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Secret Victorian brothel guide – hidden in special wallet – sells for 13 times estimate

Posted on 12/12/2019 in Press Coverage

A Victorian man’s pocket guide to London’s prostitutes – disguised as a wallet – has smashed its estimate at auction.

The Man of Pleasure’s Illustrated Pocket-Book for 1850: A Complete and Gentlemanly Night Guide, London, went under the hammer at Hansons Auctioneers (Dec 12) and sold for more than 13 times its low estimate of £300. A private UK buyer paid £4,000 to own the 169-year-old book.

The Victorian guide, which includes 50 sketches and descriptions of women, was sent to Hansons’ books expert Jim Spencer for free valuation.

Jim said: “It’s an amazing result that’s exceeded expectations. Antiquarian books of this nature do seem to do very well. Early erotic publications are sought after by collectors, both nationally and internationally.

“Books such as this were published and sold in secret at a time when they were regarded as obscene. The fact that this latest find was disguised as a wallet speaks volumes about its content.”

The book describes individual prostitutes using coded language and makes use of equestrian and seafaring references. For example, Miss Murray, of Foley Place, Oxford Street, is described as a little frigate fit for a king to board.

Then there is Miss Fowler who 'when stepping into a cab or coach, she makes the most of her leg; and in an omnibus she generally sets fire to all the male passengers, so that you see them fidgeting and adjusting their rebellious members the remainder of the journey'.

Another page describes Miss A Parks who is noted for her singing when she 'visits the side-boxes'. 'In duets she employs her tongue and voice full as satisfactory as when it emits the shrillest note. She performs her part with admirable skill and dexterity, and in such cases chooses the lowest part'.

Meanwhile, Miss Alice Grey is 'frequently mounted a la militaire, and as frequently performs the rites of the love-inspiring queen according to the equestrian order, in which style she is said to afford uncommon delight’.

But feasting on passion as its downsides. A section entitled The Health of The Man of Pleasure includes prescriptions - and descriptions - of sexually transmitted diseases. A page on ‘gonorrhoea or clap’ advises drinking a pint of water containing linseed and sugar or lemon and also advocates barley water or thin gruel to offset the symptoms.

Jim said: “I have a knack for unearthing centuries-old erotic literature, so much so my nickname at work is The Laird of Lewd.”

As well as the Victorian wallet find, he discovered a 300-year-old sex manual from 1720 which sold for £3,100 from an estimate of £80-£120. This was followed by Memoirs of the Life of Miss Fanny Hill, The Career of A Woman of Pleasure, from 1749, which sold for £360 from an estimate of £40-£60.

Another auction success was Swell’s Night Guide Through the Metropolis from 1841 which made £4,000 from its £800-£1,200 estimate. Jim also discovered six volumes of Justine by Marquis de Sade from 1791. Napoleon ordered the destruction of all copies and its rarity saw the price reach £8,000 from a guide of £2,000-£3,000.

The Man of Pleasure’s Illustrated Pocket-Book for 1850 was sold on December 12 in Hansons’ Fine Art & Library Auction at Bishton Hall, Wolseley Bridge, Staffs, ST17 OXN. To find out more, email [email protected].