Getting laid, 19th-century style

An ad from “The Gentleman’s Directory” for French Imported Male Safes, aka condoms.

Measuring under 5″ tall – small enough for a man to slip discreetly into his breast pocket – “The Gentleman’s Directory” was an invaluable resource for a man looking for a certain kind of evening entertainment in 1870. The 55-page guide book reviewed 150 New York City brothels and was sold at newsstands amongst the newspapers and magazines of the day. How did the authors get away with this, especially since prostitution was just as illegal then as it is now? This side note on page three may have been what relinquished the book’s publisher from any wrongdoing:

“But we point out the location of these places in order that the reader may know how to avoid them, and that he may not select one of them for his boarding house when he comes to the city. Our book will, therefore, be like a warning voice to the unwary – like a buoy attached to a sunken rock, which warns the inexperienced mariner to sheer off, lest he should be wrested on a dangerous and unknown coast.”

The 141-year-old book has been preserved at the New York Historical Society and was recently taken out at the request of The New York Times. Each House of Prostitution, as they were officially known, was individually researched, and thoroughly, too. The reviews are mostly positive. “No. 55 is kept by Miss Ada Blashfield, the dashing brunette, who has eight or ten boarders, both blondes and brunettes. These are a pretty lot.” Near worship is given to the house at 84 W. Houston Street where “everything is…arranged in the first style, while the bewitching smiles of the fairy-tale creatures who devote themselves to the services of Cupid are unrivaled by any of the fine ladies who walk Broadway in silks and satins new.”

Only nine establishments were found unworthy, like Hattie Taylor’s house at 111 Spring Street, which drew “roughs and rowdies and gentlemen who turn their shirts wrong-side out when the other side is dirty.” The entire book is available to peruse online, as is a map of the brothels’ former locations, most of which reside in Soho. Sadly, most of the original buildings have since been torn down.