Porn Through the Years

Porn Russian Nesting Dolls
Sasha Mordovets | Getty Images
Porn Russian Nesting Dolls

Erotic collectibles generally aren't showcased in the living room — they're something most people would only brag about to close friends. But if you know the market, they can be curiously lucrative.

Odds are that porn DVD you bought online will never appreciate — even 50 years from now. But the sex industry has a deep history in various forms of culture and at various stages of media. That has proved enticing to certain collectors.

Pinning down the value on this sort of memorabilia is a little trickier. (After all, there's no sort of price guide available.) Still, there is a market. And, like any collectible field, there are categories and particular items that draw particular attention.


In December 1953, Playboy, the mainstream men's magazine, hit the market, sowing the seeds for the emergence of today's adult industry.

Source: Playboy

Nearly 60 years later, that magazine, with its Marilyn Monroe centerfold and an original cover price of 50 cents, remains one of the most desired collectibles in this field.

The first issue had a circulation of just under 54,000 and sold out in a matter of weeks, according to the Playboy Collector's Association.

The price of an original copy (and not the 2007 replica, which is difficult to discern) varies, but a mint edition can go for as much as $6,300. On average, a copy sells in the $3,000 range.

If the Marilyn Monroe Playboy is the most famous adult magazine, the September 1984 issue of Penthouse might be the most infamous — for two reasons.

When founder/publisher Bob Guccione printed nude pictures of Vanessa Williams, the reigning Miss America at the time, people couldn't buy it fast enough.

The issue sold 5.3 million copies — the second highest ever for a U.S. magazine. Despite the

Source: Penthouse

high newsstand sales, it still became a collectible since it played such a key role in the scandal that followed.

Unfortunately for collectors, the issue's centerfold was the first appearance of Traci Lords, who turned out to be 16 years old at the time, making anyone in possession of the magazine at risk of owning child pornography.

As a result, the issue's worth just $90 today, assuming anyone is willing to admit to owning a copy.

Movie Memorabilia

Long before VHS, DVDs, and the Internet, porn films played in theaters — and many strove to achieve the legitimacy of Hollywood releases.

This meant movies posters and press kits. The original posters for those films are now valuable to collectors, partially for the kitsch appeal.

Most sell in the $200 to $500 range, but rare, high-quality posters (such as the original one-sheets for the film "Deep Throat") can fetch $5,000 or more.


"A lot of people are rediscovering the [older] films, because a lot of the stuff they're making now is fast and furious," says Dr. Ted McIlvenna, president of the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality and curator of the Erotic Heritage Museum in Las Vegas. "One sheets and press books and early stuff like that was part of the American sexual revolution."

(McIlvenna might own the largest collection of erotic memorabilia in the world. The 81-year-old former theological professor claims to have over 3 million items, filling up 34 warehouses.)

Of course, actresses and actors in the adult entertainment business delevop followings and these fan bases can lead to related collectibles and souvenirs. These items are unlikely to appreciate over time, however. (Read More: The Porn Convention.)

As for the films themselves, there's really not much of a market there — at least for most films made this century. Studios flooded the market with prints (and reprints) to capitalize on demand, much as they do today.

There is, however, a curiosity about sexual images from the early 1900s.

Silent movies ...

When Louis Lumière invented the motion picture camera in 1895, it didn't take long for someone to film the first sex scene.


The first known movie is an 1896 film dubbed "Le Coucher de la Marie," though only two minutes of that seven to eight minute film still exist.

In terms of American antique porn, 1915's "A Free Ride" was the first — and it shows how little plots have progressed in the past 100 years. A man driving a Model-T Ford picks up two women hitchhikers, drives them to the desert — then has sex with them.

The dialogue is about the same, too — only instead of hearing it, viewers had to read it on title cards.

As with artwork, prices for vintage porn films run the gamut.

Erotic Art

While most museums don't display erotic works of art, in an effort to be family friendly, there's a lot of sexuality in the art world — and a lot of it is hardcore. Plenty of paintings, bronze sculptures, and objects feature graphic images of sex.


Ancient Asian art is the most prevalent, but all cultures have examples of erotic art, including some well-known artists such as Thomas Rowlandson. Prices vary widely.

"People are realizing how important erotic art is to both own and display," says Naomi Wilzig, founder and president of the World Erotic Art Museum in Miami Beach.

She added: "People used to cast it aside as sordid, but are now realizing it's important. There's no doubt it's escalating [in value]. And I think the idea of seeing so much escalation not only woke people up to the idea that it was there but [also caused them to think] instead of looking at the smutty side of it, why not look to the more artistic, beautiful side of it?"

Adult novelties ...

Adult Novelties

Sex toys have been around for hundreds of years — and there's a growing interest in these antiques.

Source: Brentwood Antiques Auction

In March 2010, an anonymous bidder paid 3,600 British pounds (more than $5,800 at the current exchange rate) for a pair of wooden phalluses, likely from France, which dated back to the 1700s.

Typically, though, those sorts of transactions are done privately, rather than through public auction.

"Because of the category we're in, people tend to be less public, so it's hard to say when and where people have traded these things," says Ethan Imboden, founder of Jimmyjane. "I think we're at an interesting moment in the intersection of sex and art."

As far as the current toy market goes, several of today's high-end sex toy companies, in an effort to emulate Apple's design philosophy, are focusing on the aesthetic appeal of their products, in addition to the pleasure aspects — and that's drawing the attention of modern artists.

Jamie Hewlett, creator of the “Tank Girl” comic, has worked with JimmyJane to produce a series of toys, as has music group Eurythmics co-founder Dave Stewart.

Source: Jimmyjane

Will their involvement on these limited-edition products increase the value? Only time will tell, but toy companies are hopeful their products take on an extended life.

"I think there will be more of these intersections that will create these collectible pieces," says Imboden. "Because of the taboo in the past, they're fairly rare, but as we move forward and [more artists begin] working in this space, I think you'll see more and more interest and an accompanying market."