In the run up to Valentine's Day and its attendent festivities, I asked Morbid Anatomy Library head Librarian Laetitia Barbier to write a bit about a "mini-collection" tucked discreetly away in our own "special collections" cabinet. Following is her post; To learn more about the history of these enigmatic publications, you won't want to miss Colin Dickey's Valentine's Day lecture "Privately Published: A Descent Into Early 20th Century Mail Order Erotica;" more on that can be found here.
As a Parisian student, I was fascinated with the idea that our National Library once conserved its most licentious material in a reclused section conveniently named “The Hell.” Confiscated over the centuries by the French authorities, piles of erotic publications and other unchaste artifacts were gathered on the shelves of the storage room, labeled “ENFER” and cast away from general public appreciation. Stored aside to prevent “ moral contamination” and only visible to a few scholars under very strict conditions, the censored hoard flourished to become a secret yet abundant collection. “L’enfer” was the academic repository of mankind’s most untamed fantasies.
Is there such a “Hell” section in the Morbid Anatomy Library? Do we hide from public eyes risqué publications that might cause our visitors to blush? The answer is, of course, yes. And our very own purgatory section, locked in our dark wood Victorian cabinet, we call “Gentlemen’s Erotica.”This is the second guest post Laetitia has written based on her favorite books in the Morbid Anatomy Library; to see all posts by Laetitia, click here. Click on images to see larger, more detailed versions.
Among the bizarre treasures enclosed in our “Gentleman’s Erotica” section, two volumes bear nearly the same title in an identical layout with elegant, elegant typography. A private Anthropological Cabinet of the Hermaphrodite, supposedly from 1903 and his homonymous twin, published thirty years later, presenting 500 Authentic Racial-Esoteric Photographs and Illustrations. In fact, it is more likely that both “private Cabinets” were published around 1930, begat by Falstaff press - an American publishing house who discretely provide these pseudo-scientific compendiums by mail, sometime antedating their publication to avoid censorship. On a boastful frontispiece, both books indeed guarantee an illustrated journey through “scientific explorations” and “Museum archives” to “mature subscribers only” but because of their unassuming covers, the majority of the Morbid Anatomy visitors never give them any attention. These books were, indeed, just as invisible in a family man’s study, safely incognito in the multitude of books. Nonetheless, the few of us who did open them know how explicit and disturbingly sexy these aphrodisiacal little publications are. "Educational" literature, they blurred every line between good and bad taste with the latent vocation to arouse their masculine and voyeur audience.
If you want a better sense of what lies hidden within these books, join us this Valentine's Day for Colin Dickey's heavily-illustrated lecture "Privately Published: A Descent Into Early 20th Century Mail Order Erotica." And, for the boldest among you, feel free to ask the Gentleman’s Erotica section next time you’ll visit the Morbid Anatomy Library.