Caroliniana Columns
Newsletter of the University South Caroliniana Society
Spring 20000
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August Kohn: Versatile South

August Kohn, Versatile South Carolinian is the title that Helen Kohn Hennig gave to the biography of her father. It is appropriate, for in addition to distinguished careers in journalism and business, August Kohn was an enthusiastic collector of South Caroliniana. At the time of his death in 1930, his library was probably the most comprehensive private collection of Caroliniana in the state.
The centerpiece of August Kohn's bookplate depicts his home at 1520 Senate Street.

Previously owned by William Elliott Gonzales (1866-1937), this handsome edifice stood at the corner of Senate and Pickens Streets in Columbia, S.C.

Kohn bookplate - 59684 Bytes

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Helen Kohn Hennig shared her father's interest in collecting and continued to add significant titles to the collection during her lifetime. In 1999, through the generosity of Mr. Julian Hennig, the grandson of August Kohn and son of Helen Kohn Hennig, the South Caroliniana Library received the initial gift of this remarkable collection of Caroliniana that was started a century ago.

Kohn was born in Orangeburg on February 25, 1868. His father, Theodore, emigrated from Germany at a young age and settled in Orangeburg, as did his mother Rosa Wald, who emigrated from Zeben, Austria. Theodore Kohn served in the Confederate army and was severely wounded at Drury's Bluff. After the war, he engaged in the mercantile and banking business in Orangeburg, where he and Rosa raised their family.

August Kohn was educated at Sheridan Classical School in Orangeburg and in the public schools of New York City. He entered South Carolina College in 1885 and graduated cum laude in 1889. He engaged in several professions during his lifetime, most notably journalism and business. Kohn began his journalistic career in Columbia as a reporter for the News & Courier at a weekly salary of $9.00. He was appointed head of the paper's Columbia bureau in 1892 and remained with the News & Courier until 1906.

The emergence of the Tillmanites, the creation of the Dispensary, the hurricane of 1893, and the constitutional convention of 1895 were among the events and occasions on which August Kohn reported for the News and Courier. Over the course of his life, Kohn also found time for other writing. In 1888, while still a student at South Carolina College, he published A Descriptive Sketch of Orangeburg, City and County, South Carolina. In 1903 he published The Cotton Mills of South Carolina, which garnered national attention. In 1905 he published Columbia -- Old and New. "The People Are the City." Even after he left the News & Courier in 1906 to enter business as a real estate developer and securities broker, Kohn continued to contribute special articles and reported on sessions of the General Assembly.

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1888 copy of A Descriptive Sketch of Orangeburg.
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Kohn's devotion to South Carolina led to an interest in collecting the books, pamphlets, and other materials that recorded its history. He lived at a time when pamphlets were one of the chief venues for airing political views. Railroads and manufacturing companies issued annual reports, and educational institutions published catalogs and other reports in pamphlet format. Cities and towns promoted the advantages of their particular climates and locales in countless "booster" pamphlets. From the earliest promotional literature of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries until recent times, South Carolinians have sought to promote, inform, educate, and indoctrinate through pamphlets. Although pamphlets were not intended to survive for centuries, collectors like August Kohn thought otherwise; fortunately, Caroliniana titles from the previous two centuries were plentiful during Kohn's lifetime.

Kohn was not alone in pursuing his avocation. In fact, he had been encouraged to take up collecting as a hobby by another collector, Dr. J.W. Babcock. Other contemporaries who were equally enthusiastic in their pursuit of Caroliniana were Yates Snowden, A.S. Salley, J. Rion McKissick, William A. Courtenay, Harry L. Watson, and Henry C. Davis.

Photograph of Kohn from the frontispiece of Helen Kohn Hennig's biography, August Kohn, Versatile South Carolinian (1949).
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Kohn's collecting interests also extended beyond pamphlets. He sought all the most significant books, including memoirs, biographies, and documentary editions, of South Carolina's participation in the American Revolution. South Carolinians continued to play a prominent role in the nation's history between the Revolution and the Civil War; Kohn eagerly acquired titles on the leading figures of that time, as well as publications in the areas of natural history, medicine, military affairs, and education. His collection included publications about travel, religion, public laws, and education.

Books by nineteenth-century South Carolina writers, county histories, church histories, and serials are also found in the collection. In addition to their historic significance, many of the materials are significant since they contain invoices and correspondence from dealers.

One can imagine August Kohn searching for Caroliniana as he traveled around the state on business and journalistic pursuits. Trips to New York and Europe became occasions for browsing in book shops. Auctions were another source for adding to his collection. Some of the titles in his library also came as the result of gifts from friends.

Upon his death in 1930, Kohn's collection passed to his daughter, Helen Kohn Hennig. Born in 1896, Helen Kohn received degrees from the College for Women and her father's alma mater, the University of South Carolina. She married Julian H. Hennig in 1920.

Title page of the first volume of Samuel Urlsperger's Detailed Reports on the
Salzburger Emigrants
Who Settled in America. . .
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Mrs. Hennig shared her father's interest in the history of South Carolina and its capital city, Columbia. When the city celebrated its sesquicentennial in 1936, Mrs. Hennig edited Columbia, Capital City of South Carolina which remains an important resource for studying the city's history. Her contributions to South Carolina history and biography include Great South Carolinians (1940); Great South Carolinians of a Later Date (1949); August Kohn, Versatile South Carolinian (1949); The Tree of Life: Fifty Years of Congregational Life at the Tree of Life Synagogue (1945); and William Harrison Scarborough, Portraitist and Miniaturist (1937). The latter title, Columbia's sesqui-centennial history, and Great South Carolinians are titles that any serious contemporary collector of South Caroliniana would want to own. The scarcest of these titles is probably Hennig's book on Scarborough.

Like her father, Mrs. Hennig was involved in many civic organizations in Columbia, including the Columbia Museum of Art, the Town Theatre, and the Columbia Planning Commission. A lifelong member of the Tree of Life Synagogue, she established the Tree of Life Religious School and held national office in the Federation of Temple Sisterhoods. Mrs. Hennig is among those acknowledged in Be It Remembered for her contributions to the Robert Mills Historic House and Park. She was also a frequent visitor to the South Caroliniana Library, where she conducted her own research and was supportive of Dr. Robert L. Meriwether's efforts to collect Caroliniana.

Over the course of her life, Mrs. Hennig continued to add to the library through her own publications as well as through the acquisition of additional rare South Caroliniana. She also oversaw two moves of the collection from August Kohn's home at 1520 Senate Street, to an apartment, and later to 811 Woodland Drive in 1941.

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Woodcut engraving from the first volume of
Samuel Urlsperger's Detailed Reports on the
Salzburger Emigrants
Who Settled in America. . .
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After Mrs. Hennig's death in 1961, the Kohn-Hennig library was maintained by her husband until his death in 1971 and then by her son, Julian Hennig, Jr. In 1999 Mr. Hennig initiated discussions with the South Caroliniana Library concerning the disposition of what must certainly be the most complete and comprehensive collection of Caroliniana in private hands. The donation of the collection will occur over a period of years, although most of the several thousand titles will be deposited in the South Caroliniana Library during the current year.

The initial gift was received in December 1999 and included the extremely rare journal of Samuel Urlsperger, Detailed Reports on the Salzburger Emigrants Who Settled in America. . . (1744-1752), seven bound volumes of political pamphlets containing 157 titles, and six bound volumes of South Carolina College pamphlets containing 109 titles.

Thus, over the next several years, the library that started as a hobby by University of South Carolina alumnus and trustee August Kohn and was added to and preserved by his daughter Helen Kohn Hennig and grandson Julian Hennig, Jr. will join the collections of his fellow collectors-Yates Snowden, A.S. Salley, Henry C. Davis, Harry L. Watson, and J. Rion McKissick.

--Dr. Allen Stokes

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