I love New Orleans. The food, the culture, the history and the food keep me coming back year after year. Somewhere between eating oysters and po boys and drinking sazeracs and chicory coffee, I always find the time to stop by James H. Cohen and Sons to drool over their impressive shop full of antique firearms and collectables. My last trip was no different and I was able to talk to Steve and Barry Cohen about some of the items they had for sale and some of the history of this cool, funky shop on Royal Street in the French Quarter.
The History of Selling History
James H. Cohen and Sons has been a family business since 1898. It was started by William Feldman and passed to the current owner, his grandson James, in 1958. Today the shop is run by James’ son Steve and his son Barry, making for 5 generations of family operation. The shop originally dealt in all sorts of antiques (including furniture, carpets and jewelry,) but today they mostly deal in rare antique weapons, coins and currency.
You will not find any modern guns in Cohen’s shop. They do not have an FFL and do not plan on getting one. Steve told me it was just too much of a hassle, since there would only be a few items they would be interested in. He related that when the NFA was passed in 1968 they did have a few guns in the store that were made after 1889. They sold them before the act went into effect and haven’t had anything “modern” since. I asked what they did had in 1968 that they had to get rid of, “oh, some World War I things like broom handed Mausers.”
Always Have a Henry
When I was talking to Barry, I asked if there has been any advice passed down through the generations. He said his grandmother always said to keep a Henry in stock. “Henry’s do sell well,” he said. They didn’t have one in when I was there. Steve said they sell pretty quickly when they do have one, and with the value continuing to go up, they are getting harder and harder to keep around.
They did have a Henry in stock at a very opportune time. Kevin Costner was in New Orleans filming the Oliver Stone movie JFK right across the street from the Cohen’s shop. Steve was able to get a note to the actor asking him to stop by and check out an original Henry like Costner had used in Dances With Wolves. Kevin and a friend stopped by shortly after the store had closed one afternoon. A retired NOPD officer providing security almost didn’t let them in thinking the guy was full of it, but once things were sorted out the star spent an hour or two checking out historic guns. “He really got a kick out of holding some originals like he had used in the movies. He was smiling and giddy like a kid. I just wish he had bought them all!”
Costner did pose for some pictures with Barry and his brother (who were around 10 at the time). They both cherish the photos and keep them prominently displayed.
Coins and The Confederate Half Dollar
Guns are only part of what you will find in the Cohen’s shop. They have a lot of coins. They also had for a short time one of the most sought after coins in existence, a Confederate Half Dollar. There are only 4 known to exist. They were minted just a short distance from the Cohen’s shop in the New Orleans Mint in 1861. About a 100 years later, James Cohen traded one for about $10,000 worth of other coins. “I wish we could get that coin back. But when dad traded it, the money he made from selling the other coins kept this shop going”. The half dollar that was once in the Cohen’s shop is going up for auction this March. The last one that sold at auction went for over $600,000 in 2003.
Not a Museum
There are some awesome museum quality pieces in the Cohen’s shop. But this is not a museum; it is a store. They are more than happy to have people in who are just looking around, but if you aren’t serious about making a purchase then you probably won’t get to handle anything. Of course, you don’t typically get to touch the stuff in a museum either!
I will let the photos do the rest of the talking about James H. Cohen and Sons. If you are ever in New Orleans, you really should stop in to the store. It is easy to find, just across from the Louisiana Supreme Court Building on Royal Street in the French Quarter.