim, and to give credit where credit is due, the man created a gorgeous building. The library as you see it now is in its original location and has been kept true to its original look, but Morgan’s residence has since been replaced and other buildings have been added to create a larger complex, including a huge glass atrium that connects the buildings together in a nice bright space.
Morgan died in 1913, and a decade later his son transformed the Morgan Library into a public institution that could be enjoyed by all. The Morgan’s collections include rare manuscripts, original sheet music, ancient seals and tablets, Egyptian art, and more, and they continue to expand their collection of rare materials still today.
We started our visit walking through the tall atrium toward the back right corner where the library and Mr. Morgan’s study are located. We began in the study, and I marveled at the massive desk and the even more massive fireplace. Most of the art and materials in the study are from Morgan’s original collection, and the coolest part of the room (to me anyway), was the vault in the back corner designed to house Morgan’s most rare and valuable manuscripts. The walls are lined with steel, and a lock was added to the door to keep the contents inside safe and secure.
Next, we entered the lovely rotunda that is situated between the library and the study. This used to serve as the entryway from 36th Street, and you can still see the old bronze doors there today. There are giant marble columns and a beautiful mosaic-tiled ceiling. It is a stunning space that I’m sure must have impressed all who entered Morgan’s library through this entrance.
And through the other side of the rotunda, you enter the magical library itself, also known as the “East Room”. The library had been closed to the public briefly a decade ago, and a massive restoration project was completed in 2010 to bring the library back to its former glory and open up even more space to display Morgan’s collection. Three stories high and filled with walnut bookcases, the library is a dream for any book lover! I can’t even imagine what it must be like to have a library as spectacular as this…just to hold your own private collection.
As you enter the library, you’ll see to your right “one” of Morgan’s copies of the Gutenberg Bible. I say one because the Morgan actually owns three! They’re the only institution in the world to own so many copies of the 50 that are believed to be remaining in existence.
Throughout the rest of the library, you will see several other display cases including valuable books, letters, and sheet music, and you can also admire the many, many books lining the cases. As I was looking at the many titles on the shelves, I couldn’t help but marvel at the exceptionally clean and clear glass covering the cases. I even pointed it out to Mike who laughed at me because as it turns out, there was actually no glass between the metal frames at all! Derp.
A skylight covers much of the center of the ceiling, and above the (yet again massive) fireplace, is an enormous 16th-century tapestry. As you walk around, you’ll notice that there are no ladders or visible stairways to allow you to access the second and third levels. Instead, there are actually two stairways hidden inside the bookcases themselves. If you peek through the crack in the bookcase in the left corner near the entrance, you can just barely make out the marble spiral staircase hidden inside!
If you can pull yourself away from the magnificent library, you can head to the “North Room” next like we did. Even more books can be found here on the higher shelves, and on the lower shelves and within the center of the room are multiple cases which contain Morgan’s collection of ancient artifacts such as jewelry, seals, and jewel-covered books. One item I particularly admired was a stone tablet from the 1200s with an inscription in the Assyrian language.
There’s just something magical to me about being able to read the thoughts that one took time to write hundreds of years ago. Certainly, you can read history books to get a recounting of facts from prior centuries, but to see someone’s first-person thoughts from so long ago is pretty amazing (even regardless of the content). I can totally understand the appeal that some of these items had for Morgan because they are utterly fascinating to see!
Finally, we left the beautiful library space and moved on to the more modern section of the Morgan Library & Museum complex. Part of the appeal of attending when we did was to see their current Frankenstein exhibit, which runs through January 27th. You can learn a bit about Mary Shelley and see parts of the original manuscript, various editions of the book, old-school medical devices, movie posters, and more. If you’re a fan, get to the Morgan this week before the exhibit closes to get your fill of all things Frankenstein! Or…you can wait until January 25th when their Tolkein exhibit opens if Middle-earth is more your jam.
Regardless, if you are a book lover and haven’t yet visited the magnificent Morgan, then get thee to the library! The Morgan Library & Museum is truly one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited in NYC (or anywhere for that matter), and I promise you’ll be delighted when you see it.
Have you been to Morgan Library already yourself? Let me know what you thought the first time you stepped inside!
Plan Your Own Visit
Where to Go
- The Morgan Library & Museum: 225 Madison Ave. (between 36th and 37th), New York, NY 10016
When to Go
- The Morgan Library is open Tuesday through Sunday, with later hours on Fridays.
- They offer free admission on Friday evenings from 7-9 pm.
- You may also access the 1906 McKim rooms (which includes Morgan’s study, library, and rotunda) for free from 3-5 pm on Tuesdays and 4-6 pm on Sundays.
- Check their exhibitions list to see what will be on display when you intend to visit.
- You can also check their public programs list and calendar to see what other upcoming events may be of interest.
Tips for Visiting
- If you visit in the wintertime, you’ll either need to wear your coat or check it when you enter. You can’t carry it with you throughout the exhibits.
- You can plan a meal with your visit at either the Cafe or Dining Room. Check the Morgan Library’s website for hours and menus.
- If you want to save some cash, visit during their free hours! Otherwise, it’s about $20 to visit.
- Don’t forget to check out the gift shop. It’s fairly extensive, and though I’m not normally a gift shop person, I was pleasantly surprised to see how much cool stuff they had there, including a fabulous book selection.