Erotic memorabilia excites collectors

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today's antiques.scott davisWe’re all friends here so let’s be honest. Who among us hasn’t gotten a kick out of looking at an erotic image or object? The fact of the matter is that everyone has enjoyed a little good old-fashioned naughtiness at one time or another. If we didn’t, we probably couldn’t perpetuate as a species. Of course from an antiques dealer’s perspective, I understand that this natural fascination makes erotica among the most desirable categories to buy and sell.

The history of erotica dates back to the early origins of man, with examples having been found in Paleolithic cave paintings. Originally, sexually explicit depictions were used as an integral part of many religions and cultures. Erotic scenes, including homosexuality and bestiality can be found on ancient pottery and art in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and South America among other places.

Of course, much of what we think about today when we think of erotica is considered pornography.  While the differentiation between the two terms has been fodder for scholarly discussion for decades, perhaps Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart summed it up best in 1964 when he said simply (regarding obscene material): “I know it when I see it.”

Pornography first came into vogue in the Victorian age (mid-1800s). Likely owing to the invention of photography, lewd and unsavory examples started showing up in the form of stereo-view cards and still photos. Naughty illustrated images also started showing up in publications and prints. By the late 1800s, erotic and pornographic objects came into popularity, including ceramic and bronze figures that could sometimes be secretly disrobed.

The 20th century brought with it an unprecedented volume of erotica in the form of printed material, films and all other manner of objects. Erotic goddesses such as Josephine Baker and the playmates of “Playboy Magazine” brought erotica into the mainstream.

Today, all erotica and older examples of pornography are sought after. Collectors seek the most unusual, beautiful or outrageous examples. We recently saw a set of very explicit Victorian stereo-view cards depicting nuns and priests, and a high-grade Swiss pocket watch with a mechanical figural man and woman on the face who rung in every new hour in a very erotic way. Both the stereo-views and the watch are worth thousands.

Scott Davis operates Rhode Island Antiques Mall, 345 Fountain St., Pawtucket. Contact him at (401) 475-3400 or

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