On April 16, 1887, Anthony Comstock was out for a stroll when he spotted something horrifying in a shop window. The New York Herald told the story with the headline “GOING FOR THE LITTLE FELLOWS”:
“As he neared the corner of Ann street his countenance flushed and the self-satisfied smile withered. Hanging in the window of a cigar store was the latest edition of the Sporting & Turf Record, on the initial page of which was a copy of Bouguereau’s celebrated painting, ‘Nymphs and Satyr.’ The original of this work is owned by Messrs. [Cassius M.] Reed & [Edward S.] Stokes, the proprietors of the Hoffman House, purchased by them at auction for $10,100, and it now forms the greatest attraction of their barroom.
“Mr. Comstock was greatly incensed, and, entering the cigar store, demanded that he be given the picture. When the proprietor learned who the gentleman was he immediately complied with his request, and the paper was torn to shreds. Not satisfied with this, Mr. Comstock betook himself to the publication office of the Sporting & Turf Record and demanded of Mr. E.M. Randall, the publisher, that the remainder of the edition be given him for destruction. After hot words had passed between the publisher and the moralist, the request was granted, and Mr. Comstock, constituting himself both judge and jury, proceeded to destroy about three hundred papers.
“The action of Mr. Comstock has caused much comment, and the opinion is general that if the copies of ‘Nymphs and Satyr’ are detrimental to public morals the original is more so.”
Hoffman House bar by Henry Atwell Thomas of Thomas & Wylie Lithographic Co.
Indeed, so why did Comstock give the Hoffman House a pass? Perhaps because it was a gathering place of the wealthy and influential, and perhaps because Edward S. Stokes had shot and killed Big Jim Fisk, a crime for which he did four years’ hard time. (Comstock much preferred to bully the unarmed, especially women, peddlers and shopkeepers, and even more especially if they were Jewish or newly arrived on these shores. In fact, about 50% of the people he arrested were immigrants.)
So, the Hoffman House was another thing entirely, and “Nymphs and Satyr” hung unmolested in its place of pride.
The Hoffman House Bouquet Cigar
The very rare U.S. 2-cent Anthony Comstock Satyr issue
Note: William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s “Nymphs and Satyr” is now in the collection of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts.