Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2008 Issue

<i>Hell at the Library</i> -- Where Hell = Sex

X

The French National Library is lit up like a big &quot;X&quot; to mark its exhibit of erotic &quot;art.&quot;


By Michael Stillman

Leave it to the French to employ reverse psychology to bring visitors back to the library. An exhibition is currently open at the French National Library entitled Hell at the Library. The devil is in the details. Amidst the living Hell of stacks upon stacks of dull, erudite tomes traditionally associated with a library, this collection is a brief glimpse of heaven. However, for over two centuries the library kept the heavenly bodies in this collection far from the leering eyes of its depraved patrons. It was open only to the responsible librarians, mature and intellectual enough to view it only for educational purposes.

This, of course, is an exhibition of books, prints, images, recordings, even old movies that can be classified as either art or pornography, depending on your level of honesty. "Hell" was the name librarians gave to the area that housed this collection over a century and a half ago. Evidently, they either believed that this was the appropriate place for such material, or where those who looked at it would go. Nonetheless, they seemed unable to discard the stuff either. We aren't sure why it all ended up in the library in the first place, though some reportedly came there after confiscation by the police. Still, it would be intriguing to know why it was kept for so long even though not made available to the public. I have a theory.

Among the items on display is a manuscript written by that pillar of high society and good taste, the Marquis de Sade. Marie Antoinette is pilloried by being displayed in various undignified poses, a reflection of the then brewing revolution which would leave her in the even less dignified pose of having one's head separated from her body. The clergy was granted no more quarter than royalty. A pamphlet from the same era contains a list of the names of priests who consorted with women of the night, including the names and addresses of those fine ladies. This, presumably, was for those who wanted to confirm the accuracy of these claims, rather than provide the ladies with additional business. In an aside to good taste and class, the pamphlet even describes the type of activities in which the priests and their women friends allegedly engaged.

A century later, they were still compiling lists of these businesswomen, though this time the report was prepared by the police. This accounting even contains a price list. Other items include inappropriate images behind peep show style paper doors, recorded readings of once banned poetry (wow, that sounds exciting) and some grainy old movies from the 1920s.

Frankly, it doesn't sound like any of this horse-and-buggy pornography would shock anyone today, but surprisingly enough, the French, who normally aren't upset by anything, are prohibiting anyone under age 16 from attending. My guess is this is not because the young would be shocked but because they would be disappointed. They have undoubtedly seen much better. This exhibit will be open until March 22 for those wishing to revisit that good old-time pornography.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Abraham Lincoln, <i>Emancipation Proclamation by the President of the United States,</i> pamphlet, 1862. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the distinguished Ruby-Jackson family, Portland, Maine, 1853-1961. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens & the persons who served him, 1866-1907. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Autograph book with inscriptions by orators Moses Roper & Peter Williams, 1821-54. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Archive of letters, postcards, and greeting cards sent by Romare Bearden, 1949-87. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br>E. Simms Campbell, <i>A Night-Club Map of Harlem,</i> in inaugural issue of Manhattan, 1933. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Papers of the comedian Nipsey Russell, including a letter from MLK, 1929-2000. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Early German-American anti-slavery broadside, <i>Sclaven-Handel,</i> Philadelphia, 1794. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Edmonia Lewis, prominent sculptor, carte-de-visite by Henry Rocher, c. 1866-71. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br><i>The Black Panther: Black Community News Service,</i> 44 issues, San Francisco, 1967-1971. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Withers, <i>I Am A Man, Sanitation Workers Strike,</i> silver print, 1968. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> <i>March For Freedom Now!,</i> poster for the 1960 Republican Convention. $4,000 to $6,000.
  • <center><b>Arader Galleries<br>April Auction<br>April 4, 2020</b>
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> MITCHELL, John (1711-1768). A Map of the British and French Dominions in North America. Copperplate engraving with original hand color. London, 1755. $250,000 to $350,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> AUDUBON, John James (1785 - 1851). Brown Pelican (Standing), Plate 251. Aquatint engraving with original hand color. London, 1827-1838. $175,000 to $225,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> AUDUBON, John James (1785 - 1851). Fish Hawk or Osprey, Plate 81. Aquatint engraving with original hand color. London: 1827-1838. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <center><b>Arader Galleries<br>April Auction<br>April 4, 2020</b>
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> GONZALES DE MENDOZA, Juan (1545 - 1618). <i>The Historie of the great and mightie kingdome of China…</i> London, 1588. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> VERBIEST, Ferdinand (1623-1688). [World Map] Kun-Yu Ch'uan-Tu. Engraved twelve sheet map with vertical sections joined to form six sheets. Korea, Seoul, c. 1860. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> SANGGI, Chong (1678-1752). Korean Atlas. Manuscript map on mulberry bark paper. C. 1750-1790. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <center><b>Arader Galleries<br>April Auction<br>April 4, 2020</b>
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> AUDUBON, John James (1785 - 1851). Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Plate 66. Aquatint engraving with original hand color. London, 1827-1838. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> AKERMAN, Anders (1721-1778). & AKREL, Frederik (1779-1868). Pair of Celestial and Terrestrial Globes. Stockholm, c. 1800. 23 inch diameter, each. $60,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> BENNETT, Lieut. William Pyt (d. in action, 1916). AN IMPORTANT AND APPARENTLY UNPUBLISHED SERIES OF GELATIN SILVER PHOTOGRAPHS OF LHASA AND TIBET TAKEN DURING THE CELEBRATED YOUNGHUSBAND MISSION OF 1904. $60,000 to $80,000

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