During the last two decades of his life—from the 1890s until 1913—Morgan spent some $60 million on art (about $900 million today). From the beginning, it was clear that Morgan's collecting tastes could only be described as encyclopedic—what he amassed in such a short period encompassed virtually the full range of artistic and human achievement in Western civilization, from antiquity to modern times.
He acquired art objects numbering in the thousands, in a wide range of media—from bronzes, porcelains, watches, ivories, and paintings to furniture, tapestries, armor, and ancient Egyptian artifacts as well as the rare books, manuscripts, drawings, prints, and ancient artifacts that are the core of the Morgan.
"No price," he was once reported to have said, "is too high for an object of unquestioned beauty and known authenticity."
As he formed his library, Morgan concentrated primarily on the growth of his autograph collection, which he had begun on a modest scale as a boy. Here as elsewhere he followed a pattern of buying both individual items and entire collections. In the former category were such prizes as the manuscript of Keats's Endymion and Dickens's Christmas Carol. Major purchases of collections included Sir James Fenn's English historical autographs and Stephen Wakeman's American literary autographs, which number over 250 and contained Hawthorne's and Thoreau's journals.