Pages With Patel, VII: Argosy Bookstore

By Nishta Patel

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Via The Black Letters

“New York City’s Oldest Independent Bookstore”

Since 1925, Argosy Bookstore (E 59th Street and Park Ave) has stood the test of time; it has stayed in the same historic location for 90 years now—a feat that is rare in the city nowadays, especially with bookshops. Even Rizzoli Bookstore’s iconic building was redeveloped, causing the shop to move downtown. But, Argosy has triumphed amongst the transience of New York City. Now onto a third generation family ownership, their collection has expanded and now spans an entire 6-floor building.

Walking into Argosy is like walking into the past. Leather bound books with gold embossed titles line the shelves. While there are new architecture, art, and other specialty books, the main features are the rare books. Hundreds of those line the dark wooden shelves—it is as if you stepped into some royal’s official palace library.

Almost like a museum, one can peruse through authentic books from the 16th and 17th centuries. Medieval romance with decorative bindings, large Shakespeare volumes, and beautiful histories of the Roman Empire are among the gems found on the shelves. There are so many books to look through from the first edition of A Farewell to Arms to a $10,000 collection of Tolstoy stories. However, not all of them are ridiculously expensive, there are $25 dollar leather bounds in the front to complete anyone’s book collection.

The upper floors contain more books, an art gallery, prints, and antique maps. One can flip through 16th and 17th century map renderings of various countries, states, or regions. These authentic maps can be purchased or simply admired. To complement the antiquarian merchandise, the building itself is about 100 years old. Even the old elevator, complete with a cage, is not self-service; someone literally takes you up and down—just like in the old movies.

It is easy to get lost in Argosy’s expansive collection of rarities—things that seem like they should be displayed in museums. Despite the disappearance of bookshops in Manhattan, Argosy has stood tall and proud for 90 years. It is the fighting spirit and remarkable collection that allows it to prevail amid the ever-changing city.

Nishta Patel is a Highlighter Staff Columnist. Email her at books@nyunews.com

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