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Ben Abramson (1898–1955)

Author of Writers three: A literary exchange on the works of Claude Houghton

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The American book seller and publisher Ben Abramson was born in Lithuania in 1898, and immigrated to the United States with his parents after the turn of the century. The family settled in Chicago, where Abramson attended the Jewish Training School, a special academic and manual training program for underprivileged children of refugees. In 1916 he took a job as a clerk at the Economy Bookstore, where he learned enough about the trade to establish his own business, the Argus Book Shop, at 434 South Wabash Avenue in 1920. The shop moved to 333 South Dearborn Street in October 1928, and in February 1940 to 16 North Michigan Avenue. Abramson sold new and second-hand books, specializing in modern literature and rare books including fine bindings, first and limited editions, and private press volumes. In addition to selling books, he was a publisher and literary agent for several writers, and was the editor and publisher of Reading and Collecting: a Monthly Review of Rare and Recent Books, which he issued from 1936 to 1938. Also interested in the visual arts, he regularly exhibited prints and paintings in his shops, and in 1942 made a notable acquisition of more than 1,300 original wood blocks engraved by Thomas Bewick.

In 1944 Abramson closed his Chicago operations and moved to New York; on November first of that year he opened the Argus Book Shop at 3 West 46th Street. By 1947 he began to suffer what would become chronic health and financial problems. Acknowledging that much of his business was accomplished through the mail, Abramson moved with his daughter Deborah Benson Covington to Mohegan Lake, near Peekskill, New York, in April 1949. However, country life held little appeal and he returned to Chicago in March 1953 to reopen the Argus Book Shop at 218 South Wabash Avenue. Deteriorating health and financial situations continued to plague him there, and Abramson died by his own hand on July 16, 1955. He was survived by five siblings, his wife Mollie, and their daughter Deborah.
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