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Short Stories: Plague Mask

Oct 25, 2012

by Tom Banwell handmade and vintage goods

Here at Etsy, we believe that the story behind an object is often just as fascinating as the object itself. Short Stories is our series dedicated to telling the tales behind extraordinary pieces found or created by Etsy sellers.

Here’s Tom Banwell with the history behind this unsettling mask.

When the bubonic plague struck Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries, some doctors took to wearing beaked masks while treating patients. At the time, it was believed that the disease was carried by birds. The doctors had masks with birdlike beaks, which they filled with aromatic herbs to filter the bad air. In all likelihood, they also benefitted from the scariness of the masks by keeping infectious people at a distance.

When I got into leather mask making, I felt that the plague doctor mask was about as cool a mask as I’d ever seen, and it wasn’t long before I had a go at making my own. I found a photo of a plague doctor mask in a Danish museum, and used it as a model to base mine on. I moved the eyes more to the front so that someone could actually wear it and be able to see out of it.

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