We don’t know much about her. We don’t even know her name. What we do know is that the woman who wore the above prosthetic lost her nose in the middle of the 19th century due to a raging case of syphilis.

This deformity was so common amongst those suffering from the pox (as it was sometimes called) that ‘no nose clubs’ sprung up in London.  On 18 February 1874, the Star reported:

Miss Sanborn tells us that an eccentric gentleman, having taken a fancy to see a large party of noseless persons, invited every one thus afflicted, whom he met in the streets, to dine on a certain day at a tavern, where he formed them into a brotherhood. [1]

1The man, who assumed the name Mr Crampton for these clandestine parties, entertained his ‘noseless’ friends every month until he died a year later, at which time the group ‘unhappily dissolved.’ [2]

For those determined to avoid the pox, condoms made from animal membrane and secured with a silk ribbon were available [below], but these were outlandishly expensive. Moreover, many men shunned them for being uncomfortable and cumbersome. In 1717, the surgeon, Daniel Turner, wrote:

The Condum being the best, if not only Preservative our Libertines have found out at present; and yet by reason of its blunting the Sensation, I have heard some of them acknowledge, that they had often chose to risk a Clap, rather than engage cum Hastis sic clypeatis [with spears thus sheathed]. [3]

Everyone blamed each other for the burdensome condom. The French called it ‘la capote anglaise’ (the English cape), while the English called it the ‘French letter.’ Even more unpleasant was the fact that once one procured a condom, he was expected to use it repeatedly.

Unsurprisingly, syphilis continued to rage throughout London during the 18th and 19th centuries despite the growing availability of condoms.

Which brings me back to the owner of the prosthetic nose. Eventually, she lost her teeth and palate after prolonged exposure to mercury treatments. Her husband—whom may have been the source of her suffering—finally died from the disease, leaving her a widow.

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom for the poor, unfortunate Mrs X!

According to records at the Royal College of Surgeons in London, the woman found another suitor despite her deformities. After the wedding, she sought out the physician, James Merryweather, and sold the contraption to him for £3. The reason? Her new husband liked her just the way she was – no nose and all!

And that, kind readers, is a true Valentine’s Day love story.

Ignore the part where she most certainly transmitted the disease to her new lover.

 

1. Origin of the No Nose Club. Star, Issue 1861, 18 February 1874, p. 3.
2. Ibid.
3. Daniel Turner, Syphilis: A Practical Treatise on the Venereal Disease (1717), p. 74.