Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2019 Issue

British Library Digitizes Its "Private Case" Collection, AKA Porn Books

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An illustration from Harris's List of Covent Garden Ladies.

In the apparent belief that there is a shortage of digital porn available to the public, the British Library has digitized its infamous "Private Case" collection. You may have to go to the library's "reading room," or that of a subscribing institution to conduct your research, but it is now readily available to you. This wasn't always the case.

 

Up until a spin-off in 1973, the collections that later formed the British Library were part of the British Museum. They had been given books, to use the words of an earlier time, wanting in "redeeming social value," by people who collected such stuff. This had been going on for over a century, but the British Museum was trapped between preservation and acknowledging possession of material deemed disgraceful, at least publicly. So they kept it away from everything else, locked up in its own special case. Hence it was given the name "Private Case" collection. After all, this collection was begun during Victorian times, and Queen Victoria was not exactly known for her libertine moral views.

 

Once the British Library was separated from the Museum in 1973, authorities became more liberal with the collection. Barriers to viewing it were lowered, and eventually, anyone could see it if they requested. Nevertheless, its existence was not widely known, the British Library not exactly promoting it. And, since it was not separately cataloged, it was hard to find the material. It was buried in there with the cards for millions of other books. You needed to know exactly what you wanted to see it.

 

Now that has all changed. The 2,500 volumes in the Private Case collection have been digitized with the assistance of Gale, a database provider. The material can be viewed on screens in the British Library's reading rooms, or at any other library that subscribes to this database. You might want to encourage your local library to subscribe if they don't already (they probably don't).

 

The oldest title in the collection comes from 1658, Rare Verities: the Cabinet of Venus Unlocked and Her Secrets Laid Open. Today, the title of such a book would be less subtle and more straightforward, but you can still figure out what this one is about. The 18th century brought perhaps the most famous of early British erotic tales, Fanny Hill or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. It was radical for its time, though the language is a bit stilted for today's audiences, who prefer little left to the imagination. There is the 20th century's The Story of O, said to be the dirtiest French novel ever written. This is from the land that produced the Marquis de Sade, no less. It must be something special. Unlike most of this pornography, it was written by a woman, Anne Declos.

 

Speaking of the good Marquis, de Sade is found in this collection too. It has been over two centuries since he graced the literary scene yet his writings are still way too depraved even by current standards. You can call his work "timeless."

 

And then there are the Merryland books. These were first published in the 1740s. These, like others of its age, are both subtle and obvious, not so clear as to incur the wrath of censors, but not so subtle that their meaning could be misunderstood. Among their authors was one Roger Pheuquewell. One suspects that was a pseudonym.

 

Of a more practical nature was Harris's List of Covent-Garden Ladies. This afforded lists and addresses of working women, including details about their attributes and specialties. Miss Sp-nc-r of 35 Newman Street "is never so good a companion as when a little enlivened with the juice of the grape." Of Miss Fr-m of Berwick Street we learn that her "parts below are very conveniently adapted to any size."

 

Who says history has to be dull?

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 21:</b> Princess Diana, group of 6 ALS to the editor of British Vogue, 1989-92. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 21:</b> Joseph Brant, Mohawk Chief, ALS, writing with news after pledging support to King George III against the American rebels, 1776. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 21:</b> Ulysses S. Grant, photograph dated & signed as President, portrait by Brady, 1875. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 21:</b> Alexander Graham Bell, ALS, accepting an invitation to tea during his only trip to Japan, 1898. $1,000 to $2,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 21:</b> Nikola Tesla, signature & date on his monogrammed correspondence card, 1935. $3,500 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 21:</b> Richard Wagner, ALS, concerning his opera Rienzi, 1869. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 21:</b> Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, autograph note signed, requesting the address of Yvette Guilbert, 1895. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 21:</b> Claude Monet, ALS, to painter Harry Lachman, complaining that his vision has not improved, 1920s. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 21:</b> Friedrich Hölderlin, autograph manuscript, unsigned, 7 lines quoting Michael Denis's <i>Ossians und Sineds Lieder.</i> $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 21:</b> Guestbook for Lüchow's restaurant, over 400 signatures, including W.H. Auden, Grace Kelly & drawings by Charles Addams, NYC, 1950-56. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 21:</b> George Washington, lottery ticket, signed, 1768. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 21:</b> Vaslav Nijinsky, postcard dated & signed, showing a drawing of him in <i>Schéhérazade,</i> 1916. $2,500 to $3,500.
  • <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Walt Whitman. <i>Leaves of Grass.</i> First edition, first issue, SIGNED in block letters by Whitman. 1855. $200,000 to $300,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Isaac Newton's copy of John Greave's <i>Pyramidographia,</i> London, 1646. $50,000 to $70,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Colonel John Mosby. Robert E. Lee's autograph letter to Samuel Cooper reporting on Mosby's exploits, with Cooper's autograph note ordering his appointment to Major.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Gyula Halasz Brassai. Large archive of autograph and typed letters, over 260, to his family including his wife Gilberte, 1947-1978. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Archive of drawings and letters from Harper Lee to Charles Carruth, including an inscribed first edition of <i>To Kill a Mockingbird.</i> $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 11:</b> VESALIUS, ANDREAS. 1514-1564. <i>De humani corporis fabrica libri septem.</i> Basel: Johannes Oporinus, June 1543. $300,000 to $500,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 11:</b> HARVEY, WILLIAM. 1578-1657. <i>De motu cordis & sanguinis in animalibus Anatomica Exercitatio.</i> Leiden: Joannis Maire, 1639. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 11:</b> BERENGARIO DA CARPI, GIACOMO. 1460-1530. <i>Isagogae breves perlucide ac uberrimae in Anatomiam humani corporis.</i> Bologna: Benedictus Hectoris, 15 July 1523. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams NY, Mar 11:</b> FRANKLIN, BENJAMIN. 1706-1790. <i>Experiments and Observations on Electricity, made at Philadelphia in America…</i> London, 1769. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams NY, Mar 11:</b> BENIVIENI, ANTONIO. 1443-1502. <i>De abditis nonnullis ac mirandis morborum et sanationum causis.</i>Florence: Filippo Giunta, 1507. $8,000 to $12,000
  • <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 28, 2019</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Greco (Gioachino). <i>Primo modo del gioco de Partito…</i> Manuscript, France, 1624 or 1625. A collection of partiti, or 'chess problems' by one of the most important figures in the history of chess. £20,000 to £30,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Herodotus. <i>Historiae,</i> translated into Latin by Lorenzo Valla and edited by Antonio Mancinelli. Venice, 1494. £15,000 to £20,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Darwin (Charles). Autograph Letter signed to his cousin Reginald Darwin, Down, Beckenham, Kent, 27th March 1879. £12,000 to £18,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 28, 2019</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Nicolay (Nicolas de). <i>The Navigations, peregrinations and voyages, made into Turkie,</i> first edition in English, Imprinted at London by Thomas Dawson, 1585. £10,000 to £15,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Saint-Exupéry (Antoine de). <i>The Little Prince,</i> number 66 of 525 copies signed by the author, 1943. £8,000 to £12,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Catlin (George, 1796-1872). Tuch-ee, A Celebrated War Chief of the Cherokees, watercolour, [circa 1834]. £6,000 to £8,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 28, 2019</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Genetics.- A collection of c.300 pamphlets on genetics comprising many of the major contributions from the first half of the 20th century. £5,000 to £7,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar 28:</b> India.- Rajasthan.- Kota School (probably late 18th c.). Elephant in a landscape with chains around his feet, brush and black ink with opaque pigments. £5,000 to £7,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Commelin (Caspar). <i>Horti medici Amstelaedamensis plantae rariores et exoticae,</i> first edition, 48 finely hand-coloured engraved plates, Leiden, F.Haringh, 1706. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 28, 2019</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Plague-water and cookery & medical recipes.- Jackson (Mrs Sarah). Medical and cookery recipes, manuscript in several hands, title and 134pp., 1688-1755. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Vernet (<i>After</i> Joseph, 1714-1789). <i>[Vues des ports de France],</i> sixteen plates (of 18), etchings and engravings by Charles Nicolas Cochin fils and Jacques Philippe Le Bas, [c.1760-1780]. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Detmold (Edward Julius, 1883-1957). Parrots and Butterflies, watercolour. £2,500 to £3,500.
  • <b>Koller Auctions: Books & Autographs. March 26, 2019</b>
    <b>Koller Auctions, Mar 26:</b> Jacques Gamelin. <i>Nouveau recueil d'osteologie et de myologie, dessine d'apres nature...</i> 2 parts in 1 vol., large folio, 82 copper plates. CHF 12,000 to 18,000
    <b>Koller Auctions, Mar 26:</b> Melchior Pfintzing. <i>Die geverlicheiten und einsteils geschichten des loblichen streytparen...</i> 118 woodcut engravings, first edition. CHF 30,000 to 50,000
    <b>Koller Auctions, Mar 26:</b> Book of hours. Handwritten Latin text on vellum. With 17 large miniatures, Flanders, c.1460. CHF 70,000 to 90,000
    <b>Koller Auctions, Mar 26:</b> Maria Sibylla Merian. <i> Dissertatio de generatione et metamorphosibus insectorum Surinamensium,</i> 72 copper plates, Den Haag, 1726. CHF 60,000 to 90,000

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