The Pages of Sin — a brief history of prostitute guidebooks

I just wrote an essay for the New York Times on the history of prostitute guidebooks through various “golden ages” of sin, from Renaissance Venice to Georgian London, belle époque Paris and pre-WW1 New Orleans… (I discovered them while researching my books The Sinner’s Grand Tour and Napoleon’s Privates… the NYTimes essay itself, Guidebooks to Babylon, can be seen by clicking here…)  My argument is that these books, long dismissed by scholars, are actually troves of information about the long-forgotten underbellies of various cities — and the forgotten 99 percent of history’s population.

I thought readers might like to see a few images related to the piece:

The frontspiece of the 1788 edition of Harris's List of Covent Garden Ladies, the bestselling annual directory to the working girls of 18th century London.

The Gentleman's Directory to New York... unfortunately, many of the American guides are rather bland compared to the Rabelaisian European versions.

Pages from the Little Black Book, a guide to Kansas City prostitutes in the 1890s; the most creative of the US guides, it includes wicked poems and stories about naughty nuns. I found a copy in the Obscura curiosity store on Tenth Street, around the corner from my apartment in New York...

 

A few notes didn’t make it into the essay due to length…

For example, one of the Renaissance guides, the bluntly-named “Price List of the Whores of Venice,” was composed in the form of a vulgar dialogue between two noblemen, with practical details about the courtesans woven throughout the text.  Today, it is useful to historians as evidence of male insecurity at the growing economic power of the women…

 

The Five Artiest Brothels in France

I just posted a fun blog on the Huffington Post from my recent trip to Paris, about the five brothels most revered for their artistic decor.  I revisited a marvelous gallery of historical erotica I discovered while researching The Sinner’s Grand Tour.  You can read about it here

Some of the photos were a bit too lurid to include in the post (at least without artful cropping) — I thought readers of the MoSex blog might appreciate them, however…

Of course, one might also go to paris and drop in on Au Bonheur du Jour gallery at 11 Rue Chabanais to see the images and artifacts in the flesh…

 

The s-and-m brothel on Rue Navarin had a special room for mock black masses…
The legendary dancer “Irene”, star of tableaux vivants in One Two Two, a brothel frequented by Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart and Marlene Dietrich, amongst other Hollywood stars…

Painting at 32 Rue Blondel, once favored by Henry Miller and Anais Nin in the 1930s