13 The Other J. P. Morgan

Sign 13- The Other J.P. Morgan, obverse side

Sign 13- The Other J.P. Morgan, obverse side

The obverse side of this sign shows a pile of coins in front of the portraits of two men, an unknown young man and J. P. Morgan. Although Morgan would have been in his twenties during the Civil War, member Gregory Sholette chose to use Edward Steichen’s famous 1903 portrait for this sign (REPOhistory 1993, 16). This was the second of two photographs taken by Steichen in the short sitting. The first photograph was mild, however this second became a public image of him, despite Morgan tearing up the proof. Some critics of Steichen wonder if he intended to portray Morgan as the ruthless capitalist, a view which many people held. After the image circulated, Morgan attempted to purchase the original print from Steichen’s mentor, Alfred Stieglitz. With Stieglitz unwilling to sell, Morgan had to settle for a few copies of the print (Tucker 2011). The original portrait is a part of the Alfred Stieglitz Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Steichen Accession #49.55.167).

The portrait of J. P. Morgan looms behind a photo-recreation of the young man who represents “The Other J. P. Morgan,” Morgan’s draft substitute for the Civil War (REPOhistory 1993, 16). In 1863, the United States had its first draft to fill the ranks of those who had already been killed or had deserted fighting. Those who could afford to do so, such as Morgan, could pay $300 to have someone be a substitute. The draft law drew criticism from many people and eventually led to the New York Draft Riots of 1863 (Wheeler 2013). Sholette mentions these protests in the italicized paragraph on the reverse side of the sign.

While avoiding military service, J. P. Morgan and other wealthy men profited from the war by selling supplies to the Union and soldiers. Morgan purchased defective rifles for $3.50 from an arsenal and sold them for $22.00 (Boltz 2014). Morgan also participated in the New York Gold Exchange, or “Gold Room.” The value of gold behaved like a stock in relation to paper currency, and depended on the news from the battlefield. As Sholette describes on the sign, the price of gold fell with Union victories because paper currency grew stronger, and gold rose with Confederate victories because the value of paper currency fell. This amorality caused the New York Stock Exchange to forbid members from dealing in gold, which led some to start dealing gold in basements. This eventually became known as the New York Gold Exchange. Because gold dealing was dependent on information from the battlefield, Morgan installed the first private telegraph wire in his office and took advantage of the fact his operator was a friend of Grant’s telegrapher (Burrows and Wallace 1999, 900).

The pile of coins on the obverse side of this sign could represent the $300 J. P. Morgan paid for a draft substitute or they could represent the profits Morgan made from the war.


South side of Exchange Place between Nassau and William Street, in front of the J.P. Morgan Corporate Headquarters


13 The Other J. P. Morgan


Greg Sholette






Greg Sholette


Boltz, Martha M. 2014. “The Civil War: ‘A rich man’s battle but a poor man’s war.’” The Washington Times, December 31. Accessed April 15, 2017. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/dec/31/civil-war-rich-mans-battle-poor-mans-war/.

Burrows, Edwin G. and Mike Wallace. 1999. Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. New York: Oxford University Press. https://books.google.com/books?id=mObQCwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Online database entry for Edward J. Steichen, “J. Pierpont Morgan, Esq.,” Accession no. 49.55.167. Accessed April 15, 2017. http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/269287.

REPOhistory. 1993. The Lower Manhattan Sign Project, June 27, 1992 - June 30, 1993. New York, NY: REPOhistory. Dark Matter Archives. Accessed January 29, 2017. http://www.darkmatterarchives.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/REPOhistory-CAT-1992.271.pdf.

Tucker, Abigail. 2011. “J. P. Morgan as Cutthroat Capitalist.” Smithsonian Magazine, January. Accessed April 15, 2017. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/j-p-morgan-as-cutthroat-capitalist-74972230/?all.

Wheeler, Linda. 2013. “The New York draft riots of 1863.” The Washington Post, April 29. Accessed April 15, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/the-new-york-draft-riots-of-1863/2013/04/26/a1aacf52-a620-11e2-a8e2-5b98cb59187f_story.html?utm_term=.72ece568b4d9.



Greg Sholette, “13 The Other J. P. Morgan,” REPOhistory's Lower Manhattan Sign Project, accessed December 11, 2023, https://thesis.ckthompson.com/items/show/15.