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.
Of 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.