Spanning three centuries and five generations, James H. Cohen and Sons, Inc. is a true New Orleans institution, rich in tradition. Relics of another age, priceless pieces of history, and personal treasures from another time have all passed through these doors on Royal Street. The oldest and largest coin store in New Orleans and, indeed, one of the oldest family-owned businesses of any kind in the United States, Cohen and Sons opened for business in 1898 under the ownership of William Feldman, the grandfather of current owner James H. Cohen.
Feldman's Original Antique Emporium sold antique furniture, carpets, jewelry, cut glass, rare weapons, bric-a-brac and ancient coins. As with many New Orleans shopkeepers of the day, Mr. Feldman lived above the store with its 30 foot wrought iron balcony overlooking the colorful, old-world ambiance of Royal Street in the French Quarter.
Congested with pushcarts, horse-drawn carriages, and singing peddlers, Royal Street at the turn of the 20th century was an international shopping center. It was here that William Feldman's business prospered and grew to include three other stores and a cabinet shop all on Royal Street. But the Emporium at 437 Royal Street would always be home. Above the busy shop filled with customers, the comfortable, spacious apartment grew smaller as Mr. And Mrs. Feldman's family increased to include seven children.
In 1958 William Feldman died, leaving a tradition of quality and service to prosper through another generation. Heir-apparent was not one of his children, however, but rather his grandson.
James H. Cohen, the only child of Joseph and Adeline Feldman Cohen, whose keen interest in all things collectible was nurtured and developed from an early age. Behind the counter at his grandfather's emporium, Jimmie learned the business standing at the side of the venerable Hungarian immigrant who had once peddled re-stuffed feather beds door to door. Now one of the most prosperous merchants in the French Quarter, William Feldman took young Jimmie on buying trips to Europe where he learned the art and science of purchasing antiques-- teaching his grandson not just about antique merchandise but antique merchandising as well.
Jimmie and his wife Beverly rented a store a block away at 319 Royal Street which would become their headquarters for the next 20 years. Recognizing the potential for business success in the rapidly expanding numismatic market, Jimmie purchased his first coin collection in an auction for $100. Fortunately for him, the other bidders didn't go any higher because that $100 was about his limit. Since then, rare coins have been an integral part of the Cohen family business.
In addition to Jimmie's enviable coin collections, antique weaponry and jewelry soon began to fill the store, eventually squeezing out the furniture that had been a fundamental part of his grandfather's emporium. The day in 1978 they reclaimed their family's original building and moved back into the 7,500 square foot space at 437 Royal Street was a day of joy and accomplishment, signaling a return to the 200 year old building where William Feldman built both a business and a reputation among novice collectors and seasoned antique hunters alike.
The Cohens' two young sons, Steve, then nine, and Jerry, six, began working in the store soon after it opened in 1958. After school and on weekends, the boys talked to customers who were often amazed at the youngsters' expert knowledge of the store's inventory. When the boys were not in school or working at the store, Jimmie and Beverly took them on the road to trade shows across the country, instilling in them the history and eye for detail of rare and remarkable relics of another age.
Eventually, Steve left the business to attend law school and practice law for a few years but found nothing in the practice of law that made him want to give up working in the family business. Jerry has never spent as much as a day working anywhere else. Jimmie's grandson, Barry, who also grew up behind the counter at Cohen and Sons is the newest member, and the fifth generation, to join the family business.
Many treasures, lost to one generation and stored away in dusty attics, have found their way to the store on Royal Street. With so long a history, we have seen these treasures come and go and come back again. "We like to say that we let our good customers 'warehouse' our finest merchandise for us for 30 or 40 years. It is not uncommon for us to purchase some of our own stock back from old clients or their families, thus creating a built-in stream of 'new' merchandise to offer to others. We've owned some special items two or three times."
Enthusiasm such as this is born of a collector and runs through each succeeding generation of the Cohen family.