A (brief) History of Masks

As you might have seen in our two previous blog posts, today marks the launch of the POP mask filter. Below is the list of patents included in the filter, they date from 1890 to 1920 and are completely different to the homemade fabric or surgical masks worn today. We really encourage you to give it a go and find out your “mask mood”!

Discover more about the masks in the filter.

This mask is from a “Fireproof Garment”, patented in 1892 by Betsy J. Martin in Kansas, USA.  It features a “combined mask and cloak especially adapted for use by ladies and children.” What we’re particularly interested in is the duck-like visual. Could it have been to try and calm or distract people in a hazardous situation? Betsy states that “the mouth opening is provided with outwardly-extended and reversibly arranged flaps which will more effectively protect the mouth of the wearer and at the same time allow for the admission of air.” The entire suit, even down to the thread it was stitched together with, was made from asbestos fibres. Throughout the Industrial Revolution, asbestos was used widely for its insulating and fire-retardant properties. [1] Due to its incredibly dangerous effects on health, we would not recommend wearing any asbestos clothing today.

In 1897, Ulrich Harder in Missouri, USA patented this ‘Storm Mask”. It’s designed to protect the wearer’s face from “cold and storms” “wind, rain and sleet”. The mask is constructed in two main sections to allow for unrestricted lower jaw movement and respiration. It features a “wedge shaped front” for optimal wind resistance and eye holes covered in “mica or other suitable transparent substance.” The main cover is constructed from “waterproofed papier-mâché” or other suitable material that is a “non-conductor of heat”. It should be lined with “felt, flannel” or “oiled silk”.

Paul Eschenbach patented this “Fan Mask” in 1903. The mask intends to “greatly change the appearance of the face from its natural condition.” It features “notches” in the shape to fit around different facial features. The invention also comes in a “varied number of configurations … to produce designs of greater or less disguising effect.” These concealing fans have a variety of expressions and animal features for this very intention. The inventor doesn’t refer to the circumstances for where this mask could be worn. But it’s interesting to speculate about it… Paul Ashbrook, born Paul Eschenbach[2], was a highly regarded painter and illustrator in the beginning of the 20th century.  We’ve found a newspaper article from the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune in May 1915 that refers to him attending an Art Academy ball, where one guest was wearing a mask ‘with an eye in the centre of her forehead”. Could this have been another of Paul’s designs..?

This invention was patented in 1912 by French citizen Jules J. Maurice. It’s a “Sun-Shield for the Nose” to be used by “persons who travel in hot countries” to avoid “burning of their features”.  The inventor states that it can also be “very easily carried in the pocket” and can be used by women to “prevent the effect of moisture in the air in removing the bleaching effect of powder which it is the vogue at present to apply in considerable quantities to the nose.” It’s illustrated here attached to a pair of eye-glasses to keep it in place on the bridge of the nose.

Max Saltz patented this “Automobile Veil” in 1913. It’s designed to “protect the wearer from excessive air currents and dust, therefore permitting the taking of a trip with increased comfort and enjoyment.” There are plenty of automobile veil’s in the patent archives but this one stands out because of its adjustable opening to be worn over a hat, and its transparent chiffon front section to not obstruct the wearer’s view.

This is a “Mosquito Veil” patented by David C. A. Hultström in Vancouver, Canada in 1913. It features a bronze wire mask within the mesh veil to afford the wearer “uninterrupted vision”, “freedom of movement” and effective “respiration”. The illustration also demonstrates how the wearer can drink through a tube in Figure 5.

Thomas Joel King patented this “Breath Deflector” in 1916. It’s to be used by “barbers, dentists, surgeons, nurses,” anybody whose work requires them to lean over a “customer or patient”. Thomas describes this as “a very obnoxious and dangerous interchange of breath.” Its shell is made of a light-weight material such as metal or wood and has interior sections of wool or felt to fill the gaps “as the contours of the face of different persons varies.” It features a spring clip which is clamped on to the nostrils and a supporting member which can be held between the teeth. The shape has two curved extensions which cause the “breath to be directed to the back of the wearer’s head” and therefore avoids “exceedingly disagreeable” air crossover.

This snorkel is actually a “Physician’s Mask”, patented in 1917 by Herbert A. Hecht. The mask is designed for physicians, dentists, nurses and barbers. Unlike the previous patent which is concerned with bad breath, this invention is focused more on people who are “exposed to deleterious fumes” in the workplace. It features a nose and chin pad and felt border for cushioning and comfort when worn. In the centre it allows space for “absorbent cotton charged with disinfectant” to filter the air.

This invention was patented in 1918 by Frank D. Spotswood. This “Mouth Mask” was especially designed for use by children. It features a supporting tab which may be “held between the teeth to support the mask” therefore “unnecessary for the child to employ the hands for supporting the mask’. The illustration shows a representation of a human mouth on the front, but Frank also notes that it could feature the “mouth of an animal”.

This is a “Face Shield” patented by Walter Dewitt Kemp in 1919. It’s “especially useful to women automobilists as an aid to the complexion in protecting the face from wind, dust etc.” This mask has a few interesting features, firstly Walter claims that the triangular opening will “permit the wearer smoking a cigar or cigarette”. The two eye sections can also be replaced for a variety of functions. You could insert eye-pieces of different colours, “such as blue, brown, green, etc.” for light guards or perspective adaptability for different needs/utilities. The shield is also made from a flexible material so that it can folded to conveniently “occupy a small space”.

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