About eight years ago, Gloria Proctor, 63, came into possession of a small collection of vintage erotica: sepia-toned nude photographs, titillating tchotchkes, racy pocket books from the 1940s with titles like Kept Woman and Part Time Passion—that sort of thing. Her then-boyfriend had found the trove among his father’s possessions after he passed away and decided to give it to Proctor, who was already collecting vintage photography.
She became fascinated by these glimpses into the sexual mores of other periods, and decided to build on the collection, roaming the 19th Street antique shops in the Heights, browsing eBay, and visiting estate sales. “I just kept going, and I haven’t stopped since,” said Proctor, who works as an administrative assistant at an investment firm. “I’m a fanatic about it.”
In the intervening years, Proctor’s collection has grown from a few dozen items to over 500 objects of every size and description, and they’re all on permanent display in a 12-by-15-foot spare room in her upscale Galleria-area apartment. During a recent visit, she paced around excitedly as she pointed out some of her prized pieces: a seltzer dispenser shaped like a naked boy urinating; a tiny plastic statuette of a prostitute under a lamppost; breast-shaped salt and pepper shakers; a token from the infamous Chicken Ranch whorehouse that reads “Good For All Night”; books ranging from Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask (“a classic”), to a signed copy of Larry Flynt’s autobiography (“boring”), to Madonna’s notorious and aptly named coffee table book Sex (“it’s vulgar, so I’m not going to open it”).
“I grew up in the ’60s, the hippie era. We were very open-minded, and I was raised like that. Nothing offends me. Of course, if it were very vulgar and nasty it would.”
In other words, Proctor collects, but not indiscriminately. Seltzer dispenser aside, for instance, few of the items in her collection feature males. “If there’s a man in the photograph, it’s going to be pornographic material,” said Proctor. “Pornography is something vulgar, like Hustler magazine. Sex acts. Raunchy stuff. You don’t see that here.”
Like most collectors, it’s the pursuit that drives Proctor. “Every antique dealer knows that feeling—it’s the thrill of the hunt.” She’s currently searching for one of the Chicken Ranch’s leg-shaped bar stools, as well as a Civil War–era prostitution certificate. “I’ve gone online," she said, "I’ve contacted Civil War collectors. I’m dying to see one.”
Friends have urged Proctor to open a museum like New York City’s popular Museum of Sex, but she’s worried about the expense, not to mention how her fellow Houstonians would react. “This is still a conservative city,” she noted.
For now, she’s happy holding cocktail parties in her erotica room, which doubles as a spare bedroom when guests come to town. One frequent visitor was her late mother, who only ever asked Proctor one question—What was that woman in the painting doing with her butt in the air? “She’s happy,” Proctor remembered telling her. “She’s just having a dream.” In fact, the only person who’s ever expressed reservations about Proctor’s hobby is a friend who urged her not to put so many paintings of female nudes on the wall. She was concerned it would give men the wrong idea.