If ever there was to be a Baltimore landmark noted for its ties to free-speech battles, it might well be the historic brick warehouse at 3300 Clipper Mill Road in Hampden-Woodberry, a building that once produced sails for the Baltimore clipper ships that ruled global trade in the early 19th century. Two of its more modern tenants fought government charges of peddling "obscenity" so that, today, the likes of D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover and such adult-magazine titles as Wild 'n'Sassy can be sold and distributed without fear of legal prosecution.
When U.K.-based Penguin Books published Lady Chatterley's Lover in 1960, the company's U.S. distributor was moving 2 million books annually out of 3300 Clipper Mill-and business grew briskly after the company's widely publicized 1959 acquittal of Obscene Publications Act charges in England for publishing Lawrence's book. That same year, U.S. judges spurned government attempts to block U.S. distribution of the book, which is rife with taboo-if now outdated-terms depicting explicit sex. The shock over Lawrence's prose seems quaint and misplaced now, thanks in part, perhaps, to the failure to stop its dissemination, allowing once-offensive words and phrases to become benignly commonplace and barely titillating.
But the censors were not done yet. In the U.S., they fixed their sights on the folks who distributed pornography, including Baltimore's Samuel Boltansky, who ended up spending much of his career getting porn and sex toys out to the masses, despite government accusations of illegally distributing obscene material and having ties to organized crime. He did a pretty good job fighting back, winning acquittal in 1972 after a federal obscenity prosecution and mounting his own legal campaign trying to make sure prison inmates had proper access to pornography.
For decades, until his 2002 death, Boltansky ran his family-owned business, Komar Co., which distributes pornography, sex toys, and the like, out of 3300 Clipper Mill. A recent City Paper visit there, attempting to get an interview and tour from Komar's current operator, Morton Hyatt, was not successful.
But the company's long history and significance in free-speech battles is easily researched-as is its current sex-market prominence, reflected in a recent ad that features images of Rabbit brand dildos and the words: "Working like Rabbits . . . to Service the Adult Retailer with 13,000 Adult Toys and Novelties and counting." The ad boasts of Komar's "over 50 years supplying adult stores, home parties, online retail, and convenience stores with adult magazines, toys, novelties, and DVDs!"
In 1964, Boltansky was one of the incorporators of Central Magazine Sales, according to 1,960-page final report of the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography, published in 1986 and known familiarly as "the Meese Report," after then-U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese. In 1971, the company was redubbed Komar Ltd.-essentially the same name it still uses today. Included in the Meese Report were the findings of a 1977 Department of Justice report entitled "Organized Crime Involvement in Pornography," which provides details about Boltansky's role in Komar and other porn-distribution companies, but says nothing about either's alleged organized-crime ties.
Boltansky died in 2002, 30 years after his obscenity acquittal by then-Maryland U.S. District Judge R. Dorsey Watkins, who ruled that the 18 magazines his company distributed-including such titles as Party Pair, Double Pleasure, Wild'n'Sassy, Gay Mood, and Up Tight-while "clearly obscene in the ordinary sense of the word," are not "constitutionally obscene under the Supreme Court's interpretation of the First Amendment."
Today, Boltansky is mostly remembered locally as a prominent real-estate developer and philanthropist. Among his and his family's beneficiaries has been the Jewish Museum of Maryland, which, at its annual meetings, features a keynote speaker invited in Boltansky's honor. But during Boltansky's long porn-distribution career, he was a trailblazer in fending off police and prosecutorial witch hunts over porn-probes that are rarely heard of today.
Thanks to Komar and Penguin, 3300 Clipper Mill stands as a monument to the hard-fought right to provide people with the kink they want.