Thomas Mutter: Strange Collectionist Extraordinaire
Strange figures have a habit of hanging around in history. Whether they’re remembered for their achievements, their creations or just their interesting habits, certain figures have popped up time and again, leaving an indelible mark behind them. Thomas Mutter was one such man. A plastic surgeon by profession, the man had a very niche interest in life, documenting some of the strangest maladies and illnesses over the course of his career. Today, he is remembered for his collection, looked back on as an enthusiast of a stranger side of medicine.
Born in 1811 in Richmond, Virginia, Thomas Mutter was orphaned at the age of 8 after his parents both lost their lives due to illness. Perhaps pushed on by this event, Mutter went on to study medicine at university, later traveling to Europe to learn more about the emerging practice of plastic surgery.
While he was studying in Paris, Mutter began his strange collection of curiosities after being taken with wax head cast of a young woman. Over his time and the years, Mutter came into possession of a whole range of items from horned heads to strange, preserved body parts.
Following his European trip, Mutter returned home more invigorated than ever before. Fueled by his new knowledge, the young doctor joined the Thomas Jefferson University in order to teach his newly learned skills to a new generation of doctors. Over the course of his career, Mutter earned himself something of a reputation for his skills and approach to the profession. While he initially offered free plastic surgery to patients in exchange for public operations, his skill set soon drew in people from far and wide who paid big sums in order to be operated on in private.
Mutter revolutionized the way that plastic surgery was carried out, helping to improve the treatment of burns victims. The early form of skin grafting was performed on a patient who was both conscious and alert, not having been administered a painkiller. As if this wasn’t enough, Mutter was also known to use the technique elsewhere, performing open surgery on a man whose face was split down the middle, without the use of an anaesthetic.
Over the course of his life, Mutter’s collection grew and grew as he picked up various works on his travels. As he neared the end of his life, his collection of strange objects was so large that the doctor lacked a proper place in which to stash all of his items, and began looking elsewhere. At a loss of what to do, Dr. Mutter donated his collection, along with $30,000 to the College of Physicians in Philadelphia on his death.
Now, the college hosts Mutter’s collection, having opened it up into a public museum. Over the years, new items have been amassed and added, growing in size to be more than 20,000 objects. As well as Mutter’s own findings, the museum holds the likes of the body of a woman who turned into soap due to a strange burial procedure and the random items of another plastic surgeon. The collection is a real snapshot into a stranger part of life, showing visitors how weird and wonderful the world of science can be.