Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2005 Issue

Women in the Vanguard of Bookselling

A251

The early days.


By Karen Wright

I just finished an interesting book called Sunwise Turn by Madge Jenison (E.P. Dutton & Co. NY, 1923). Madge Jenison was a one of a not inconsiderable number of independent-thinking "leisure class women" of post-Victorian times who devoted themselves to charities and other pleasurable activities. She loved to read and loved books above all else. She and women like her were always looking for something new to do. Jenison got a wild idea one sunny Sunday afternoon as she lounged in a chair reading a novel. She and her friend would open a bookstore!

Up until that time, 1917, most bookstores were owned by men or large companies. They were of the musty, dusty, disorganized, funny-old-guy with glasses variety or they were elegantly ensconced in large department stores such as Macy's or Gimble's, which were more like today's impersonal big bookstores such as Barnes and Noble.

Both Jenison and her friend/partner, Mary Mowbray-Clarke, were well educated, well read feminists and suffragists. In fact, Mary Mowbray-Clarke and her husband, John Mowbray-Clarke, were included among other artists, writers and anarchists, including Emma Goldman, Bayard Boyesen, Carl Zigrosser, and Hippolyte Havel in Anarchist Modernism: Art, Politics, and the First American Avant-Garde by Allan Antliff.

It was an exciting time in New York City in those days, in spite of the rigors caused by World War I. Because so many men were off across the sea fighting, women had many more opportunities to get involved in business. Bookstore owners dealt directly with the publishers and book companies, and were on a first name basis with some of the most famous names in publishing at that time; names that are still heard today.

When Ms. Jenison went looking for encouragement to begin her store among these moguls, Alfred Harcourt (Harcourt Brace) told her that "bookselling is a great lost cause." Another friend, Norman Baker, co-founder of Baker and Taylor, said "But of course you know that you cannot possibly make bookselling pay, the only way any bookshop survives is through its stationary."

"Mr. Knopf used to come occasionally at noon and buy royally," said Jenison. When Frank Bruce of Houghton Mifflin came into the store just before they opened, he rolled up his sleeves to help lay the linoleum "because he had come in and found women laying it in a way that no linoleum should be laid."

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Caius Julius Hyginus, <i>Poeticon Astronomicon,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1482. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Giovanni Botero, <i>Le Relationi Universali... divise in Sette Parti</i>, Venice, 1618. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> <i>L'Escole des Filles</i>, likely third edition of the first work of pornographic fiction in French, 1676. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin on vellum, Flanders, early 16th century. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes Regiomontanus, <i>Calendarium,</i> Venice, 1485. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Pedro de Medina, <i>Libro d[e] gra[n]dezas y cosas memorables de España,</i> Alcalá de Henares, 1566. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b><br>Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> Salamanca, circa 1496-97. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Andrés Serrano, <i>Los Siete Principes de los Ángeles, válidos de Rey del Cielo,</i> Spain, 1707. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes de Sacrobosco, <i>Sphaera mundi,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1478. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> A Rare 3-rotor German Enigma I Enciphering Machine. $70,000 to $90,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Important collection of correspondence between Werner Heisenberg and Bruno Rossi. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Walt Whitman Autograph manuscript containing his thoughts on death. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> David Roberts. <i>Holy Land</i>. Six volumes. 1842-1849. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Extensive collection of Ray Bradbury's primary works, most signed or inscribed. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Peter Force. Declaration of Independence. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Steinbeck. <i>Grapes of Wrath</i>. A fine copy of the first edition. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Lewis & Clark. <i>Travels to the Source of the Missouri River</i>... First English edition, extra-illustrated. 1814. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Manuscript document signed by Nuno de Guzman relating to Hernan Cortes, 1528. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> “Nos los inquisidores..." The first book in English printed West of the Mississippi. [1787]. $5,000 to $8,000.

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