A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from June 30, 2009
“If you have to ask, then you probably can’t afford it” (J. P. Morgan?)

"If you have to ask, you (probably) can’t afford it” is a saying used to describe purchases of expensive products, such as homes, cars and jewelry. Financier J. P. Morgan (1837-1913) allegedly gave this advice to banker Henry Clay Pierce in 1902, dissuading him from buying a yacht. Morgan’s authorship has been questioned; the first known form of the saying dates to only 1926.

Wikipedia: J. P. Morgan
John Pierpont Morgan (April 17, 1837 – March 31, 1913) was an American financier, banker and art collector who dominated corporate finance and industrial consolidation during his time. In 1892 Morgan arranged the merger of Edison General Electric and Thompson-Houston Electric Company to form General Electric. After financing the creation of the Federal Steel Company he merged the Carnegie Steel Company and several other steel and iron businesses to form the United States Steel Corporation in 1901. He is widely credited with having saved or rescued the U.S. national economy in general—and the federal government in particular—on two separate occasions. He bequeathed much of his large art collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and to the Wadsworth Atheneum of Hartford, Connecticut. He died in Rome, Italy, in 1913 at the age of 75, leaving his fortune and business to his son, John Pierpont “Jack” Morgan, Jr.

Google Books
The Yale Book of Quotations
Edited by Fred R. Shapiro
New Haven, CT: Yale University Press
Pg. 537:
J. P. Morgan
U.S. financier, 1837-1913
[Of owning a yacht:] “If it makes the slightest difference to you what it costs, don’t try it.”
Quoted in W. P. Bonbright, Letter to Herbert L. Satterlee, 20 May 1927, Jean Strouse, Morgan: American Financier (1999), cited this letter found among papers in the Pierpont Morgan Library. Slightly earlier evidence has been found in the Wall Street Journal, 14 Sept, 1926, where Morgan answers the query, “Do you think I can afford a yacht?” by saying, “If there is any doubt in your mind, you can’t.” The quotation is famous in the form “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”

Google Books
The Quote Verifier:
Who Said What, Where, and When

By Ralph Keyes
New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press
Pg. 2:
“If you have to ask how much they cost, you can’t AFFORD one.”
J. P. Morgan’s alleged response to an inquiry about the cost of his yachts is considered the epitome of wealthy imperiousness. (Some attribute the thought to Cornelius Vanderbilt.) No dependable evidence exists that Morgan actually said this, however, and biographer Jean Strouse doubts that he did. Calling the mot “implausible,” Strouse concluded, “Morgan was a singularly inarticulate, unreflective man, not likely to come up with a maxim worthy of Oscar Wilde.” The closest analogue Strouse could find on the record was Morgan’s response to oil baron Henry Clay Pierce: “You have no right to own a yacht if you ask that question.”
Verdict: Morgan’s sentiments, not his words.

14 September 1926, Wall Street Journal, pg. 2:
Can You Afford a Yacht?
There are two degrees of millionaires: the kind who can afford a yacht, and those who can’t. At least that is what the late J. P. Morgan seemed to think. As witness the following:

A banker, who by most people would be considered very wealthy, able to own a town house, a country estate, a hunting lodge, all kinds of automobiles, and several college bredchildren, one day decided he needed only a yacht to round out his possessions. After a bit of investigation he thought he’d better ask the advice of an owner of a yacht, and went to the late J. P. Morgan. “John,” he said (that’s the kind of banker he was), “do you think I can afford a yacht?” And the answer was:

“If there is any doubt in your mind, you can’t.”

6 March 1929, Washington (DC) Post, “Almost the Naked Truth” by James S. Collins, pg. 15:
His attitude recalls the advice of J. Pierpont Morgan, the elder, once gave a friend who told him he was thinking of buying a yacht.

“I am wondering if I can afford a yacht,” he told Morgan. “How much would it cost to maintain one?”

“No man who asks himself that question can afford to own a yacht,” replied the master of the Corsair.

Google Books
Both Sides of the Street
By Irvin Shrewsbury Cobb
New York, NY: Cosmopolitan Book Corp.
Pg. 300:
...elder JP Morgan, “Mr. Morgan, I wonder whether I could afford a yacht?” and that wise old financier answered, “If you’re not sure you can, you can’t!”

5 April 1934, Cleveland (OH) Plain Dealer, pg. 8:
A banker once asked J. P. Morgan about the cost of keeping a steam yacht he intended to buy.

Mr. Morgan replied: “More than you can afford.”

The banker drew back and asked:

“How do you know I can’t afford it?”

Morgan replied: “Because if you have to worry about what it will cost you to run it, I know you can’t afford it.”

Google Books
Yachts: Their Care and Handling
By Winthrop P. Moore
New York, NY: Dodd, Mead & Company
Pg. 22:
Said Mr. Morgan, “If you have to consider the cost of running the yacht, then you can’t afford to own one.”

Google News Archive
26 April 1938, Evening Independent (St. Petersburg, FL), pg. 10, col. 3:
“Horse racing is an expensive game,” one observer remarked recently. “It’s like owning a yacht. If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford one. I guess that’s why horse racing is called the sport of kings.”

26 August 1938, Lima (OH) News, Pg. 5?, col. 3:
A large yacht costs from half a million dollars upwards, and maintenance runs into five figures yearly—which forms the basis for the elder J. P. Morgan’s famous comment, when asked by a friend how much it cost to keep up a yacht: “If you have to ask such a question, you can’t afford one.”

18 May 1941, New York (NY) Times, “Sea-Going White House” by Frank L. Kluckhohn, pg, SM12:
Thus far there is nothing to differentiate this ship sharply from the yacht of a moderately wealthy individual.  To it, certainly, does not apply the dictum attributed to the elder J. P. Morgan, who, when asked by a young friend what it cost to operate a yacht, is reported to have said, “Young man, if you have to ask, don’t get one.” It cost, however, $60,000 to convert the ship for Presidential use.

19 April 1953, New York (NY) Times, “Apostle of Swing: Benny Goodman thinks it’s on the upbeat, and sets out on tour to test his point” by Gilbert Millstein, pg. SM18:
Like Fats Waller used to say: ‘Man, if you have to ask questions about it, don’t mess with it.’”

25 October 1953, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “Hollywood in Person” by Sheilah Graham, part VII, pg. 1:
He (Errol Flynn—ed.) still owns a yacht—a millionaire once told me that the only people who can afford a yacht are those who don’t have to ask “How much does it cost to run a yacht?”

19 March 1964, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “Mercedes-Benz Shows Ultra-Prestige Auto” by Rudy Rochelle, section 1, pg. 9:
It’s sort of like buying a yacht. If you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford one anyway.

By LAWRENCE PERRY.. Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly (1876-1904). New York: Aug 1901. Vol. Vol. LII., Iss. No. 4.; p. 0_014 (11 pages)
Secon page:  Some years ago, when persons were not as rich in worldy goods as they are now, a man of no small means remarked that he did not see how it were possible for any one, try as he might, to spend more than $100,000 a year.  Later this gentleman bought a large steam yacht.  It cost him $70,000 or more yearly to run it.  History fails to (Third page--ed.) record whether he ever qualified his statement by adding, “Unless he takes to yachting.”
(This is also a popular yachting phrase--ed.)

21-23 May 2004, AM New York, editorial cartoon, pg. 10:
GAS (seen on the roof of a station—ed.)
(From a sign just outside:—ed.)

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityBanking/Finance/Insurance • (1) Comments • Tuesday, June 30, 2009 • Permalink