Nostalgia: Arts History
The history and future of M. S. Rau Antiques
Max Simon Rau opened M. S. Rau Antiques in 1912 at 719 Royal St.; 19 years later, he moved to a larger space at 630 Royal St., and the business has been located there ever since. Two expansions occurred in the 1940s and 1990s with the purchase of additional buildings on St. Peter and Toulouse Streets. For the last over 100 years, the business has been a family affair, taken over first by sons Joe and Elias, and currently run by Max’s grandson Bill.
In-store displays and lectures often coincide with museum exhibits, as in 2001 when they showcased exquisite silverwork pieces during the New Orleans Museum of Art’s “Martele Art Nouveau” exhibit. They also create events based on local culture and interesting pieces in their collection, like the recent celebration of Napoleon Bonaparte’s 250th birthday that showcased the desk he used while in exile in St. Helena and an 1833 cast of his bronze death mask.
Once a year they highlight artwork by local teens in their gallery through their Rau for Art Foundation, which provides support to young artists through scholarship and art study trips to Italy. M. S. Rau also gives back through donations to museums. In 2015, an armoire owned by Henry Clay and later housed at the Rosewood Plantation was donated to the Cabildo for permanent exhibition.
In 2015 and 2016, Rau’s was able to purchase the two adjacent buildings on Royal Street, doubling its showroom space. The renovations, finished in November 2019, have paid careful attention to historical character, keeping carriage doors, window and door arches, stairwells and fireplaces and building facades true to their circa 1830s original form. As an added bonus for shoppers, access to the two inner courtyards is now offered.
Early collections of china, glass, art, furniture and chandeliers inside M. S. Rau’s store. In the early days of the business, antiques were sourced locally, through classified ads, pickers and trips into the surrounding areas. But discovery has become more global in modern times, and Rau’s is renowned worldwide for their museum quality collections: fine art and furniture; rare jewels and Fabergé eggs; valuable porcelain, glass, and silver sets; and more. These treasures can be found mixed in with more eclectic historic items like a cave bear skeleton, Lincoln’s opera glasses and a sword cane once owned by Elvis. The rarest of the rare can be found in a secret room accessible by a trick door.