The Royal Touch

The Royal TouchKeil’s Antiques is known for its variety of English and French antiques.

The shops along historic Royal Street, an enchanted vision of French and Spanish architecture carefully preserved for centuries, have long captivated local antique and fine collectible enthusiasts, as well as connoisseurs from across the globe.

This shopping destination has garnered quite the reputation for being the spot to track down rare and much sought after items from Europe. Many antiques stores have been in existence for more than 100 years, and the buildings have just as much history as the ancient objects they accommodate. The dozen or so antique dealers who call Royal Street home are proud to be among a tight knit bunch of specialty shop owners who masterfully and elegantly balance competition and camaraderie.

The Royal TouchKeil’s Antiques is known for its variety of English and French antiques.

A testament to this relationship: In the chaotic days following Hurricane Katrina, Andree Moss of Keil’s Antiques noticed while inspecting her family-owned business that the wind had blown off the door to the French Antique Shop. In spite of the trying circumstances, Andree Moss didn’t hesitate to have relatives board up the store, recalls Nicole Granet Friedlander, who co-owns the store along with brother Henry Granet and her son, Marc Friedlander. French Antiques is renowned for its chandeliers and 18th- and 19th-century Continental antiques.

“We have a natural rivalry, yet that’s an example of the camaraderie we have for each other,” says Friedlander of the touching account. “That just reinforces the way we feel about the French Quarter and the dealers here. We would have done the same thing.”

Peter Moss, whose mother is Andree Moss, says, “Although we compete for business, each shop has a different flavor to it.”

Formal English and French furniture is the niche at Keil’s Antiques, which was established in 1899, while Limoges boxes and a range of collectibles from rare walking sticks to small antiques are the rage at Brass Monkey. Those interested in vintage timepieces and wedding bands turn to Hoover Watches & Jewels.

James H. Cohen and Sons is a haunt for numismatists, and some of the offerings include Roman and Greek coins dating back to 336 B.C. Coins aside, the store also sells antique weapons, such as firearms from the Civil War era, and political ephemera.

The Royal TouchAll in the Family
It’s a family affair on Royal Street with many of the same families operating antique shops at the same French Quarter locations spanning three to four generations.

Barry Cohen represents the fifth generation to run the family business located in the same Royal Street shop established in 1898 by great-great-grandfather William Feldman. Growing up, Cohen’s playground was the oldest and largest coin store in New Orleans—right in the center of a worldwide antiques market.

“While we are all competitive, we are still friendly. All the shop owners know each other,” Cohen says as he tells the story of how his great-great-grandfather Feldman, an Hungarian immigrant, got his start pushing a cart up and down Royal Street re-stuffing feather beds and repairing furniture.

Not only do the merchants themselves hail from traditions steeped in the antiques trade—with relatives running shops on Royal Street—but, in addition, generations of families have also earned a living working there.

The Royal TouchThe King James I steeple cup at M.S. Rau Antiques.
Photograph courtesy of M.S. Rau Antiques

Benny Hensley of New Orleans, who passed away shortly after Katrina, worked as a porter at Keil’s Antiques for 78 years and his grandfather worked for Hermina Keil, who founded the shop and counted among her customers Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. Other Keil employees have worked at the store for stints as long as 47 years.

“This is a trusted family business,” Peter Moss says. “We received thousands of calls after the storm from people all over the world checking on us.”

Jamie Doerr of M.S. Rau Antiques, established in 1912, says, “It’s important to build trusting relationships with customers whether they are buying a small item or spending hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

And like most Royal Street purveyors, M.S. Rau has a rich family tradition. Run by third generation dealers, William and Jack Rau, the 25,000-square-foot store is a French Quarter landmark with yearly sales in excess of $20 million.

M.S. Rau, famous for rare and important American, French and English furniture, boasts museum-quality pieces and one-of-a-kind items. An extraordinary painting by Pierre Auguste Renoir was recently sold and the store currently has a silver-steeple cup owned by King James I, dating back to 1616.

“I try to offer our clients something a little different, something that gets them excited about collecting,” William Rau explains. “For example, not many people will ever own the world’s finest bell clock or a Rodin sculpture or a Fabérge walking stick or what many believe to be the defining piece of 19th-century carved furniture or a stained glass lamp by Tiffany. Those are the kinds of things I look for, and [because of that] our clients keep coming back.” 

Royal Street Antiques Stores
Brass Monkey 407 Royal St., 561-0688
James H. Cohen and Sons 437 Royal St., 522-3305
French Antique Shop 225 Royal St., 524-9861
Harris Antiques 233 Royal St., 523-1605
Hoover Watches & Jewels 301 Royal St., 522-7289
Keil’s Antiques 325 Royal St., 522-4552
Ida Manheim Antiques 409 Royal St., 620-4114
Moss Antiques 411 Royal St., 522-3981
M.S. Rau Antiques 630 Royal St., 523-5660
Robinson’s Antiques 329 Royal St., 523-6683
Rothschild’s Antiques 321 Royal St., 523-2281
Royal Antiques 307-309 Royal St., 524-7033
Jack Sutton Antiques 315 Royal St., 522-0555
The Collector 407 Royal St., 525-2186
Waldhorn & Adler 343 Royal St., 581-6379

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