Category Archives: 1900s

A Face Only A Mother Could Love

Dueling Scars

Dueling ScarsThe man’s face shows signs of having been severely cut up in a duel. Duels were very much in vogue in Germany prior to World War 1. Members of the aristocracy would fight duels with swords or pistols over affairs of honor, and thousands died over trivial slights.

In addition to such honor duels, male University students belonging to the upper classes, often belonged to fraternities whose main purpose was to challenge the members of rival fraternities to sword duels. These so-called academic duels were not fought to the death, though death might result accidentally, but they were not at all genteel affairs.

The duelists wore only partial face masks which covered only their eyes and nose (to prevent blinding or disfigurement through the loss of one’s nose) but which also left the rest of the face intentionally unprotected so that rapier strokes often sliced the opponent’s face. This lack of protection guaranteed a level of risk which was seen as an essential proving ground for the duelers, and also ensured that they would receive facial scars which were seen as a mark of honor and distinction. Far from avoiding receiving scars in duels, German elites wore their facial scars as a badge of honor.

It looks like the man in this picture, likely taken around 1910, has earned quite a few distinguishing scars.

The practice of dueling to the death went out of favor following the carnage of World War 1. However academic dueling for sport remained in vogue even after world war 1, and many German officers during the Second World War continued to sport dueling scars.

Early Selfies

An Early Selfy

We tend to think that selfies are a modern phenomenon made possible by the ubiquitous cellphone camera. And while it is true that Facebook and the cellphone have gifted the world the Duck Face and other selfie abominations, the phenomenon goes back to the dawn of photography.

Early Selfy Photo

Early Selfie


Of course, back in the old days people couldn’t look up at their cellphones and take silly photos of themselves to satisfy their narcissistic need for exhibitionism. They had to resort to posing in front of mirrors.

In this old photo from before the First World War, a group of German university students are posing in front of a mirror. In keeping with the deeply militaristic nature of German society at the time, one is brandishing a saber and one is pointing a rifle at the mirror. This reminds of some of the thug life images you see on Facebook where men will pose with wads of money and a gun so as to look impressively gangster. It just goes to show that the more things change the more they also stay the same.

As an aside, the man brandishing the sword probably belonged to a university dueling club.Before WW1 duels, even recreational ones not fought to the death, were very serious affairs. The participants wore protective face masks which only covered the nose and eyes and intentionally left the rest of the face exposed so that it could be cut up and scarred. Scars earned in a duel were seen as marks of status and were welcome rights of passage among German university students.


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