I first heard of this story in a Telegraph article here. The original sources were the Star (Iss: 1861, 18 Feb 1874) and The Leeds Times, 18 October 1873.
The Victorian era had a hell of a lot of weird clubs (the Fat Man’s Club, Jack the Ripper fan clubs, etc.), but one of the weirdest I’ve heard of is the No Nose Club–a club specifically for men without noses.
The reason for the club, and for their lack of noses? Syphilis.
Syphilis was extremely prevalent (and incurable) in the nineteenth century. This prevalence lead not only to a mid-to-late nineteenth-century panic about the disease (there was a lot of discussion about how men, visiting prostitutes, would contract syphilis, bring it home to his wife, and pass it on to his unborn children congenitally), but also a weird celebration of it in some circles.
Syphilis is known in medical circles as “the Great Imitator”, because it has such complex and varied symptoms, which can often be mistaken for the symptoms of other diseases or medical conditions. However, one particular symptom of syphilis, which is (as far as I’m aware) pretty specific to syphilis alone is the collapsing of nasal cartilage and the erosion of one’s nose.
As an aside, there’s a great episode of The Knick about early plastic surgery techniques used to help close up the gaping wound in a woman’s face after her nose is eaten away–she got the disease from her husband, who had an affair with a tart in his office (some working New Woman, ugh), keeping in line with Victorian fear of sexual deviance polluting the domestic space.
Anyway, those whose noses had been eaten away wore these devices:
It helped to cover one’s injury, but it was also quite apparent just what that injury was–and why.
Thus, we get to the No Nose Club. Because while syphilis can manifest itself in dozens of invisible ways and those who have contracted it can go undetected by the general populace, it was also extremely easy to identify sufferers if they needed to wear the above fake nose.
A woman named Miss Sanborn, who allegedly herself suffered from syphilis and wore a fake nose, reported to The Star the following story:
“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 then into a brotherhood. He ordered a very plentiful dinner, and told the landlord who were to be his guests, that he might be a little prepared for their appearance.
“No sooner was the hand of Covent Garden dial upon the stroke of the hour appointed than the no-nose company began to drop in, asking for Mr Crampton, which was the feigned name of their host, and succeeding one another so thickly that the waiter could scarcely show one up stairs before he had another to conduct. As the number increased, the surprise grew the greater among all that were present, who stared at one another with unaccustomed bashfulness and confused oddness, as if every sinner beheld his own iniquities in the faces of his companions“.
The report goes on to say, “This club met every month for a whole joyous year, when its founder died, and the flat-faced community were unhappily dissolved“.
The truthfulness of the account is certainly up for debate (The Oddment Emporium cites a similar report all the way back in 1756 in Edward Ward’s A Compleat and Humorous Account of all the Remarkable Clubs and Societies in the Cities of London and Westminster), although it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if clubs such as this existed on and off, all over Europe, for centuries.