by Leslie H. Nicoll

The first cover in the Vintage series features the painting “Football Hero” by J.C. Leyendecker, completed in 1916. I thought readers might be interested in learning a bit more about the artist’s life and work on this, the anniversary of his death in 1951. Leyendecker was the pre-eminent illustrator of the early twentieth century, painting more than 400 magazine covers and hundreds of advertising images for diverse clients including Cluett, Peabody & Co. (Arrow Shirts), Interwoven Socks, and the US military. His paintings are iconic and instantly recognizable even now, a century after he first came to prominence.

J.C. Leyendecker in 1895

Joseph Christian Leyendecker—Joe to his friends and J.C. professionally—was born in Montabaur, Germany in 1874. He was the third of four children. In 1882 the family emigrated to the United States and chose to live in Chicago. His father worked in a brewery owned by a relative and from the limited information available, it sounds like they quickly settled into a comfortable, middle-class life

The three Leyendecker boys were all artistic. Older brother Adolph moved to Kansas City, Missouri, in 1894 and established himself as a stained glass artist. J.C.’s first commission came at age 11, when he designed a beer bottle label for his great-uncle’s brewery. At 15, he became an apprentice at J. Manz & Company, a Chicago engraving firm, eventually becoming a Staff Illustrator. He also enrolled in evening classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. He worked hard and saved his money and in 1896 traveled to Paris, with his younger brother Franz (more commonly known as Frank or F.X.), to study at the Académie Julian. They spent two years in France, refining their skills, rubbing shoulders with other artists, and, sadly for Frank, acquiring a serious drug and alcohol habit that would eventually kill him at the age of 45.

Vintage Leyendecker

J.C. and Frank returned to the US and set up shop as artists and illustrators, first in Chicago and then in New York, where they moved in 1900. They rented a shared studio on 32nd Street and a large townhouse in Washington Square. Their sister Mary lived with them and took on the role of hostess and housekeeper in lieu of a career or family of her own.

Charles Beach (cover image from the book by Cutler and Cutler)

Busy as they were with their advertising and cover commissions, J.C. and Frank needed models and a regular parade of good looking young men made their way to their studio door. In 1903, Charles A. Beach walked into the studio and into J.C.’s life—never to leave. Beach became J.C.’s model, business manager, lover, and life partner. They were inseparable from the moment they set eyes on each until Leyendecker’s death, forty-eight years later. J.C. was 29 when they met; Beach was 17.

Shortly after meeting the Leyendecker brothers, Beach moved into a small apartment on 31st Street, one block from the studio. In 1910, the Leyendeckers took a step up, renting a large studio in the Beaux Arts building at 40th Street and Sixth Avenue. Beach established his residence in the studio and became its manager. Joe, Frank, Mary and their father Peter had moved out of the city in 1905 and were living in New Rochelle, although from the sound of it, J.C. stayed most of the time at the studio with Beach. In 1914, J.C. and Beach designed and built a fourteen room home on a nine acre estate on Mount Tom Road in New Rochelle. Beach officially moved in in 1916, shortly after father Peter’s death.

Like his brother, Frank was also gay but there is no record of him having a regular lover or long-term relationship. Interestingly, he was the one who hired Beach but he probably came to regret that decision. He and Mary both resented the influence that Beach had over J.C. There was a family falling out in 1923 with both Frank and Mary moving out of the Mount Tom house; Mary’s final act of defiance was to spit in Charles Beach’s face. Frank was dead a year later; Mary spent the rest of her life at the Martha Washington Hotel in New York City, dying in 1957.

Brian Donlevy

While Beach was J.C.’s most frequent and favorite model, he did paint other men, including Brian Donlevy and Neil Hamilton, both of whom went on to careers in the movies and television. Donlevy appeared in numerous Arrow collar ads and although it is not documented, I think he may also be the model in “Football Hero.” Hamilton also was the model in several Arrow advertisements and was the Doughboy (World War I soldier) in the 1918 Thanksgiving cover for the Saturday Evening Post. Leyendecker later gave Hamilton the painting—an unusual and gracious gesture on his part. Leyendecker only gave away two Post cover paintings in his life and never sold any of his original paintings—just the images. As an aside, readers may remember Hamilton as Police Commissioner Gordon in the Batman TV series in the 1960s. He appeared in all 120 episodes.

Neil Hamilton as Police Commissioner Gordon

Leyendecker was friends with many fellow artists and illustrators, the most famous of whom is probably Norman Rockwell. Depending on which biography you read, Rockwell was either a conniving businessman who stole Leyendecker’s ideas and commissions or he was a lifelong friend who considered J.C. a mentor. I prefer to believe the latter. Rockwell lived near Leyendecker in New Rochelle; they collaborated professionally and Rockwell was a pall bearer at Leyendecker’s funeral. Why then is Rockwell better known and well remembered? Probably because he has wives, children, and grandchildren to perpetuate his memory and legacy. J.C., Frank, and Mary were all unmarried and childless; Adolph had two children who likely never met their famous uncle since there seems to have been a family rift that occurred when he moved to Kansas City. There is speculation that it was because both of his brothers were gay but there is no way to determine if this is true.

An elegant lifestyle depicted in art

While Leyendecker was successful from the minute of his first commission at age 11, probably the pinnacle of his career came during the 1920s. His pictures, and those of his contemporaries such as Cy ­­Phillips, were everywhere, and illustrated a lifestyle that was emulated by many and imagined for more. In an interesting intersection of life and art, Leyendecker and Beach became the “it” couple, attracting people to their New York City haunts and later their home. Beach became known for organizing popular and risqué parties at the Mount Tom estate that were de rigueur among the celebrity and social set. Walter Winchell, the gossip columnist, was a regular, and his reports of the goings-on helped set fashion trends, smoking and drinking fads, and even deigned which automobiles acceptable—J.C. drove a Pierce Arrow. No one reported about their relationship, however, even though J.C. and Charles were clearly lovers and affectionate with each other in front of friends. How were they able to maintain such media silence? Apparently the simple threat of, “You won’t be invited back” was sufficient.

Charles Beach

The Roaring Twenties ended with a crash and Leyendecker and Beach also began to scale back their opulent lifestyle. Changes in the entertainment and publishing industries also took a toll and by the late 1930s, commissions for illustrated magazine covers were dwindling—not because Leyendecker’s talent was diminishing (or Rockwell’s fame eclipsed his, as some have suggested) but rather, because photography had reached a point of being faster, easier, cheaper and most importantly: more popular. The golden age of illustration, which lasted from the turn of the century until the mid-thirties, had passed. Leyendecker still held the distinction of being its premier artist.

The Mount Tom Estate

Charles Beach, up close and personal

For the last decade of their lives together, J.C. and Charles lived a quiet, modest life—a radical change from the lavish Twenties but also a reflection of a nation struggling with a depression, war, and its aftermath. J.C. died on July 25, 1951, in his lover’s arms. The post-mortem diagnosis was an acute cerebral occlusion. Charles followed him in death six months later. J.C. is buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. The location of Charles’ remains is unknown.

Upon his death, Leyendecker had instructed Beach to “destroy everything”; Charles began to do this, getting rid of letters, diaries, correspondence, and records. Fortunately, he realized that burning J.C.’s paintings and sketches would be a serious mistake and saved those from the bonfire. Later, he sold many at a yard sale with the most expensive painting fetching seven dollars. After Beach’s death, Mary inherited what was left—sixty paintings that were eventually donated to San Joaquin Pioneer and Historical Museum (now the Haggin Museum) in California.

I wonder how many of those yard sale paintings are tucked away in attics, waiting to be rediscovered. My attic has been well and thoroughly cleaned, but I can dream for others…

Joseph Christian Leyendecker
March 23, 1874 – July 25, 1951

Sources:

Cutler, L.S. & Cutler, J.C. (2008). J.C. Leyendecker: American Imagist. New York: Abrams.

Wikipedia entries on J.C. Leyendecker, Norman Rockwell, Brian Donlevy and Neil Hamilton

IMDb entries on Brian Donlevy and Neil Hamilton

by Leslie H. Nicoll

Every time something new comes along, be it invention, fad, or changing social more, a backlash from those who resist the change immediately follows. From where I sit, it seems that the current “scourge on society” (at least US society) is same-sex marriage. Having lived through the (unfortunately) successful “Yes on 1” campaign that repealed our same-sex marriage law here in the great State of Maine, I can tell you firsthand that there is a very large group of folks who rabidly believe that if two men or two women are allowed to get married and set up housekeeping together, the Atlantic Ocean will rise up in fury and wash the entire state away, taking the whole lot of us, saints and sinners both, into its icy depths, never to be heard from again.

The sting of the election has worn off a bit so I can joke—albeit lamely—and hold fast to the mantra to “stay the course,” knowing that this is an issue whose time has come and we will prevail. But thinking about the moral degradation of society made me delve back into history a bit to see other issues that have inflamed the masses to overheated rhetoric.

Fifty years ago (May 11, 1960), Searle received FDA approval to sell the first birth control pill in the US: Enovid. Women had been taking the drug since 1957 for severe menstrual cramps; interestingly, there was a dramatic upsurge in the number of women suffering from this disorder when Enovid came on the market. Of course, it was an open secret that one of the side effects of the drug was that it prevented ovulation.

Once “the pill” was approved and sold legally as a contraceptive, sales boomed, climbing from 400,000 in 1961 to 3.6 million in 1965. Not unexpectedly, concerned citizens raised issues, ranging from “Is it safe?” to “Will we have an epidemic of insecurity and impotence?” in men confronted by a brigade of newly liberated and sexually empowered women. U.S. News and World Report had a cover story in 1966 that wondered if availability of the pill would lead to sexual anarchy, with “mating as casual and random as among the animals.” This obsession with animals intrigues me. Traditional marriage proponents like to argue that opening the door to same-sex marriage will inevitably lead to a plethora of non-normative marriage practices, including polygamy and bestiality. Last fall, in the heat of the No/Yes on 1 campaign, one blogger wrote, in all seriousness, that same-sex marriage might lead to a person who would choose to marry an asparagus plant and that we’d have no legal way to stop it. Asparagus?

You’d think we’d learn from history, wouldn’t you? The pill has been around for 50 years and last time I looked, people are still falling in love and staying with their beloveds, women are still having babies, and the Catholic Church is still standing.

Going back a little further, what are some other issues that have stoked the public’s passion? Of course there causes like Prohibition and Women’s Suffrage, but how about something really serious—men’s chests exposed on the beach!

Men’s swimwear was first commercially produced starting in the 1880s and from the start, their bathing ensembles were designed to be modest and reveal little of the wearer’s body and more importantly anatomy, particularly in the genital and gluteal areas. I found several references online to a document entitled “Men’s Bathing Suit Regulations” published on May 17, 1917, although I couldn’t determine what august body developed these rules. Still, they were quite clear, specifying, for example that men’s suits had to be worn with a skirt or have at least a skirt effect.  The skirt had to be worn outside of the trunks. By the late 1920s, newer style suits were made with synthetic rubber yarn that provided a slimming and trimming effect; however, the chest was still required to be covered and bare chests were frowned upon. By the 1930s, however, bold men began to take off their tops, inspired by Olympic swimmer Johnny Weismuller who played Tarzan as a bare-chested, scantily clad man in the movie of the same name. Weismuller was also the advertising model for B.V.D. swim trunks. Even so, change didn’t come easily or quickly and as late as 1936, numerous topless men were banned from the beach in Atlantic City for public indecency.

Going back even further in history, to 1890, I found an amusing anecdote in The Straight Dope about another new craze that threatened to rip apart the moral fabric of society: gum chewing! Chiclet gum was invented (by accident) in 1870 by Thomas Adams of Staten Island, NY. Adams was trying to come up with some sort of rubber or glue. In a moment of divine inspiration (or perhaps desperation) he put a square of the stuff in his mouth and voilà! Chewing gum was born. Business people and financial backers didn’t quite see the potential but Adams persevered and by 1890, had a six-story factory with 250 workers churning out a mountain of the stuff. A fad was born, leading the New York Sun to opine:

“The habit has reached such a stage now that makes it impossible for a New Yorker to go to the theater or the church, or enter the street cars or the railway train, or walk on a fashionable promenade without meeting men and women whose jaws are working with the activity of the gum chewing victim. And the spectacle is maintained in the face of frequent reminders that gum-chewing, especially in public, is an essentially vulgar indulgence that not only shows bad breeding, but spoils a pretty countenance and detracts from the dignity of those who practice the habit.”

My grandmother would never let me chew gum, calling it vulgar. Now I know where she got it from.

And so, as we gear up for the next election, with a pro-equality gubernatorial candidate who already has my vote, I hope we get to the day, sooner rather than later, when issues around same-sex marriage are found to be as silly as those surrounding oral contraceptives, men’s chests, and chewing gum.

Sources:

Nancy Gibbs. May 2010. Love, Sex, Freedom and the Paradox of The Pill. ebook, ISBN: 978-1-60320-369-2

Everything Swimwear. The Evolution of Men’s Swimwear.

From Swimwear to Himware, A History.

Cecil Adams. May 14, 1976. The Straight Dope: The Amazing History of Chewing Gum.

Call for Submissions: Vintage

Pictures and photographs capture our faces and preserve our memories. Generations later, they spark our imaginations, making us wonder: Who is in the picture? What are they doing? How are they feeling?

Vintage is a call for written works inspired by pictures or photographs. We are looking for authors who will tell us the story behind those two men on the beach…or standing next to bench…or staring out a window…or looking oddly shy in each other’s presence. We want high quality, original fiction that will draw the reader into world of the photo or picture, to share and reminisce.

Guidelines

Length: Short novels, 10K to 50K words

Theme: Historical love stories that feature a relationship between male same-sex couples, inspired by a picture or photograph. While the actual taking of the photograph (or painting of the picture) does not need to be included in the narrative, the picture/photo does need to be included in the storyline. If you want examples of what we are thinking of, you might want to read Our One and Only by E.N. Holland or Lover’s Knot by Donald Hardy (see in particular, pp. 259-260 and p. 324).

For the purposes of this collection, “historical” is defined as any time in history in which a photograph or painted picture could be produced, with a cut-off date of 1985. Love stories, to us, are those stories that tell of a relationship in a realistic and meaningful way. We do not have a requirement for a “happy ever after” or a “happy for now” ending although that certainly would be acceptable. We recognize the challenges that same-sex couples have faced in the past (and continue to face, but that’s another story) and that can be portrayed, although we also would like these relationships shown in a loving and positive way, to the extent that is possible, given time and circumstance.

Characters can be any age from 15 on up. For stories that feature characters under the age of 18, the relationship must be consensual and presented in a positive light. Teenagers exploring a first, forbidden love would be fine; an older man raping a younger boy would not. It should go without saying but we’ll say it anyway: no incest or bestiality. No vampires or werewolves, no paranormals, although if a story featured a ghost in the old fashioned, classic definition of a ghost story, that would be considered. Again, Lover’s Knot is a good example of the latter.

As these are love stories, scenes of characters making love can certainly be included but we do not have a requirement for a set number of sex scenes or level of explicitness. Let your own judgment be your guide: if it is important to the story, include it; if not, leave it out. In general, we are looking for books written for an adult audience that will appeal to a wide variety of readers.

Submissions

Query: Send an email to publisher@bcpinepress.com . Include Query: Vintage and the proposed title of your book in the subject line. In the body of the email, include a one paragraph (150-200 word) synopsis of the story. Attach to the email: 1) the photo/picture that inspired you; and 2) the first 5000 words of your story, in a Word doc or PDF. Manuscripts do not need to be complete to be submitted. If an incomplete manuscript is accepted, the completed manuscript will be due two (2) months after the final contract is negotiated and signed. Publication will be two (2) months after a final, completed, edited manuscript is signed off by the author and accepted by the publisher.

Please include your contact information including name, address, email address, and phone number. Queries can be submitted under a pen name, if one is used, although a legal name will be required for a contract, if one is offered.

Queries will be acknowledged upon receipt. A final decision on acceptance/rejection will be made within two (2) weeks. If you do not receive an acknowledgement, please re-send, as messages do get lost in cyberspace.

Photograph/Picture and Cover: All books in the Vintage series will use the template cover, as illustrated here, substituting the author’s name, book title, and photograph/picture. Photographs/pictures must be in the public domain or you must have documented permission for its use.

Production, Sales, and Payment

Production: All books will be edited by BCPP staff. Books will be assigned an ISBN and listed in Books in Print. Covers, as noted above, will use the Vintage template.

Format: eBook only. BCPP produces books in a variety of formats that can be read on multiple devices, including laptops/PCs, smartphones/PDAs, iPhones/iPads, the Nook, the Sony e-reader, and the Amazon Kindle. Books are sold in several outlets including Amazon, All Romance ebooks, and OmniLit. We do not sell in the Sony store, although books are sold in a format that is readable on the Sony e-reader. Plans are in the works to sell in the AppleStore.

Pricing: Books will priced and sold according to length: up to 15K words, $2.99; 15K to 30K words, $3.99; 30K words and above, $5.99.

Royalties and Advances: BCPP is a traditional royalty paying publisher. At the time the book is deployed for sale at the outlets through which we sell, an advance (against royalties) will be paid, based on length: up to 15K words, $25; 15K to 30K words, $50; 30K words and above, $100. After that, royalties are paid quarterly at a rate of 40% of the net proceeds to the publisher.

Marketing: Marketing is a joint effort between the author and the publisher. All Vintage books will be featured on the Bristlecone Pine Press website (www.bcpinepress.com) and included in our catalog. We will submit review copies to popular review sites, including Speak Its Name and Reviews by Jessewave. We hope that the Vintage books become a recognizable and popular series that readers will look forward to and purchase impulsively.

Deadline

This is an ongoing call for submissions. At present there is no deadline. Submissions are welcome at any time. Please feel free to direct questions about this call to the publisher, Leslie H. Nicoll, at publisher@bcpinepress.com.

The Bristlecone Pine Press editorial team looks forward to hearing from you!

In the interview posted yesterday, I stated that the very first book the Bristlecone Pine Press published was L.A. Heat by P.A. Brown which was wrong. Two months prior, I had launched Bristlecone with The Erotic Etudes by E.L. van Hine, a lyrical and deeply moving story about Robert Schumann, imagined from his diaries and writings. Erastes favorably reviewed the book on Speak Its Name; her review can be read here.

The Erotic Etudes can be purchased in a Kindle version from Amazon.com; for a variety of devices from Mobipocket.com and in print, also from Amazon.

My apologies to the author, E.L. van Hine for the error and oversight. Certainly I should have known better!

Leslie

by Leslie H. Nicoll

If you want to be a Macaroni, you have to be a stickler for historical accuracy. Not to scare anyone off, but to me, half the fun of writing historical fiction is doing the research. I love looking up things and learning new tidbits of information. Doesn’t everyone?

This is on my mind because I just finished The Help by Kathryn Stockett. While it was a very good book and I enjoyed it very much, there were a couple of historical anachronisms that I picked up on instantly. Imagine my amazement when I got to the Acknowledgments and Postscript and the author actually admitted to them! Worse, she did not give a reason for why they were included and why she did not change them.

The errors, as she states, were, “Using the song, ‘The Times They Are A-Changin,’ even though it was not released until 1964 and Shake ‘n Bake, which did not hit the shelves until 1965.”

Certainly Bob Dylan is an iconic folk singer, but there were plenty of folkies on the radio waves in 1962 and 1963 (the principal time of the action in the book). If she wanted to stick with Dylan, why not use “Blowin in the Wind,” released in 1963, which certainly addresses issues of freedom and change. Peter, Paul and Mary would be another choice, with hits such as “Lemon Tree” (maybe not too applicable, although the character listening to the music does have a rocky-to-non-existent love life) or “If I Had a Hammer.” My point is, while “The Times They Are A-Changin” is compelling, I don’t think it is compelling enough to rewrite history to include it.

Then there’s the Shake ‘n Bake error. Shake ‘n Bake is mentioned three times in the book, in two different scenes. The first:

Miss Celia puts a raw chicken thigh in, bumps the bag around. “Like this? Just like the Shake ‘n Bake commercials on the tee-vee?”

“Yeah,” I say and run my tongue up over my teeth because if that’s not an insult, I don’t know what is. “Just like the Shake ‘n Bake.”

So the maid is teaching her employer to cook and the employer (Miss Celia) is all about shortcuts and making it easy. Fine, but does it have to be Shake ‘n Bake, three years before it was invented? How about a Duncan Hines cake mix or Betty Crocker brownie mix? Or, it the author wants to subtly address issues of race and class (the overarching theme of the book), why not have her suggest Aunt Jemima pancake mix? That would certainly be insulting to the maid, Minny, moreso than Shake ‘n Bake, which didn’t even exist.

The other time Shake ‘n Bake is mentioned in the book is in this line, “Wondering if, for no good reason I started thinking about Sears and Roebuck or Shake ‘n Bake, would it be because some Illinoian had thought it two days ago. It gets my mind off my troubles for about five seconds.” Just draw a blue line through that Shake ‘n Bake. No need to even include it.

As I said at the beginning, I enjoy doing the research for writing a historical story. I just finished a 33,000 word novella (due to be published in six months). The story takes place in the era of World War II and after.  Some of the things I learned while researching various facts for the book:

  • Western Union delivery methods, in both the city and the country. In the city, they had delivery men who rode bikes. Out in the country, the Western Union operator was responsible for delivering telegrams, usually in the afternoon after receiving the telegrams in the morning.
  • Gone With the Wind premiered in December, 1939, but did not go into wide release in the US until 1941. For six months in 1940, it was in shown in “reserved seat, roadshow engagements,” a format for showing movies that was very popular in the 1940s and 1950s, but is non-existent now. (Note: Gone With the Wind doesn’t even show up in the book. The characters go see The Wizard of Oz, instead, which came out in the summer of 1939.)
  • In 1942, the Queen Mary was transporting more than 15,000 US servicemen to England, in preparation for the D-Day invasion. Off the coast of Ireland, the Queen Mary collided with—literally sliced through—one of her escort ships, the HMS Curacao. The Curacao quickly sunk and 338 men perished; only 102 of the crew survived. This tragedy was not made public until after the war ended. Even now, it is sort of hushed up. It is not a proud moment in British and US naval history.
  • US families who had loved ones killed in Europe in WWII did have the option to have the soldier’s body sent home to the US for final burial, although it was a complicated and time consuming process that could take years.
  • Gay bars in New York city in the early 1960s were dingy, dark, dumpy places that served overpriced drinks, didn’t meet basic sanitation codes, and were run by the Mob. There was a crackdown on all sorts of “undesirable activity,” including known homosexual hangouts, in New York in 1962 and 1963, as Mayor Wagner was trying to “clean up the city” for all the visitors who were expected to come to New York to attend the World’s Fair. Reading about gay bars got me off on a tangent about bath houses and I learned a lot about those, too. In the end, my character didn’t even go to a gay bar, he just went to the bar in his hotel. The logistics of getting him from Madison Avenue and 45th Street to Greenwich Village, location of most of the gay bars, was just too convoluted.
HMS Curacao

HMS Curacao

Those are just a few facts off the top of my head—I could come up with plenty more. My point is, if you are going to step up to the plate to write historical fiction, then you need to accept the fact that part of the writing process will involve research and fact checking. If you skip this important component of the process, you run the risk of making finicky readers—like me—unhappy.

Kathryn Stockett, shame on you.

Leslie H. Nicoll writes fiction under the pen name of E. N. Holland. Her novella, Our One and Only, will be included in the military history anthology, Hidden Conflict: Tales from Lost Voices in Battle, due to be published in January 2010 by Bristlecone Pine Press and Cheyenne Publishing. You can learn more at her Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/leslie.nicoll or LiveJournal, lazylfarm.livejournal.com.

by: Leslie H. Nicoll

We live in the age of safer sex. Men who are sexually active are encouraged to wear condoms to help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV and AIDS. Contemporary erotic authors, in an effort to respond to current social and sexual mores, generally have their characters use condoms appropriately or if they don’t, include an explanation as to why not and comment on the risk they are taking by not doing so. But stories that take place prior to the emergence and identification of the human immunodeficiency virus generally do not include condom use. If the author of a historical fiction story wanted to include characters using condoms, would it be anachronistic? Based on my recent research, probably not.

There is evidence that condoms were used by early Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. While some speculate that Egyptian men wore a type of penis sheath or sack to prevent against sunburn and bug bites, others have found artifacts of sheaths made from animal intestines or bladders. They were so small and covered such a small portion of the penis that they could not have been used for protection from sweat and sun and thus must have been used during sex.

Hippocrates, the Greek father of modern medicine, had some understanding that conception involved both the man and the woman. Aristotle, on the other hand, believed that the man’s semen was what produced an embryo; the woman was just a receptacle. Even so, both men wrote that birth control was the woman’s responsibility. Despite their advice, there were Greek men who chose to practice birth control on their own. Ancient writings discuss intercourse “not according to custom,” which might mean coitus interuptus or anal intercourse. But there is also evidence that men used animal intestine condoms, similar to the Egyptians, as a birth control device, too. Given that Greek society was sexually permissive, it makes sense that men would take some responsibility for contraception – especially those men who chose to consort with women of lower ranks or slaves.

The Romans also used condoms for contraception but it is in their writings that the notion of sexually transmitted disease prevention comes up for the first time. Soldiers recognized different types of infections and realized they were likely getting them from the prostitutes and “comfort women” (usually captives) who traveled with the legions. Soldiers lumped all such diseases together under the term Mount Vesuvius’s Rash. Legions kept herds of goats for milk and meat and the soldiers used the bladders and intestines as penis sheaths – a technique they might have learned from their enemies, the Greeks.

Except for the one little blip with the Romans, condoms were used primarily for birth control for the next 1800 years or so – and in agrarian societies that valued large families with children as workers, birth control wasn’t particularly desired, period. Much of the knowledge about condom materials and use that had been passed around among the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans was forgotten during the dark and middle ages.

Figure 1. An ancient condom, oldest in the world. This reusable condom is from 1640 and is completely intact, as is its original users' manual, written in Latin. The manual suggests that users immerse the condom in warm milk prior to its use to avoid diseases. The antique, found in Lund in Sweden, is made of pig intestine.

Figure 1. An ancient condom, oldest in the world. This reusable condom is from 1640 and is completely intact, as is its original users' manual, written in Latin. The manual suggests that users immerse the condom in warm milk prior to its use to avoid diseases. The antique, found in Lund in Sweden, is made of pig intestine.

Then, in 1495, the first widespread epidemic of a sexually transmitted disease occurred. Called at first “the Great pox,” to differentiate it from smallpox, syphilis was named by Girolamo Fracastoro in his epic poem, written in Latin, entitled Syphilis sive morbus gallicus (Latin for “Syphilis or The French Disease”) in 1530. Until that time, as Fracastoro notes, syphilis had been called the “French disease” in Italy and Germany, and the “Italian disease” in France. It is not clear where Fracastoro got the name of his main character, the afflicted shepherd, Syphylus, from which the name syphilis emerged. Some think he borrowed it from Sipylus, a character in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, while others think he made it up. Whatever the source, the name seems to have caught on because it did not identify any one group, country, or culture as being the source of the scourge.

Figure 1. A page from De Morbo Gallico (The French Disease), Gabriele Fallopio's treatise on syphilis. Published in 1564, it describes what is possibly the first use of condoms for disease prevention in modern times.

Figure 2. A page from De Morbo Gallico (The French Disease), Gabriele Fallopio's treatise on syphilis. Published in 1564, it describes what is possibly the first use of condoms for disease prevention in modern times.

“Treatments,” none of which were very effective, abounded but it wasn’t until 1564 that anyone put forth the notion of disease prevention. Gabriello Fallopio wrote a treatise on syphilis and in it, he described the first modern condom. He claimed to have invented it which is understandable, given the fact that all prior condom knowledge was buried in ancient texts that Fallopio likely did not have access to. As an aside, if Fallopio’s name looks familiar, that is because he was an anatomist and is credited with identifying and naming the Fallopian tube.

Fallopio’s condom was linen, tied to the glans of the penis with a pink ribbon. His instructions were precise: prior to intercourse, a man should wash his genitals, then tie the linen over the glans, drawing the prepuce forward. He should then moisten the linen with saliva or lotion. Fallopio claimed to have tested his condom with 1100 men, not one of whom became infected with syphilis. To further prevent infection, Fallopio soaked the condom in a chemical solution which also acted as a spermicide. Thus his invention had a dual role: disease prevention and contraception.

From Fallopio’s writing, condom use spread. In addition to linen, condoms during the Renaissance were made out of intestines and bladder, same as in ancient times. In the late 15th century, Dutch traders introduced condoms made from “fine leather” to Japan. Unlike the horn condoms used previously, these leather condoms covered the entire penis.

Figure 2. Casanova entertained his women by blowing up his "English overcoats" like balloons.

Figure 3. Casanova entertained his women by blowing up his "English overcoats" like balloons.

From at least the 18th century, condom use has been opposed in legal, religious, and medical circles for essentially the same reasons that are given today: condoms reduce the likelihood of pregnancy, which some believe is immoral or undesirable; they do not provide full protection against sexually transmitted infections, but at the same time, belief in their protective powers was thought to encourage sexual promiscuity; and they are not used consistently due to inconvenience, expense, or loss of sensation.

Despite this opposition, the condom market grew rapidly. In the 18th century, condoms were available in a variety of qualities and sizes, made from either linen treated with chemicals, or “skin” (bladder or intestine softened by treatment with sulphur and lye). They were sold at pubs, barbershops, chemist shops, open-air markets, and at theaters throughout Europe and Russia. They later spread to America, although in every place they were generally used only by the middle and upper classes, due to both expense and lack of sexual education. In the US, fine “French letters” and other imported condoms were always preferred, even after “the rubber” was invented by Goodyear in the 1850s. In London, “condon hawkers” were a common sight, especially in St. James’s Park, Spring Garden, and the Pall Mall, all known spots for illicit assignations between men and women, and men and prostitutes, both male and female.

What about men who were having sex with men? Were they using condoms? Present day experts contend that they were not used by gay men until the 1950s and then only as a sex toy; however, poetry from the past contradicts this. Besides, if people understood that sexual intimacy led to infection, it wasn’t much of leap for men to realize that if they could infect their female partners, they could just as easily infect their male partners, too. As an example, the following excerpt is from the poem, Almonds for Parrots, written anonymously in 1708. While it was meant to be a satire about sex, it does give a hint about condom use by men having homosexual relations:

But Art surpasses Nature; and we find
Men may be transform’d into Woman-kind.
O happy Change! But far more wond’rous Skill!
That curse’s Loves Wounds, without the Doctor’s Pill:
Anticipates ev’n Condon’s secret Art,
At first invented to secure the Part.

Writing a sex scene that includes condom use can be a challenge for an author; putting one on is a somewhat clinical act that can interrupt the flow and passion of the moment. (People make the same argument about using them in real life but to that, the best advice is: figure it out.) Historical authors have more free rein to ignore and skip the issue altogether. But if a daring author wanted to have a male character cover his “lovely manhood” with a linen sheath and tie it with a pink ribbon, as a way to protect his lover from disease, evidence suggests this would not be an unheard of action and in fact, may be more common than previously thought.

Leslie H. Nicoll is the owner of Maine Desk LLC, an editorial writing and consulting business located in Portland, Maine. She is also the Publisher for Bristlecone Pine Press, an ebook publishing imprint and subsidiary of her business. While she desires to write fiction, she seems to have more success in the non-fiction world. Her latest books (both 2008) are The Editor’s Handbook, co-authored with Margaret Freda and published by Lippincott, Williams, and Wilkins and The Amazon Kindle FAQ, co-authored with Joshua Tallent and DeLancey Nicoll and published by Bristlecone. For more, please visit http://www.mainedesk.com and http://www.bcpinepress.com.

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