An 18th century 'Aristotle' sex manual, which was banned in the United Kingdom until the mid sixties, sold in Edinburgh yesterday (January 17) for £550 ($881). The sale price represents a 37.5% increase on the volume's £400 top estimate - testament to its niche appeal and novelty value.
Entitled Aristotle's Compleat Master-Piece, the book contains antiquated advice for copulating couples as well as amateur midwives. First published in 1684, after being compiled by an anonymous author largely from old wives' tales; the book was revised and reissued soon after. The edition in question dates from 1766.
Speaking before the sale, Cathy Marsden, a book specialist for the auction house at which the Compleat Master-Piece was sold, commented: "We don't really know why it was attributed to Aristotle but one possibility is that they were just trying to make it sound better or more worthy than it might have been."
Considered indecent, the book was banned in the mid 19th century and remained so until traditional notions of obscenity were challenged during the swinging sixties.
According to Marsden, images of "hairy children or children with their mouths where their navels are" pervade the text, acting as a warning to anyone considering in indulging in sex outside of marriage. Although the bizarre illustrations would not be considered graphic by any reasonable contemporary observer, they are believed to be the main contributory factor in the book's subsequent banning.
Marsden concurs: "We wouldn't find any of [the images] particularly offensive or shocking. There are some drawings of babies inside the womb and of deformed children. As it was a 'vernacular book', it may have been considered lewd.
"It's fascinating reading. It tells an amazing story about the changing perspectives on sex."
The improbable Se Laude Verginitatis - a sex guide created for nuns - brought £337,250 ($504,891) at Sotheby's in January last year, suggesting there remains a ready market for such novel tomes.
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