Show & Tell

In February of 1873, while lobbying in Washington, D.C., Anthony Comstock organized, in the words of Amy Sohn in The Man Who Hated Women, “the most vivid exhibition of sex toys the capital had ever seen.” On a mahogany table in the chambers of Vice President Schuyler Colfax, Senators and Representatives feasted their eyes on obscene engravings, woodcuts, photos, books and playing cards, and were able to handle many “rubber articles.”

“At first a few were present,” Comstock recalled, “[but] as they became impressed with the facts presented, they went for their colleagues, until the room was well filled.”

Comstock not only filled the room, he also got the legislation he wanted, known soon as The Comstock Act. But he soon felt the act needed strengthening, with stiffer penalties. In February of 1876, he returned to Washington and brought his road show to the House Postal Committee. The National Republican noted, “Mr. Comstock had with him for exhibition a large lot of the worst specimens of pictures and appliances for the induction and cultivation of vicious practices that could be imagined by the basest mind. The committee put on its spectacles and investigated them with fear and trembling, as well it might, for really the ingenuity displayed in efforts to demoralize the youth of this country surpasses credibility.”

In February of 1880, Comstock was back for an encore. The Brooklyn Union and Argus reported, “Anthony Comstock yesterday presented to the House Postal Committee his views upon excluding obscene literature and lottery matters from the mails. Mr. Comstock exhibited to the committee some samples of material he has confiscated. Mr. Comstock has a keen sense on the subject. What he does not know about it, learned, of course, in his moral hunts, is not worth finding out.”

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