Objects of Intrigue: Beggar's Benison Prick Glass
BEGGAR'S BENISON PRICK GLASS
The novelty dribble glass of Scotland's infamous 18th century sex club
Museum of the University of St Andrews, Fife, Scotland
Scotland was a wild place in the 18th century: the battles and political unrest of the Jacobite uprisings, the scientific accomplishments of the Enlightenment, the inspiring poetry of Robert Burns... and of course, all the crazy sex clubs.
In Great Britain, notorious private organizations like the Hellfire Club dedicated themselves to the pleasures of the flesh with the motto Fais ce que tu voudras, or "Do what thou wilt" (later adopted by Aleister Crowley). The free-wheeling licentiousness had political undertones, however, with members seeing their embrace of natural desire and acknowledgement of sexuality as part of a resistance of sorts to the uptight and unrealistic attitudes of the church and proper society. Conveniently, all this moral rebellion also gave them an opportunity to get away from the wife and ogle some nubile young things with like-minded perverts.
In the north of Scotland in 1732, local gentlemen assembled and put their noble energies into creating a new fraternal organization based on their shared love of the erotic arts. The new club was called The Beggar's Benison, (or, more officially The Most Ancient and Most Puissant Order of the Beggar's Benison and Merryland, Anstruther), named somewhat cryptically for a blessing allegedly bestowed upon King James V and his royal nether regions by a fetching young beggar girl. Members would meet at a local inn for communal appreciation of the pornographic arts, bawdy songs, flexible young ladies, and for a little group masturbation into a shared bowl. Also, hilarious, elaborate dribble cups.
Tony Perrottet, author and expert of unusual antique sexy-things, gave us a little more background on these extraordinary items
One of history's great mysteries is why the sodden land of Scotland, more famous for its haggis than its hot lovers, spawned so many sex clubs in the 18th century. While many of the raunchy relics have disappeared in the British Isles, some objects survive in the far north.
Today, St Andrews is a quaint and leafy medieval town, best known for its golf courses and, more recently, the place where Prince William and Kate Middleton met as students. But hidden away in the Museum of the University of St Andrews is a cache of bizarre erotic objects that have somehow survived. These objects belong to a group called the Beggar’s Benison, whose members would gather in a tavern in the fishing village of Anstruther to watch naked “posture molls” gyrate on tables and then abuse themselves in unison, while the club president wore a wig said to have been made from the pubic hairs of King Charles II’s mistresses.
The Testing Platter of the Beggar's Benison, upon which club members scattered their seed for over a century. (Photo courtesy of the Museum of St Andrews University)
Today, the museum’s collection includes a peculiar drinking vessel [pictured at top], which was known, for obvious reasons, as a “prick glass.” It was filled with wine and used for joke toasts; when a new member drank from it, wine would spurt down the front of his shirt.
Sadly, the club’s legendary wig has been lost. Travelers can, however, visit the site of club's masturbation rituals in the charming seaside village of Anstruther, 50 miles north of Edinburgh. The old tavern is still a pub, called the Smuggler’s Inn – and it remains, appropriately, seedy.
The village of Anstruther, home of the strangest sex club in 18th century Britain; to the left are the ruins of Castle Dreel, legendary first home of the masturbation society.
The pubic-hair wig eventually became the mascot of the Wig Club, whose members would take turns wearing the item at special meetings, believing it to endow sexual prowess. The holy wig’s stand and box are archived at St Andrews, but sadly, the pubic-wig itself went missing in 1913. It was last seen in a lawyer's office in Leith. I tried to find it while researching my book The Sinner's Grand Tour by putting an ad in the local paper – tragically, so far, no clues have turned up.
Tony Perrottet is a traveler and writer of odd and wanderlust-inspiring books including Napoleon's Privates: 2500 Years of History Unzipped, and The Sinner's Grand Tour: A Journey Through the Historical Underbelly of Europe. The author's website is tonyperrottet.com
BEGGAR'S BENISON ARTIFACTS, Museum of the University of St Andrews, Fife, Scotland
SMUGGLER'S INN, Anstruther, Scotland
SEE IT FOR YOURSELF:
The Beggar's Benison and Wig Club collection are stored away in the archives of the Museum of the University of St Andrews, and are not on public display. They can be seen by special arrangement only.
The Smuggler's Inn can be visited any time. For authenticity, bring a copy of Fanny Hill to read over your pint.
OBJECTS OF INTRIGUE is our fortnightly feature highlighting extraordinary objects from the world's great museums, private collections, historic libraries, and overlooked archives. See more incredible objects here>