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Aristotle’s Complete Master-Piece, a 17th century sex manual banned for over two centuries, has sold above estimate at Lyon & Turnbull.
First published in 1684, the book was intended as a guide for young couples to sex, conception, pregnancy and birth, as well as containing a few warnings against engaging in sinful activities.
Much of the advice was largely based on superstition. The book suggests that if parents were sinning whilst conceiving a child, the baby was likely to be born a monster, malformed or covered in fur. This notion was typical of the era, when portents and prodigies, witches and evil were rife in English culture.
The book includes a number of graphic illustrations. It was banned for its content in the 18th century, considered taboo and distasteful. Printers avoided including their names in the book for fear of prosecution.
Yet the work maintained a secretive popularity, selling extremely well under the counter to curious readers.
Book specialist at Lyon & Turnbull Simon Vickers stated: ‘Drawing from the works of Nicholas Culpepper and Albertus Magnus, with a good dose of old wife's tale, there were more editions of this work published in the 18th century than any other medical text’.
The anonymous writers attributed the work to Aristotle, possibly as a marketing ploy.
The copy of the book offered at the auction was the 1760s ‘Improved’ version. It was expected to sell for £300-£400, but heated bidding pushed it up to a hammer price of £550 at Lyon & Turnbull’s January 16 Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Photographs sale.