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Personal items revealing J.P. Morgan's opulent life at sea to be sold

By George Webster for CNN

April 27, 2011 6:37 a.m. EDT

(CNN) -- Artifacts from the megayacht of 19th-century financier J.P. Morgan are to be sold this weekend at an auction set to reveal how one of America's most influential men enjoyed life aboard his second home on the high seas.

Commissioned by Morgan in 1890, the 241-foot yacht "Corsair II" played host to many of the era's richest and most prominent figures, including U.S. presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft, billionaire tycoons John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, as well as light-bulb inventor Thomas Edison.

Although the "Corsair II" has been long-since scrapped for parts, intimate items from the elegant, wood-paneled yacht will be auctioned Sunday in Boston -- with some lots expected to achieve bids in excess of $200,000.

The hundreds of artifacts for sale range from hand-crafted bone china bearing the Morgan family crest, to specially designed Tiffany cigar-cutters, to a vast and intricate silver lamp carved in the shape of a mythological dolphin and -- most luxurious of all -- a fully restored 30-foot launch boat.

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The man loved poker and was known to play high stakes with all the heavyweight industrialists, financiers and politicians of the day

--Larry Lannan, Boston Harbor Auctions

But for Larry Lannan, owner of Boston Harbor Auctions, who will be handling the sale, the standout item is stored in a velvet-lined box with the "Corsair" flag embossed in silver: Morgan's set of ivory poker chips.

"The man loved poker and was known to play high stakes with all the heavyweight industrialists, financiers and politicians of the day," said Lannan.

"Imagine the hands that have touched these chips -- the likes of Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford. Just imagine all the late-night cigar-fueled drama in the middle of the sea, the fortunes won and lost!"

John Pierpont Morgan dominated the world of corporate finance throughout the late 1800s until his death at the turn of the century, but was also renowned for his passion of and investment in the arts, once stating: "No price is too great for a work of unquestioned beauty and known authenticity."

While Morgan filled rooms with masterpieces of fine art and collections of expensive gems, "most of it he never touched," said Lannan. "What we have here is a selection of very personal belongings that he and his closest circle would have handled on a daily basis -- his whiskey tumblers, tea cups, his chess table."

But, though prosaic, they are no less refined. The 220 pieces of china on auction were specifically tailored to Morgan's demands by English firm Mintons -- who at the time supplied crockery to the royal family.

"The blue trim with the gold accents and the Morgan signature flag of a crescent moon and star alongside the New York Yacht Club burgee -- all this would have been to Morgan's specific wishes," Lannan revealed. "He was certainly a man of highly particular tastes."

And for those who'd like to know what success really tasted like in the 19th century, then the auction also contains a rare bottle of J & G Stewart Scotch whiskey direct from Morgan's cellar.

"I'm not sure that it'll actually taste very nice," conceded Lannan. "So I hope whoever buys it won't be doing so for the flavor!"

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