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Louis Cohen, a bibliophile and rare book collector who founded Argosy Books in Manhattan, died at 87 on this date in 1991. Cohen stocked the White House libraries of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, established libraries for the University of Texas and the University of Kansas, and donated thousands of Hebrew books to Bar-Ilan University in Israel. He founded his store in 1927 — it is the oldest independent bookstore in New York — and moved it to its current East 59th Street location in 1931. Among the rarities that passed through his hands were an architectural plan for Washington DC signed by Thomas Jefferson, first editions of books by Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, and William Faulkner, and the personal libraries of Paul Robeson and other well-known cultural figures. Argosy was a family affair: Cohen had three daughters, and they and his wife have been deeply involved in the business.
“Every time he had a nickel or dime he would buy one or two books and take them home and tell his blind father, ‘I just bought this book of Dickens’ and it’s green and it cost ten cents.’ This happened over and over until the little tenement apartment was overflowing with books.” —Naomi Hample (Cohen’s daughter)
Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.