A Genius for Money


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Business, Art and the Morrisons

Caroline Dakers

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How the son of an innkeeper with a flair for making money became the richest commoner in nineteenth-century England, and what he did with his extraordinary success

This is the spectacular rags-to-riches story of James Morrison (1789–1857), who began life humbly but through hard work and entrepreneurial brilliance acquired a fortune unequalled in nineteenth-century England. Using the extensive Morrison archive, Caroline Dakers presents the first substantial biography of the richest commoner in England, recounting the details of Morrison's personal life while also placing him in the Victorian age of enterprise that made his success possible.

An affectionate husband and father of ten, Morrison made his first fortune in textiles, then a second in international finance. He invested in North American railways, was involved in global trade from Canton to Valparaiso, created hundreds of jobs, and relished the challenges of "the science of business". His success enabled him to acquire land, houses, and works of art on a scale to rival the grandest of aristocrats.

Caroline Dakers is professor of cultural history, Central Sain Martins, University of the Arts London. She is the author of The Holland Park Circle: Artists and Victorian Society and Clouds: Biography of a Country House, both published by Yale University Press. She lives in London.

'Studies of commerce are common, but studies of the men who make commerce happen, and that consequently illuminate the history of their times, are vanishingly rare. In A Genius for Money, Caroline Dakers has combined history with business, politics with culture, to create a multi-layered approach of great richness.' - Judith Flanders, author of Consuming Passions: Leisure and Pleasure in Victorian London

'Dubbed the "Napoleon of shopkeepers", James Morrison was the richest commoner in Victorian Britain, yet remains virtually unknown today. Caroline Dakers has finally ripped away the veil and revealed an extraordinary story, not quite rags-to-riches, but the rise of a man from modest beginnings to splendid plutocracy, who conquered successively the worlds of retail, wholesale, merchant banking and cultural patronage. A compelling tale of immense wealth, both how it was acquired and how it was spent, assiduously researched and deftly told.' - Peter Mandler, author of The English National Character

'Caroline Dakers's A Genius For Money is an outstanding biography of one of the very richest, but least known of the great Victorian millionaire businessmen, James Morrison. For decades Morrison has been in need of a searching biography, a task admirably fulfilled here. Dakers shows that Morrison was not merely one of the greatest of self-made "leviathans of wealth" of his time, but also a cultured patron of the arts, a friend of many leading artists and intellectuals, a radical M.P., and one of the founders of London University. His descendants continued to be as rich as they were almost unknown to the general public until the very recent past.' - W.D. Rubinstein, author of Men of Property: The Very Wealthy in Britain Since the Industrial Revolution

'This outstanding book adds another great fortune and business career to the pantheon of Industrial Revolution giants - men such as Nathan Rothschild or Richard Arkwright - and from a little-known sector of the economy: James Morrison, textile warehouseman of Fore Street in the City of London. Linking industry with domestic and international markets, providing knowledge of design and taste, and supplying credit and market information, Morrison made one of the greatest fortunes of the nineteenth century. Not only does this book change our view of the City of London; it adds to our knowledge of art collecting and patronage, politics and family relationships. Caroline Dakers brings a fascinating dynasty to life with great insight and impeccable research.' - Martin Daunton, author of Wealth and Welfare: An Economic and Social History of Britain, 1851-1951

“Caroline Dakers’ well-referenced and intelligently illustrated biography of the ‘Napoleon of shopkeepers’ describes the life of a remarkable Victorian.”—Martin Levy, Apollo Magazine

“….a finely researched history.”—Richard Ryder, The Spectator

“His life-story, though, told in Caroline Dakers’ sprightly biography A Genius for Money, is not only fascinating in itself; it is an emblem of the 19th century story…...This is an absolutely model biography.”—AN Wilson, Financial Times

“Straightforwardly told . . . full of rich period detail.”—The Wall Street Journal

“Straightforwardly told…full of rich period detail.”—The Wall Street Journal

“…a sensitive and enlightening biography.”—Stephen Lloyd, The Art Newspaper

“Yale University Press has done this collection proud in illustrating some of the most eminent of these and many other objets d’art…[a] good read...a fascinating revelation.”—Margaret Storrie, Ileach

"Caroline Dakers is the first to mine the extensive family archives, still at Fonthill, and shows with great skill how this Napoleon of shopkeepers made his money, and kept hold of most of it despite spending an awful lot along the way."—David Waller, Times Literary Supplement

"The author is to be congratulated not just on the superb research behind this book but on her achievement in restoring James Morrison and his world to his countrymen."—P.P.F. Contemporary Review

Dakers’s biography of Morrison opens up for exploration the many facets of his complicated existence—as a salesman, financier, family man, public servant . . . and thus brings to life one of the early nineteenth century’s most important figures.”—John Small, University of North Carolina, Charlotte

“Daker’s biography of Morrison opens up for exploration the many facets of his complicated existence … and thus brings to life one of the early nineteenth century’s most important figures.”—John Smail, Victorian Studies
ISBN: 9780300112207
Publication Date: January 24, 2012
352 pages, 6 x 9
60 b/w + color illus.