The Saturday Evening Post History Minute: The Post Office Porn Police

In the 1870s, Anthony Comstock was appointed U.S. postal inspector and dedicated himself to ridding the mail of obscene material. He took his job very seriously.

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After a year of searching through the nation’s mail, U.S. postal inspector Anthony Comstock had seized more than twelve tons of obscene literature, as well as 200,000 pornographic items including photographs, rings, knives, song-lyric sheets, playing cards, and what he referred to as “obscene and immoral rubber articles.” Comstock was just getting started.

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Comments

  1. First of all, thank you for putting the beautiful 1911 ‘September Morn’ painting as the cover of this Post History Moment: The Post Office Porn Police. It’s completely tasteful and respectable.

    Anthony Comstock is another matter. The Senator Joseph McCarthy of the 1870s-1910s, he seemed to do more harm than good. The mere idea of contraception filled him with horror? Easy to say since a pregnancy couldn’t happen to him, could it?

    I agree that some things were getting out of hand. Even today, the idea of shady ladies being so bold as to advertise on the front page of the city’s largest newspaper seems outrageous. 4,000 arrests, 12 tons of obscene literature, 200,000 porno-related items in just one year?

    My goodness, how did he know (pray tell) which letters or packages to open?? He would have had to be working 24/7 back then, opening up a lot of perfectly innocent letters and packages in the process. Then he had to determine which ones met his criteria of obscenity. I wonder how many people were prosecuted, and what the punishment(s) consisted of?

    Are we to have homes or brothels? I think at that time the two weren’t mutually exclusive. It all got to be too much with his going after church raffles, medical & art textbooks, the changing of mannequin clothing in dept. store windows, and more.

    I think there should be a museum displaying these interesting objects and letters that are still in existence today, and it should be known as The Anthony Comstock Museum. America today unfortunately is SOOOOOO obscenely tightly wound, uptight, neurotic about everything (and getting worse), that it would/could never happen. If it could though, I’d like to spend a reasonable amount of time lookin’ everything over to see if I found it obscene (as a 2nd opinion) since I didn’t get to be Comstock’s assistant back then.

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