First floor entrance
New York City has an array of eclectic independent bookstores. Littered throughout the city, each has its own unique history and facts, but Argosy Books, not far from the original Rizzoli, holds the title of oldest bookstore in New York City. Located in midtown Manhattan, Argosy was founded in 1925 by Louis Cohen. Today, it’s in its third generation of family ownership continuing to sell antique maps and prints of the city, autographs, art, many out-of-print items along with an enormous array of books from all fields of interest. They specialize in what they say is “finding fantastic and unusual gifts for every fantastic and unusual person in your life.”
Upon entering the store, the warm, soft glow of light and smell of old books provides store goers with a welcoming atmosphere. The rooms, overflowing with books of all kinds, are cluttered in an organized way filling all the spaces. Argosy, though a seller of rare items does not feel harsh or impersonal. Instead, the warmth of the place combined with the piles of lovingly used books makes those who enter comfortable and more at home.
Louis Cohen picked the name “Argosy” for two reasons. First, he wanted a name that started with an “A” so that it would be at the front of any list of bookstores, and second, after the Spanish galleons, ships that sailed across the world carrying treasures of all sorts. The store itself sells wonderful treasures with rare, limited edition and first edition copies of items. Among some of the things you can find there, a New York Times article reported that the store held at some point a document signed by Thomas Jefferson that depicted the boundaries of Washington, as it was set to be the nation’s capital.
More rare books are put behind glass doors
Like so many older businesses on Manhattan, as commercial enterprises grow, the small, independently owned stores find it increasingly difficult to keep their doors open. Argosy used to be surrounded by many other independent bookstores in a time when Fourth Avenue was the heart of the secondhand-book business. But in 1963, a developer bought up the surrounding brownstones, tore them down, building a skyscraper that now towers over Argosy.
The space, over flowing with books, has many stacks organized on the floor
Cohen moved his store one door over and has been able to maintain its position while surrounded by commercial giants like Williams-Sonoma and Banana Republic. As developers flocked to buy the bookstore’s space, Cohen would continued to turn them down saying there was no price high enough. Even today, Cohen’s daughters – who inherited the store following Cohen’s death in 1991 – continue to get offers but won’t sell.
Argosy also sells pieces of art
The items at Argosy can be purchased individually, but they also sell Books by the Foot for decorating purposes to interior decorators, architects, model homes and the like. Though more professional companies can purchase these, they can be purchased by the foot for those who simply want a library scheme for their own homes. As an antique book-seller, Argosy caters not only to readers, but people those who are desire what books are made of: the paper, its age, covers, spines, binding, condition and such.
Right outside the store, this table and the stacks surrounding it offer more cheaply priced books
With books ranging from high-end prices set at thousands of dollars, you do not need to be a wealthy person to purchase items here. There is the $1 table outside of the store, as well as many other reasonably priced books, prints, and autographs that are sure to make wonderfully unique gifts. In any case, this gem of a store located on 116 E 59th Street warrants a visit. Remaining relatively untouched since its opening, it is a step into the past that will make any person, bibliophile or not, appreciate the story and history surrounding New York City’s oldest bookstore.
Want to know about more bookstores in New York? Check out 22 of NYC’s Best Independent Specialty Bookstores.