Bubble wrapping death masks

Joshua Foer is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Joshua is a freelance science journalist and the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura: A Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica, with Dylan Thuras.

My wife and I are in the process of relocating from Brooklyn to New Haven. So far, the most tedious part of the move has been packing up the collection of death masks we acquired once upon a time in a fortuitous eBay bonanza:


The majority of these heads are gazillionth-order plaster cast reproductions (knock-offs of knock-offs of knock-offs) of originals held in the Laurence Hutton Collection at Princeton. Several are actually life masks, originally cast by sculptors.

In roughly bottom-to-top, left-to-right order, the faces in this photo belong to:

On the ledge: Abraham Lincoln, Laurence Barrett, Sir Richard Owen, Robert E. Lee, John C. Calhoun, William Tecumseh Sherman

The bottom six hanging on the wall: Ludwig van Beethoven, Antonio Canova, John Keats, Hyrum Smith, Joseph Smith, Jean-Paul Marat

The next highest six: Franz Liszt, Napoleon Bonaparte (well, maybe), Frederick the Great, George Washington, William Blake, Oliver Cromwell

The next highest five: Jeremy Bentham, Aaron Burr, Friedrich Nietzsche, Edward Kean, Ulysses S. Grant

And the top row: Jonathan Swift, Maria Malibran, David Garrick, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Moore.

On another wall not pictured we've got: Robespierre, another Abe Lincoln, Frederic Chopin, Pope Pius IX, Benjamin Disraeli, Benjamin Franklin, and John Dilinger. Plus there are a few more whose names I've forgotten in storage.

If there's one death mask I wish we had, it would be the Inconnue de la Seine.