Victorian London - Crime - Pornography and Indecency - indecent objects

GUILDHALL - Yesterday Dominique Barsatti, an Italian itinerant vender of plaster casts, was brought up before Mr. Alderman HUNTER, charged with exhibiting some indecent plaster medallions. 
    Mr. Clarkson, the barrister, stated that he appeared to prosecute on behalf of a society which had been sometimes the object of remarks which he was sure would find no echo in that court, the Society for the Suppression of Vice.  The charge was that the prisoner had been offering casts for sale that would disgust the natives of any country, and at prices calculated to suit the pockets of the uneducated and low. The magistrate would see that those who purchased them could not but be corrupted by them. The society, having heard that the prisoner was in the habit of standing in Smithfield, after dark on Saturday evenings, for the purpose of selling his abominable goods, took the necessary steps to apprehend him. He charged the prisoner with wilfully exposing to public view an indecent exhibition.
    James Daniels, a newsvender, stated that he was employed by Mr. Pritchard, the secretary to the Society for the Suppression of Vice, to make a purchase of some of these medallions, Mr. Neale, the clerk to Mr. Pritchard, and a policeman accompanied him. He found the prisoner standing in Smithfield, about 8 in the evening, with a basket of medallions before him. These were all representations of Venus and other classical subjects, copies from antique models. The prisoner also had a box with him. Witness asked him if he had any fancy medallions, and he produced a large one. Witness asked him if he had any others. The prisoner produced three others. The Italian had taken him aside to look at them, but Mr. Neale and the policeman came up and looked over his shoulder. Upon seeing the nature of them, Mr. Neale gave charge of the prisoner and his whole stock. He produced the medallions the prisoner exhibited.
    These fancy medallions had no pretensions to be of a classical nature, but were copies after some of the vilest French pictures for illustrating infamous books.
    Mr. Neale and the policeman corroborated the testimony of the last witness.
    Mr. Clarkson pressed for the extreme penalty. There were but two questions - Whether the medallions might be called an indecent exhibition? and whether the prisoner had wilfully exposed them? He asked if there could be a doubt that prisoner knew he was exciting immorality in a most extravagant degree.
     . . . The prisoner said he did not bring them out to expose for sale, but to give them to a gentleman whom he expected to pass, and who had ordered them.
    Mr. Alderman HUNTER asked who the gentleman was?
    The prisoner said he did not know, but he did not exhibit the articles till the complainant asked for such things.
    Mr. Clarkson asked Mr. Neale whether they were manufactured in this country?
    Mr. Neale replied he understood from the prisoner that they were manufactured in Cow-cross. 
    The Alderman said, that as this was the first time he had been charged with such an offence, and in the hope that he would take care for the future, the punishment would be mitigated to a month's imprisonment.   
    The prisoner asked if he could not pay a fine instead?
    Mr. Alderman HUNTER said he had no option of that kind, and the prisoner was committed.

The Times, December 16, 1845

BOW-STREET. - Mr. W. Goode, tobacconist of 199, Strand, and 39, Ludgate-hill, was summoned before Mr. HENRY, at the instance of the Society for the Suppression of Vice, to answer the charge of having exhibited a meerschaum pipe, indecently illustrated, in his shop windows.
    Mr. Clarkson, instructed by Mr. Pritchard, the secretary of the society, conducted the prosecution. He stated, that the attention of the society had been recently directed especially to the class of painting exhibited upon snuff-boxes and meerschaum pipes in the shops of several London tobacconists. Among others they observed in both the defendant's shops, an indecent representation of "Leda and the Swan," painted with unusual boldness and prominence upon the bowl of a pipe, which was exposed for sale. In a very considerate manner, Mr. Pritchard wrote a letter to the defendant, requesting the removal of the objectionable article from the window, and intimating that if this request was not complied with the society would feel bound to take proceedings against him.
    . . . 
    Mr. Lewis, the solicitor for the defendant, hoped to be allowed before the case proceeded further, to offer a few words of explanation. When Mr. Goode received the letter referred to, he instantly directed his shopman to remove the pipe from the Strand window, and, at the same time, withdrew it from the Ludgate-hill shop, which was under his personal management. Owing to some neglect or misunderstanding, it was not taken out of the Strand window, but merely placed further back in a less prominent position. The defendant was only made aware of this omission when he received the summons, and he then addressed a letter to Mr. Pritchard, in which he promised to return the whole of the objectionable pipes to the consignor at Vienna, from whom, indeed, he had never directly ordered them. This pledge Mr. Goode was prepared to adhere to, if the magistrate really considered the Leda picture (which was seen and admired every day at the British Museum) an indecent exhibition, within the meaning of the act, 5th George IV, chap.83.
    Mr. HENRY had no hesitation in pronouncing it to be an extremely indecent and obscene picture to exhibit in a shop-window and one calculated to corrupt the minds of young persons who might be attracted by it. He did not believe the same prominence was given to the incident in the British Museum.
    . . . 
    Mr. HENRY was surprised at the course pursued by Mr. Lewis, who sought to justify the offence while promising to discontinue it. It was idle to make a comparison between the picture produced and the works of art in the Exhibition, which were suggestive of modesty rather than otherwise. It was extremely unpleasant to have to discuss such a question in a crowded court; but it was obviously absurd to regard mere nakedness as the test of indecency. Every right-minded person knew where to draw the distinction and could understand the different between a specimen of the fine arts and a gross imitation of it expressly designed to debase and not to elevate, the human mind. He (Mr. Henry) was fully prepared to convict the defendant, if the society were not satisfied with the pledge which he had given.
    Mr. Clarkson said that the secretary of the society, although greatly provoked by the sort of defence which had been set up, was not disposed to press for judgment if some security were given for the non-repitition of the offence.
    Mr. HENRY - I will adjourn the summons for two months, and if the pipe is again exhibited in either of the defendant's shops during that period, I will commit him to prison for three months.
    Mr. William Albion, tobacconist, of 525, New Oxford-street, appeared to a similar summons for exhibiting a small ivory model purporting to be an imitation of the Greek Slave, but grossly exaggerated, and made more offensive by being invested with a collegian's cap and gown indecently arranged.
    In this case Mr. Henry came to a similar decision; but he directed that the full costs of the proceedings should be at once defrayed by the two defendants.
    After some discussion Mr. Goode was ordered to pay 5l. 5s. as costs, and 2l. 10s., the sum charged for the pipe; and the other defendant was adjuged to pay 5l. 5s.

The Times, November 29, 1852