The Historic New Orleans Collection’s Pamela D. Arceneaux offers her Top 5 reasons to read “Guidebooks to Sin”

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“GUIDEBOOKS TO SIN: THE BLUE BOOKS OF STORYVILLE, NEW ORLEANS”
WHAT: The Historic New Orleans Collection’s Pamela D. Arceneaux offers the first contemporary study of the illicit New Orleans district’s notorious directories.
WHEN: Tuesday, Feb. 7, 6 p.m.
WHERE: Octavia Books (523 Octavia St.)

WHEN: Thursday, Feb. 9, 6 p.m.
WHERE: Maple Street Book Shop (7519 Maple St.)

NOTE: Originally, I asked The Historic New Orleans Collection (THNOC) reps if Pamela D. Arceneaux — Senior Librarian/Rare Books Curator — would be interested in offering her top 5 reasons she found it interesting to research what became her new book, “Guidebooks to Sin: The Blue Books of Storyville, New Orleans” (with a forward by Emily Epstein Landau) to anticipate its book-release party at THNOC on Friday, Feb. 3. The event has since sold out, as well as a Saturday symposium. But, as noted above, there are future events worth noting now so fans can plan ahead. Here are Arceneaux’s thoughts on her project below.

Between 1897 and 1917, Storyville, an infamous, yet legal, red-light district thrived on the edge of the French Quarter, and in “Guidebooks to Sin: The Blue Books of Storyville, New Orleans,” Pamela D. Arceneaux offers the first contemporary study of the area’s notorious directories.

Arceneaux states:
As the senior librarian and rare books curator at The Historic New Orleans Collection, these books have been an ongoing obsession for me for more than 35 years. Personally, I was interested in New Orleans during that turn-of-the-century era, and in Storyville specifically, and was attracted to these little directories to the brothels and women of the red-light district as soon as I found out about them. Here are five reasons that I find the books interesting and want people to know about these New Orleans prostitution guides.

Blue book : Tenderloin 400.1) Storyville existed for only 20 years, and these guides (collectively called “blue books” even though they were issued under different titles) are among the few tangible relics that remain from the District. Created by an 1897 city ordinance that legalized prostitution within a geographically specified area just north of the French Quarter, Storyville operated as a thriving red light district that attracted tourists from around the country. With American entry into World War I, vice districts located near military installations were forced to close, ushering Storyville’s demise on November 12, 1917.

PHOTO CREDIT: Image courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection
CAPTION: Cover of Blue Book, [1901]; The Historic New Orleans Collection, 1969.19.4  

Blue book.2) Advertisements for brothels in genuine blue books contain little or no reference to sex — other than “French” or “69” indicating fellatio — and do not list prices for services. In fact, brothel advertisements did not even give any real information or personal descriptions about the women who managed or worked in the brothels. Decades after Storyville’s demise, fakes and facsimiles of these prostitution guides sold to tourists traded on its bawdy legacy. These reproductions often contained raunchier language than the genuine guides and helped give rise to the misconception that the blue books contained explicit material.

PHOTO CREDIT: Image courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection
CAPTION: Brothel advertisement from Blue Book, [1905]; The Historic New Orleans Collection, 1969.19.6

Blue book.3) Numerous nationally and internationally recognized brands, including Budweiser, Pabst, Falstaff, Veuve Clicquot, Piper-Heidsieck, Mumm, I. W. Harper, Dewars, and Black and White advertised in these prostitution guides, indicating a broad reach. These advertisements, along with those for local goods and services, targeted a wealthy, white male audience, and help piece together a night in Storyville for both visitors to New Orleans as well as locals.

PHOTO CREDIT: Image courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection
CAPTION: Advertisements from Blue Book, [1905]; The Historic New Orleans Collection, 1969.19.6

bluebooks_groupshot4) It is still unknown how many editions of these guides were published, or how many copies of each edition were printed. The Historic New Orleans Collection holds 24 copies of genuine guides from the Storyville-era, spanning fifteen individual editions. Our 16 copies of post-Storyville-era fakes and facsimilies represent 10 different individual editions. Together, they make up what is possibly the largest collection of New Orleans prostitution guides. Very few have survived, and examples that come on the market are considered quite rare.

PHOTO CREDIT: Image courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection
CAPTION: A selection of blue books from The Historic New Orleans Collection

Blue book.5) The “blue books” promoted Storyville as an entertainment, dance, and music venue at a time when the city was marketing itself as a winter resort, convention, and Carnival destination. This self-promotion reveals that the District and its entrepreneurs were in step with social and commercial trends that separated luxury from reality, and that the glamour suggested in its guides was part of a concentrated marketing strategy to attract upper-class white men. This marketing strategy has ensured New Orleans’ reputation as a good-time town to the present day.

PHOTO CREDIT: Image courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection
CAPTION: Advertisement and preface from Blue Book, [1905]; The Historic New Orleans Collection, 1969.19.6

— With grateful appreciation to The Historic New Orleans Collection for providing these archival images.

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