A Georgian ‘secrets of sex manual’ dating back to 1720 smashed its humble auction estimate to smithereens to sell for thousands.
Found by Derbyshire’s Hansons Auctioneers, ‘Aristotle’s Masterpiece Completed In Two Parts, The First Containing the Secrets of Generation’ sparked worldwide interest and more than 20 advance bids before it went under the hammer on March 27.
But despite bids coming in online from all over the world and five phone bidders, it was a British private buyer in the saleroom at Etwall, near Derby, who secured the small, historical volume for £3,100. It sold for 30 times its original estimate of £80-£120.
Jim Spencer, head of the books and manuscripts department at Hansons Auctioneers, said: “It may seem like an astonishing amount but this small book captivated the world. It is a fascinating find and I know the buyer will treasure it.”
The buyer, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “I’m so delighted. I’ve had a great day at Hansons. I wanted to buy this book because it’s about pre-modern medicine and it’s European. It’s about herbalism and the natural world mixed with medicine. It’s also a piece of art featuring woodcut illustrations.
“It deals with having babies and mixes folklore in with the text, which never happens today. If you don’t have live babies your tribe dies out. It’s about living the best way you can in the natural world.
“It will go in my safe at home and it will stay in Britain, but I’ll be very happy to loan it to universities, libraries, academics or anyone who is interested in seeing it.”
Mr Spencer was inundated with emails and phone calls from all over the world after news of the sale of the book went global.
He said: “It’s been crazy. The impact of this book has been phenomenal and the atmosphere during the sale was very intense.
“Our story about the book appeared in newspapers and on websites across the world including Spain, Mexico, Australia and America. We had stories in the New York Post and Germany’s Bild newspaper and the book was mentioned on national TV and radio. I even saw a tweet about it from Bill Oddie of the Goodies.
“At one point, I was receiving emails every few minutes from people interested in buying it, including sex therapists.
“People contacted me from all over the world including Russia, Israel, America, New Zealand, Australia, Spain, Germany and, of course, Britain.”
The book is laced with elements of religion, claims of monstrous births due to ‘women lying with beasts’, witchcraft, old wives’ tales and astrology.
Mr Spencer said: “People were particularly fascinated by the advice it gave to make men more virile. They were urged to eat meat to ‘make the seed abound’. A long list of recommended foods to aid men’s sexual function included eggs, sparrows, blackbirds, gnat snappers, thrushes, partridges, parsnips, young pigeons, ginger and turnips.
“The first edition of this book was published in 1684 and it was as good as banned until the 1960s.
“There were several reasons for that. For example, it includes woodcut illustrations of ‘monsters’ that 'are begot by Women's unnatural lying with Beasts' - an example being a woman 'generating with a dog'.
“There are illustrations of beast-like creatures including a man sporting a bushy dog’s tail and a monster being born in Ravenna, Italy, in 1512.
“This is blamed on ‘filthy and corrupt affection’. But you have to bear in mind that this book was written when people were still being burnt for witchcraft in Georgian England.
“It even claims parents’ imaginations produce a child’s features and includes an illustration of a ‘maid all hairy and an infant that was born black by the imagination of the parents’.
“In fact, if women cast their eyes on ill-shaped bodies, ‘the force of imagination’ could produce a child with ‘a hairy lip, wry mouth or great blubber-lips’.
“Instead, during sex woman were urged to ‘earnestly look upon the man and fix her mind upon him.’ Then ‘the child will resemble its father’.
“A century after women first won the right to vote in the UK, this book takes us back to very different times. It talks of man being ‘the wonder of the world, to whom all things are subordinate’. Meanwhile women are painted as being prone to sexual indulgence.”
Advice is also forthcoming to produce a boy or girl. To have a boy, a woman should lie on her right after sex; to have a girl, on her left.
As regards the making of a baby, man’s seed is a ‘divine gift abundantly endued with vital spirit which gives shape and form to the embryo’.
The book even touches on pregnant women’s ‘greedy longings for things that are contrary to nutriments’ such as ‘coals, rubbish, chalk, hob-nails, leather, man’s flesh and horse flesh’.
But man’s ‘divine nature’ is not all-conquering. Errors of marriage include a younger man who, to advance his fortune, marries a woman old enough to be his grandmother.
‘The like may be said when a doting old fellow marries a young virgin in the prime of her youth and vigour, who he vainly tries to please, thereby going to his grave’.
The book was sold on March 27 at a Library Auction at Hansons Auctioneers, Heage Lane, Etwall, Derbyshire. To find out more, email [email protected] or call 01283 733988.