Christopher P. Stephens, Bookman

Chris Stephens has been a book dealer since 1965 - earlier if you count childhood buying and selling.

Stephens has sold major collections to university libraries all over the world. He has operated appealing bookstores in Mt. Carroll, Illinois, Hastings on Hudson, NY and several in NYC, NY. He is a wholesale dealer to other bookstores all over the world.

Chris loves books.

Stephens now maintains a lively internet operation out of his new home in Scranton, PA.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Margie Cohn - House of Books

photo by Christopher P. Stephens 1981 or 1982

Margie Cohn was Grande Dame of the Book business.
When Chris Stephens first met her in the late 1960s, she had already been establishing her expertise for almost 40 years. Margie and her husband, Louis, opened House of Books in 1930, the year they married.
Louis was proprietor. He had assembled an extensive Hemingway collection. He gave it to Margie as a wedding present. The two of them continued to build the collection. Louis became Ernest Hemingway's enthusiastic bibliographer. Hemingway cooperated. The author sent the book collector manuscripts and proof copies and various editions of his work. Hemingway designed a book plate for Cohn. It said: From the Works of Ernest Hemingway in the Library of Louis Henry Cohn. Hemingway wrote a note reminding himself to "give him the works".
The working relationship between Cohn and Hemingway - bibliographer and author - developed into a lasting friendship.
The Cohn's published other friends' poetry in their Crown Octavos Series. T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Stephens Vincent Benet, Marianne Moore are some of those poets. They also published W. Somerset Maugham, Thomas Wolfe, Cyril Connolly and Tom Stoppard. Because Margie and Louis were both born collectors, they kept files of all the correspondence with these authors and poets.
Louis Cohn died in 1953. The House of Books did not. Margie stepped forward and ran the operation. Some, who knew them both, say that Margie did a remarkably better job than Louis had. She continued to carry 20th century work. She specialized in the authors and poets she knew personally.
Margie Cohn had a brusque, no nonsense manner that Chris always enjoyed. She knew a lot. Margie continued to develop existing contacts with librarians, collectors, and writers. She ran House of Books in the pre-internet period. Book dealing was knowledge intensive. She guarded her knowledge of points for collectable editions. She also guarded her contacts. If a book collector dropped by when a young book dealer, like Chris, was visiting - for example - Margie made the collector wait in the anteroom while she shooed the book dealer out another door.

Chris did visit Margie often. He was tremendously fond of her. He admired her knowledge.

Margie lived to be almost 100. A few years before she died Chris saw her at a book fair. She was looking intently at some books. She was so immersed in what she was thinking that she didn't know Chris took a photo. Then she saw him.
"Don't you dare take a picture of me, Chris Stephens!"
Chris coaxed. He wanted more shots.
"If you take a picture of me, I will cut you off. I will not sell you anything. I will not buy anything. You may never again come to visit."

That was pretty clear. Chris smiled, laid down his camera and never mentioned to the one he'd taken. The one he'd taken of the great book lady for whom he had such high regard.

Margie: Marguerite Arnold Cohn 1887 - 1984
Louis Henry Cohn 1888 - 1953

A Bibliography of the works of Ernest Hemingway by Louis Henry Cohn

The Cohn Ernest Hemingway Collection at the University if Delaware

Paris Review interview of T.S. Eliot that took place at Margie Cohn's apartment

interesting anecdotal essay by Jack W.C. Hagstrom about Robert Frost, mentions Margie toward the end. Hagstrom sponsored her for membership in the Grolier Club.

a brief mention of the Cohns in a preview of what looks like a very interesting book: A Gentle Madness by Nicholas Basbanes

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