Nose Jobs in the 19th Century

“The science of the nose has reached such perfection that it is now possible to modify or change the nose”

~Baroness Staffe,  My Lady’s Dressing Room 1892

This article follows on from a previous post in which I had promised to look into early rhinoplasty as described in My Lady’s Dressing Room. Disappointingly, Baroness Staff’s entry was slim. Her advice to people with big noses was to wear eyeglass frames (!) at night, and as much as possible during the day. An especially useful tip for those with crooked noses was to blow your nose out of the nostril on the defective side until it became perfectly straight. I am quite entranced by the idea of the ladies about town blowing one nostril in the hopes of creating the perfect profile. It reminds me of the hours I spent as a teenager, rowing-arms and chanting, “I must, I must, I must increase my bust”.

She mentions the millionaires of New York changing their noses ‘into either Greek, Roman or Hebrew… by means of an instrument which they wear at night’. Now none of this sounds like a real nose job but the surgeons of the day were, however, performing them. The pictures on the top left and immediate right are from Meyers Encyclpaedia of 1890. They show how skin harvested from the forehead covered the new nose. New cartilage came from the eighth rib.

The Oxford War Primer was the handbook doctors were given as they set off for the front in The Great War in 1915. The book details unbelievably grim facial injuries that soldiers sustained in the trenches. While the authors do mention the reconstructive surgery, in most cases prosthetic noses were recommended over the surgery. An entire industry developed around creating faces for these poor young men. French sculptors, in particular, made astonishingly life-like copper facial prosthetics to cover horrific wounds.  For more information on the Tin Nose Shop, click here 

A copper facial prosthesis made after World War 1

Copper faces for broken men is a world away from my dodgy bathroom in Johannesburg but you never do know where a story will take you. And I’m not sure how many millionaires were having their noses reshaped in the 19th century but certainly the techniques that the surgeons were learning came into their own 22 years after the adaptation of My Lady’s Dressing Room for the American sophisticate.


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