Tag Archives: motorcar face

The Telephone Face: 1903

telephone face

The Telephone Face

“What’s the matter with that man?” said the Observer, repeating his friend’s interrogation, as they passed a pedestrian wearing a most prodigious frown. “Don’t you know what’s the matter with him? He’s got the telephone face.

“Never heard of it, eh? Well, that shows that your powers of perception are not particularly acute. The telephone face is no longer a physiognomical freak, but a prevalent expression among the several thousand unfortunate clerks and business men who find extensive use for the telephone necessary. It is a distinctive cast of features, too, which can readily be distinguished from any other by one who can read faces at all.

“The dyspeptic has a ‘face.’ His expression is fitful and disgruntled, but underlying it is a gleam of hope; the insolvent man, harassed by creditors, has another well-defined type of facial mold. It is haunted and worried, with a tinge of defiance in it; the owner of the ‘bicycle face’ has his features set in lines of deadly resolution; the ‘golf face’ displays fanatical enthusiasm and a puzzled look resulting from a struggle with the vocabulary of the game; the ‘poker face’ shows immobility and superstition; the ‘telegraph face,’ according to a well-known New York professor, is ‘vacant, stoic and unconcerned,’ but the ‘telephone face’ stands out among all of these in a class peculiar to itself. There are traces of a battle and defeat marked on it; the stamp of hope deferred and resignation, yet without that placidity which usually betokens the acceptance of an inevitable destiny. The brows are drawn together above the nose, and at times a murderous glint shows in the half-closed eyes of the possessor.

“The peculiar feature about the man with the ‘telephone face’ is, that he always believes the day will come when he will be able to get the right number and the right man without being told that the ‘line’s busy,’ ‘party does not reply,’ or ‘phone is out of order.’ He is like the man who always backs the wrong horse, the poet with an ‘Ode to Spring,’ or the honest man seeking a political job, continually defeated, but ever dreaming of ultimate success.

“I know of only one instance in which the dream was realized. A new girl had been installed in a telephone office without proper instructions— a most unprecedented case. A bookkeeper, grown gray in the service of a large mercantile house, picked up his receiver wearily. It rang the new girl’s bell, and like a flash, she said, ‘Hello.’ The bookkeeper gasped. ‘Is that you, Central?’ he asked huskily. ‘Yes,’ replied the unsophisticated maiden, pleasantly. ‘What number, please?’ The old man sat bolt upright and clutched the desk. ‘Give me purple six double-nine,’ he said, in quavering tones, and his weak form trembled as he spoke. Nimbly worked the fingers of the uninitiated telephone girl, as she struck a peg in the switchboard and quickly rang a bell. A voice at the other end responded promptly, and the bookkeeper wiped cold beads of perspiration from his brow before he answered. ‘Is this Jones & Company?’ he almost shrieked. ‘Yes,’ came the reply, full and clear, ‘this is Jones talking.’

“A dull thud followed, and, when the other clerks rushed in, they found the old man lying still and cold, his right hand still grasping the receiver of the telephone, which had fallen to the floor beside him, and a smile of the most transcendent happiness they had ever seen upon his faded lips.”

Said the Observer, Louis John Stellman, 1903

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: This was at a time when telephone service was not as reliable as it might have been and “crossed wires” made it likely that the party to whom you wished to speak would never be reached. However, life for the telephonist was about to become even more worrying:

The televue is in town. This is a wonderful invention which permits the people conversing over the wire to see each others’ faces. There will soon come into existence now what may be called “the telephone face.” We have already the bicycle face and the motor car face. The telephone face will be of various kinds. There will be the ingenuous and regretful face, to suit the statement that “I am compelled to stay down town this evening—so sorry. Will dine at the club.” Then there will be the disappointed face to go with—“Oh, dear me, did you say Wednesday night. I have an engagement for that night,” and so on. There are times when one wishes to be unconstrained, facially, at the telephone, so to speak, and this device militates against such a condition. Evening Tribune [San Diego, CA] 4 July 1906: p. 2

Of course, today a new generation of telephonists is unconstrained, both facially and sometimes sartorially, in their sharing of images.

Mrs Daffodil previously wrote of “Motor-car Face.”

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


The Awful Horseless-Carriage Face: 1897

The dreaded "motor-car" or "horseless-carriage" face.

The dreaded “motor-car” or “horseless-carriage” face.


Awful Visage That Will Surpass the Bicycle Face.

The “bicycle face” will now yield the palm to that awful visage known as the “horseless-carriage face.” That expression known as the “bicycle face’ is caused by anxiety, apprehension and actual dread lest the owner run over somebody.

It is brought about by anxiety lest some bad accident occur, apprehension that the rider may be the victim, and positive, downright dread that some one else may be injured. These varying and powerful emotions constantly playing upon a sympathetic soul are reflected through ocular and nervous lines in the countenance technically known as “bicycle face.” This cast of countenance, brought about by the most humane emotions of a sympathetic soul and reflected through the mirror of eyes and expression, is the opposite of that glare, soon to become known as the “horseless-carriage face.” It is as the dimpled smile of the puling infant is to the maniac’s stare.

When the modern moloch is in full operation the face of the rider undergoes an awful change. The lines of the mouth become set, rigid, immovable, and stonily grim—just the opposite of the sympathetic bicycle face, in that it reflects a determination that if anybody is killed it won’t be the owner of the ‘horseless-carriage face.” There is also a look of fear—not fear that he may run down somebody, but fear that he won’t. The eyes have a fixed and steely glare, while over the whole saturnine face is the impress of horror, a faint but ever-present shadow that shows the modern moloch is impelled to pursue his work of devastation by some potent hellish power. Once seated on this powerful engine of destruction, with a firm grip on the lever, even the fairest countenance takes on some attributes of this “horseless-carriage face.” And all else in Gotham flee for their lives. Pittsburgh Dispatch

The Saint Paul [MN] Globe 14 April 1897: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: That memorable phrase, “bicycle-face,” was coined by a Dr Shadwell of London, who wrote alarmingly about the perils for lady cyclists including appendicitis, internal inflammation, heart-trouble, and—not least—the expression of anxiety and nervous tension he calls “bicycle-face.”

The condition was also termed “motor-car face” and “automobile face,” and is described vividly by French racing driver, Henri Fournier.


Henri Fournier

The most careful chauffeur cannot avoid being shocked every time he takes a spin. I do not think that any other sport known to man affords so much excitement. One needs a stout heart and a strong nervous system as well as keen eyes to indulge in this most modern pastime, for I do not believe that navigating a flying machine brings a man into contact with more perils.

The automobile face is no joke. It is the startling presentation in the human physiognomy of the record of thousands of dangers passed, or, rather, close escapes from danger. I have never been in but one accident that was really serious, and in that case we were wrecked and bruised almost before my mind had time to form a picture of what threatened us. I refer, of course, to the time when my machine was run down by a locomotive on the Long Island Railroad. \Ve were caught like animals in a trap by reason of the lack of protection at a blind grade crossing. I had barely time to whirl the steering wheel in an effort to get off the track when the engine was upon us and tossed us and the heavy machine into the adjoining field like so much chaff.

Serious as this accident was—for three of my companions were so badly mangled that they narrowly escaped death-—I still think that it did not leave so much impress on my mind and nervous system as the thousands of hairbreadth escapes through which I have been. It is the constant flirting with death that gives the automobilist his characteristic face. Strangely enough, it is not the fear of death for himself that shocks him, but the dread lest he may be the cause of death or injury to others.

When a man begins to run an automobile he is timid—that is, assuming that he is a man of sound and normal mind. Only fools do not know the meaning of the word fear. But every ride the chauffeur takes adds to his confidence in his machine as a good yachtsman is of his yacht or a cavalryman of his horse. He goes flying along the road, exhilarated with the sense of swift motion, feeling like a greyhound or a swallow in full flight. The idea that he may be hurt never occurs to him any more than it does to the greyhound or to the swallow.

Only one fear haunts him—that he may possibly run down some other vehicle or run over a pedestrian. The greatest source of danger lies in small boys at play, especially in suburban cities and the outlying districts of this city, where boys play at will about the streets with no thought of being run down.

I know of no other shock in automobiling that is equal to this. One’s heart becomes constricted by fear until it feels no bigger than a marble. Every nerve in the body seems tied in a knot. The eyes protrude and the chauffeur in his mind contemplates the awful spectacle of the mangled and bleeding little body on the dusty roadside. The chauffeur’s hand flies to cut off power, to apply the brake, to swing the reverse lever. As if by a miracle the boy escapes. The rush of air with the machine perhaps blows off his hat. He has been within one-fiftieth of a second of a horrible death.

This is the sort of experience that produces the automobile face, which the doctors are beginning to write learnedly about. Of course the constant attention one has to pay while automobiling to the road, to the machine, and all its parts, and to the distances which separate the machine from dangers of collision, must tend to produce a tension of the muscles about the eyes, the mouth and even the ears, which, upon becoming fixed, produces the characteristic automobile face. But it is the horror one feels that he may be the innocent cause of destruction to others that is the most potent factor in evolving the automobile face.

The Automotive Manufacturer Review, Vol. 43, 1901


Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.