A Christmas Gift for Pierpont Morgan

What do you get for the dad who has everything? Something more personal than a sweater or tie, for sure. Books tend to be a good choice, but if he has already built a stunning three-tiered library and study to house his growing collection of books and manuscripts, the latest bestseller just won't do. One year, J.P. Morgan, Jr. (known as Jack) found a perfect little gift for his father. In 1906 and 1907, Pierpont Morgan had acquired some manuscripts of the American writer Bret Harte. Largely forgotten today, Harte was one of America's most popular (and well-paid) writers of the late 19th century. Jack built on this interest of his father's by giving him, for Christmas in 1909, the manuscript of Harte's short story How Santa Claus came to Simpson's Bar.

The manuscript is written on oblong yellow-gold sheets of paper and Harte has inserted a few revisions, showing us that this is a working draft. The story is about a sick boy who on Christmas Eve asks his father, a barkeep in the Sacramento valley, whether "Sandy Claws" is real. The boy doesn't know that Christmas is a holiday and he's never heard of Santa until the day before when someone tells him that "everywhere else but yer everybody gives things to everybody Chrismiss" and that someone named climbs down the chimney and leaves gifts in the children's boots. Overhearing the sad exchange, a bar patron rides out into the night to acquire some gifts for the boy. He returns, wounded by a highwayman, just before daybreak with a satchel of toys: "It don't look like much, that's a fact," said Dick, ruefully . . . "But it's the best we could do . . . Take 'em, Old Man, and put 'em in his stocking, and tell him -- tell him, you know -- hold me, Old Man --" The Old Man caught at his sinking figure. "Tell him," said Dick, with a weak little laugh -- "tell him Sandy Claus has come."

The gift clearly touched a soft spot in Pierpont Morgan's heart -- when the manuscripts collection was assigned formal accession numbers, this, along with another Christmas gift from Jack, were given MA 1 and MA 2.

The sentimental story was first printed in the Atlantic Monthly in March of 1872. To read it in full, click here. And to learn more about the manuscript, click here.

The Leon Levy Foundation is generously underwriting a major project to upgrade catalog records for the Morgan's collection of literary and historical manuscripts. The project is the most substantive effort to date to improve primary research information on a portion of this large and highly important collection.

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