The Sunwise Turn

A recent post about the near-mint Ulysses turned up some interesting information about the bookstore where it was originally purchased. Founded with the unabashed intellectualism we associate with the interwar years, The Sunwise Turn was high minded, eclectic, and expensive.

Opened in 1916 by Madge Jenison and Mary Mowbray Clarke, the store was originally planned to service a special class of reader. The same way an art dealer contents himself with a massive sales to a handful of buyers, Jenison and Mowbray Clarke (what names!) would be kept in business not by foot traffic, but by a dedicated “fifty patrons who bought $500 worth of books a year.” That Aegean blue Ulysses would have been exactly the specialty book a well heeled New York reader would splash cash on, especially since, when published, it was as illegal as gin.

Sunwise TurnOf course, then as now it was tricky to find anybody who spends $500 on reading. To stay in the black, and to avoid the laziness that comes with private endowment, they also sold textiles, artwork and stationary. The store itself was lavish, its woodwork colored a “burning orange,” and when the shop moved uptown to a location just opposite Grand Central, it was a beacon of elite taste in the city’s most public location. (The seal at left is from their original location on 31st Street.)

They published authors as well known as Ranier Maria Rilke, hosted readings for Robert Frost, and sold books to Peggy Guggenheim and a young Alfred A. Knopf. The Sunwise Turn was probably too fancy to have lasted the Depression, if they hadn’t been bought by Doubleday in 1927. This week’s London auction is a reminder, though, that their books are still selling, even if they remain a bit overpriced.

Institutions of Modernism, Lawrence S. Rainey. 1998
Images from Dorothy Sloan and Confessions of a Bookplate Addict.


2 thoughts on “The Sunwise Turn

  1. I was fortunate to have found this book. It had been placed at the dump to take, or, more likely, it would have gone down the hole.

    My copy is inscribed by the owner, “Personal copy of Jackie Steele owner of the Old Bookstore, Rockport Maine 1964 to 1974. Hence, added bookstore history.

    I love this book as the crisp writing is as crisp as the thoughts behind them. I find it a fine philosophical book as well, life lessons and all that, though at times I am bitten by the green monster who says, “Yeah, well, sure! Look where they came from, and what support they had.” Bull. These ladies did it. Boy. Did they do it.

    I’ll now have to research and read everything about them. (Might you identify the bookplate? shown? Is that the shop?) Thank you for this posting.

  2. I have a book that I found at a yard sale many years ago which had the Sunwise Turn logo on the inside back cover. Just being curious recently, I googled it and found this site. Wow.

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