- Sex Collectors: The Secret World of Consumers, Connoisseurs, Curators, Creators, Dealers, Biographers, and Accumulators of “Erotica”
In British author Geoff Nicholson's 1991 darkly comic novel, Hunters and Gatherers, Steve Geddes is commissioned to write a book about obsessive collectors and in doing so encounters several eccentric personalities. Nicholson revisits the theme of accumulation and obsession in Sex Collectors, a work of nonfiction that promises to take us deep into the underground world of eccentric artists and serious collectors of erotica.
One of the collectors Nicholson meets is Eric Danville, a collector of Linda Lovelace memorabilia and manager of the former porn star's comeback. It is eerie that much of what he owns Linda never knew existed, making her feel as if her collector knows more about her than she does. There is Naomi Wilzig, a sixty-nine-year-old Jewish widow and grandmother who plans to open her own sex museum to display her erotic bric-a-brac, insured for $5 million. Her inventory is mostly silly and tacky: Pinocchio with a penis for a nose, an Asian female puppet with strings attached to her breasts, wooden pigs having sex in the missionary position. Nicholson also visits seventy-one-year-old Dixie Evans, the former "Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque," curator of a museum that maintains the shrines of legends Betty Page, Josephine Baker, Blaze Starr and Sally Rand. And let's not forget the former rock-star groupie Cynthia Plaster Caster, who has been making plaster penis replicas for thirty years. Of the seventy-one samples in her collection, that of Jimi Hendrix is the most famous—and largest.
Surprisingly, there is nothing that titillating about any of these collections or their owners. As a writer of nonfiction, Nicholson is tied to the truth of his discoveries and admirably resists invention or exaggeration. Mostly, Sex Collectors is a casual, rambling memoir of his frustrating search for these fabled collectors. As "eccentric personalities" they are almost all disappointing. Several have mundane attitudes towards their "obsessions" and are surprisingly uninterested in telling about how they got started collecting or contemplating where it might end. In fact, too many of them are reluctant to call themselves collectors at all. One wishes that Nicholson was a more skillful interviewer. During his meeting with Catherine Millet, the art critic and French author of The Sexual Life of Catherine M, the conversation is one dead end after another. Millet insists that [End Page 153] she didn't collect men but simply preferred anonymous sex. In fact, she tells him, she's never understood the collecting compulsion.
Nicholson himself denies membership among the obsessed, yet he comes to the obvious realization that he has become a collector of collectors. But why bother? What need does collecting satisfy? It is a question one wishes Nicholson would try to answer, but he seems as inarticulate on the subject as his interviewees. We are left with the question posed in Hunters and Gatherers: "What was collecting anyway? You took one thing and you took another thing, you put them next to each other and somehow their proximity was to create meaning. You put certain artifacts together, drew an artificial boundary around them, and there you were with a collection. So what?" Unfortunately, this time around, the reader of Sex Collectors is left asking the same question.