Explicitly erotic versions of folk tales are as old as the tales themselves, in fact many may say that some of them are intrinsically erotic. Thus by 1909 it was almost inevitable that an astute publisher would think of producing a series of the more likely candidates for a sexual angle, and add colour pictures for added effect. That publisher was the Vienna-based Carl Wilhelm Stern (1873–1942), who started out as a bookseller and registered a publishing business in his name in 1908.

Erotische Märchen (Erotic Fairy Tales) appeared in two volumes, with 27 coloured illustrations, in a limited numbered edition of 800 copies for subscribers only. It sold out almost immediately, but not before Stern had been prosecuted, charged with offenses against public morality and the distribution of pornographic literature. He was eventually acquitted in May 1912, and continued to run an antiquarian bookshop, bookstore and publishing house in Vienna, until the Anschluss forced him to emigrate to England.

When sex became a hot topic again in the 1970s, several German publishers turned to the Stern collection and produced their own editions of Erotische Märchen – Tabu in 1970 and Widder in 1975, followed by Neues Leben in 1990, Zettner in 1995, and most recently Melchior in 2007.

These editions used different combinations of period images, some from Stern and others from various sources – the images shown here are from the Melchior edition. The Melchior version contains 35 tales, including The Frog King, Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel and Snow White, all in rather grown-up variants with pictures to match.