Bloomberg Reports on New York Porn Before 'Screw'

Bob Johnson

NEW YORK — In the wake of the late Screw publisher Al Goldstein’s death, the Bloomberg news organization reported a brief history of porn publishing in New York City that seemingly set the stage for modern hardcore publications.

The article pointed out that by the 1830s and 1840s, big cities hosted a series of guidebooks and newspapers focusing on prostitution that often-included names and addresses of hookers as well as places where one could buy explicit porn engravings.

“Guides to prostitution could also be found in a series of contemporaneous newspapers that historians such as Patricia Cline Cohen, Timothy Gilfoyle and Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz have dubbed the ‘flash press.’ [a slang term for smartness and deceit].

These papers had titles like the ‘Whip,’ the ‘Libertine’ and the ‘Rake,’ and they served up a stew of sexually suggestive engravings, news of sports and popular entertainment, gossip, and satirical sendups of moral reformers and busybodies who wished to put an end to the twin evils of prostitution and pornography,” Bloomberg contributor Stephen Mihm, an associate professor of history at the University of Georgia, wrote.

New York was the first to publish a guide that described itself as a “moral reform directory” — a centuries old precursor to Goldstein’s Screw that called itself “a Consumer Reports of sex.”

After the Civil War, porn flourished with less risky (at the time) mail-order porn.But the business became so successful and controversial it led to the Comstock Act of 1873 that made it a federal crime to send “obscene materials” through the mail.

Fast forward to the 20th century when “publishers such as Hugh Hefner, Larry Flynt, and yes, Al Goldstein, pushed the boundaries of what could be published, never mind sent through the mail.”

 

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