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A New Book on X-Rated Antiques

In The People’s Porn, out this November, DePaul University professor Lisa Sigel explores the history of handmade smut.

X-rated antique coin
Is that a doctored coin in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me? Photo: Kinsey Institute

Quilted porn. Erotic scrimshaw on walrus tusks. What insights do such items give you?

We don’t necessarily believe how people write about their pornography practices: “I’m only looking at the articles.” These let you see how people conceptualize sex at the moment.

How do items get from “Oh my God, I found this in the attic” to where you can study them?

When Alfred Kinsey was alive, he was in contact with police departments, prisons, and psychiatric facilities that sent materials, like magazines where someone would erase a gown and draw the naked body beneath. Police departments would be like, “Kinsey, do you want them?”

What’s one favorite?

Little carved coffin figures — when you open the lid, the corpse’s penis pops up. Every time I think I understand what this field looks like, somebody says, “Oh, have you seen X?”

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