This is another news-based post, though it’s reporting slightly old news. And it’s also about sex slavery, though not in contemporary society.
An ‘amateur archeologist’ using a metal detector discovered a small coin on the banks of the Thames, and its discovery was made public in January this year. The coin turned out to be a brothel token – a coin claimed to be used in Roman-era brothels (or which there were many in London at that time). The ‘customers’ would buy tokens from the proprietor and, according to some accounts, give them to the prostitutes in the brothel as payment for sex. You can read more in the Daily Telegraph, the Digital Journal and probably a dozen other places.
A quick bit of poking about on the internet indicates that brothel coins, or brothel tokens, were widely used in Roman times. Many (if not all) the prostitutes would have been slaves, and the token meant that the prostitutes weren’t handling any actual money. However, the precise details aren’t known and there are alternative theories, including that they were used as gaming chips and/or as drinks tokens either in the brothels themselves, or perhaps in other bars. Of course, that doesn’t exclude the possibility they were used in all of these ways, and possibly more.
The idea of the ‘brothel coin’ didn’t die with the Romans. They were allegedly used in some European brothels, especially in Paris, up until the late 1800s/early 1900s; and possibly in some American brothels, and Australian ones, until around the same time. Few real examples survive but plenty of people make reproductions – which are widely available on Ebay – and at least one maker of tattoo equipment has a series of foot switches that feature embedded repro brothel coins (note, though, they won’t sell you tattoo equipment unless you’re a properly registered/licensed tattooist in the US). A couple of contemporary brothels in Nevada appear to have resurrected the practice and some of their tokens are also available on Ebay.
More info on their history is at wiki.answers.com. They’re evidently popular collectors’ items, with plenty of people selling them including a US ‘law enforcement supply‘ company that offers repro brothel coins along with body armour, handcuffs and guns (no, it doesn’t look to us like it really supplies actual law enforcement officers with their operational equipment either…). There’s at least one specialist brothel coin collectors’ website, and the same people publish the Brothel Collector’s Gazette.
You may already now about all of this, of course – but it was a revelation to us… but no, we’re not going to start collecting them.