From The Hunterian: Phossy Jaw

By M@ Last edited 177 months ago

Last Updated 23 September 2009

From The Hunterian: Phossy Jaw


In the second of three posts, we focus on individual exhibits from the weird and wonderful collection of our Museum of the Month - the Hunterian Museum.

This item from the Hunterian collection is a human mandible showing 'phossy jaw', a necrosis of the bone resulting from exposure to phosphorus vapour.

There is no case history to accompany this specimen, but it is possible the patient was a match-maker. Phosphorus necrosis (seen here on the right of the jaw, and below in a case photograph) was a particular risk for match-makers in the nineteenth century. Although the cause of the condition was recognised as early as 1844, legislation prohibiting the use of white phosphorus in British match factories was not enacted until 1910. A strike by London match girls in 1888 drew wide attention to the issue, and prompted William Booth and the Salvation Army to set up a factory using the safer but more expensive 'red phosphorous'.


The donor of this specimen was Charles Gaine, a dental surgeon who worked in Bath.

The necrotic jaw can be seen (as item RCSOM/F 19.6) at the Hunterian Museum in the Royal College of Surgeons, Lincoln's Inn Fields. With thanks to Jane Hughes for assistance.