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Victorian-era ivory sex toy generates excitement at Irish auction

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‘Ladies’ companion’ believed to have been carved from elephant tusk in China includes receptacle for lock of husband’s hair

When you think of sex toys, you may not automatically think of the Victorian era. Or Ireland.
But you would be wrong.

Over the weekend, Matthews auctioneers in County Meath, Ireland, is offering for sale an “antique carved ivory ladies’ companion in scarlet lined leather upholstered carry box with inset bevelled glass panel”. It’s also known as Lot 475.

“It is a beautiful piece, which comes from one of the well-known Anglo-Irish families,” auctioneer Damien Matthews told the Irish Times.

“A family member found it in a drawer, and he put it in the auction for fun really. We believe the ivory dates back to the 1840s. This fellow, the original owner, was in India in the 1840s, where he shot himself an elephant, and brought the tusk home.”

The well-travelled man later fought in the Boxer Rebellion in China from 1899 to 1901, which is where it is thought he had the ivory shaped into something more useful.

“The Chinese were famous for carving ivory, and the quality of carving is so good, I think that is where he would ... have had it done. He would not have known that he was coming home, and would have wanted his wife to have this,” said Matthews.

“This was a very enlightened family, and this would have been a very loving gift from a husband to wife. You can see that because the level of detail is incredible, down to the folds of the skin. There’s a heart carved at the base of it, where her finger would have been, and a receptacle in which she could keep a lock of his hair.”

Though the fine detail of the sex toy was done in China, its container was made in Ireland. “The leather box is Irish. She would have got the box carved for it – there’s a stamp on the lock with the name of an Irish locksmith.”

The Irish device is far from the only example of the Victorian-era interest in such matters. In the 2011 film Hysteria, Hugh Dancy plays a real Victorian doctor called Mortimer Granville, who turns his 1880s invention of a muscular massage device into a sexual awakening for his female patients.

Several historians have claimed women were brought to a “hysterical paroxysm” (an orgasm nobody wanted to admit to), by doctors through “pelvic massage” (ie masturbation). To help the doctors whose fingers were getting tired from all the patients being treated, supposedly, a vibrating device was invented. Some, though, are sceptical that the Victorians invented the vibrator.

Matthews says the ladies’ companion being offered for sale “is a great rarity”.

“I’ve been at this 25 years and I’ve never seen anything like it. You do get the Victorian era massagers every so often that come up for auction, but nothing like this.

“You’ve got to remember in Victorian times, the amount of people that could afford to indulge or create something like this was tiny. Ninety-nine percent of the country were trying to get by, so there were perhaps 400 or 500 families in the country with those kind of means. It’s not just a piece of erotica – it’s a work of art, and a fascinating piece of social history.”

There has been much interest in the piece, and the guide price is set at €500-€800.

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