Back in the day, our ancestors didn't have access to the cornucopia of smut that is essentially the entire internet. No, in terms of prurient high technology, they had to make do with bizarre clockwork doohickeys that depicted tiny manikins furiously humping away. Here are ten of our favorite sexual automata of yore.
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1. This Coital Amusement Box
Oh dear, this is like witnessing the conception of Barbie's grandfather. We sadly don't have the audio from this early 1900s "painted and ebonised wood musical automaton erotic group" (which sold for $1,822 back in a 2008 auction) but here's hoping it played the brassy tunes of John Philip Sousa loud enough to wake the neighbors.
2. The Gentlemen's Amusement
And from the early nineteenth century, we have the Gentlemen's Amusement, a mechanical toy that depicts a Native American woman trapped in a cupboard by two American soldiers. (The elementary school book report staple this device is not.) When the door opens, she lifts the Old Glory from her crotch, a spectacle hundreds of sarsaparilla-addled saloon hounds undoubtedly told their grandsons about in hushed tones on their deathbeds. As Karen A. Sherry of the Brooklyn Museum explains of this novelty:
In several key ways, this peepshow structurally reproduces the "secret museum" or "private case" tradition in which curators kept obscene materials hidden, locked up, or otherwise restricted–just as Gentlemen's Amusement places the naked woman in a cabinet under guard. This tradition began in the mid-eighteenth century, when the Museo Borbonico (today the National Museum of Naples) secretly stashed any pornographic artifacts excavated from Pompeii in locked vaults.
In the following century, the British Museum in London and the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, among other institutions, established their own versions of the private case. Such curatorial practices were intended to safeguard public morality, but gentlemen with enough clout and cash could still gain admission.
3. The Sexy Sphinx
This early 1900s Austrian novelty (which went for $2,726 in 2009) is a sphinx that opens up to reveal a beautiful lady in repose. It's actually sort of gorgeous, but it loses points in both execution and covertness. ("Hans, why are you going into the washroom with that sphinx statue again?" "Oh, I always complete my ablutions with my artifacts, Mutti.")
4. These Wind-up Lovers From Late 1800s India
The Khajuraho monuments this doodad is not. What's supposed to happen here is the male feebly thrusts at female, whose face betrays a deep sense of boredom and/or constipation. A hundred plus ago, the poor soul who was consigned to using this toy went to sleep every night praying for the invention of department store circulars. (Hat tip to OMG That Artifact.)
5-10. Erotic Watches
Why hide your porno underneath your mattress when you can waltz around with it in your pocket? Indeed, this impulse has informed watchmakers/perversion peddlers for centuries — for the past 300 or so years, tiny mechanical scenes of automata in flagrante delicto have been ferreted away in timepieces, allowing the owner to enjoy this robo-rutting at their leisure. Reuters elaborates on this practice:
The manufacture of watches with explicit motifs — often concealed from immediate view — began in the 17th century for the Chinese market, with the most luxurious timepieces created for the Emperor and his retinue. In the 18th century watchmakers introduced rhythmic interest by incorporating tiny automata to the erotic scenes and watches containing libertine scenes were made for the Far East, followed by India and more recently by the Middle-East.
Here's an exquisitely salacious collection of watches dated from the 1820s to the 1900s. They depict everything from an enormously endowed voyeuristic Satan, a threesome with some monks, and an inquisitive dog who is not killing the mood. One feels bad for these figures diddling away until the end of time, bad enough to pen a script in the vein of Toy Story that absolutely no studio will touch.
("What time is it, my good sir?" "Oh, it is Congress On A Horse O'Clock." "Tally-ho, carry on.")