A metal-detectorist brought some objects to the Collections Study Centre at Manchester Museum for identification a few months ago. I was intrigued when he showed me what he described as a lead Roman brothel token. Such discoveries have been in the news of late, one having turned up on the Thames foreshore earlier in the summer.
But was this also a brothel token? Whilst it is not in the best condition, it certainly shows an erotic scene. The lovers are standing and the woman has one leg raised. Sexual congress is taking place. Are they leaning against something or could that be a third participant on the right? It’s hard to say because of the condition of the piece and there is a (deliberate?) cut across the top of the figures.
I did a search of the Portable Antiquities Scheme website and found some references to similar pieces. I suspect that this is much later in date than Roman however. There are pieces of smoking paraphernalia with the same scene so I would guess that this piece is perhaps 18th or 19th century in date.
Another example is known from the Manchester region. I don’t know if it is a so-called brothel token. Perhaps it is more satirical than simply marking a transaction.
Hopefully someone can enlighten us. I’d have liked to have put out a press release earlier in the summer but at that time special billing was being given to a certain rotating statue…