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Tools of plastic surgery’s past

By June 23, 2016September 16th, 2023No Comments
Plaster casts

Plaster casts (1935) from Wangensteen. Photo credit Mike Krivit.

By Brandon Hackbarth

For plastic surgeons, a detailed pre-operative patient record is important for assessing post-operative results. Plaster casts have long been part of this process — a history that is documented within the artifact and print collections at the Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and Medicine.

Lois Hendrickson, Wangensteen Curator, recently talked about the two plaster casts (dated 1935) that are held in the Wangensteen artifact collection, along with a thousand more medical artifacts from the 19th and 20th centuries.

About the artifacts

Hendrickson said that the plaster casts depicted the pre- and post-operative images of an individual who has undergone reconstructive plastic surgery of the nose.

“The cast on the right shows the pre-operative state, with an uneven bridge of the nose,” she said. “This is shown corrected in the cast on the left, which shows the post-operative state.”

The casts — weighing 4 pounds each — were made of plaster of paris with a metal wire embedded at the top for hanging. Hendrickson remarked on artistic quality of the casts, noting how they were made life-like with a finish of gesso and acrylic paint.

While no artist is identified, the reverse side of both casts bears an inscription on an adhesive sticker, which includes a name (likely the patient’s), an address, and a date of October 22, 1935.

Importance of plaster casts

Hendrickson said that plaster casts continue to serve as a useful mode of study, record, and teaching for plastic surgeons. She said that advancements in technology and medicine have added to our ability to document pre- and post-operative states. This includes tools such as clinical notes, radiographs, and photographs, along with newer modalities like 3-D computer graphics and stereolithography.

These tools are used in a variety of ways. They help in planning reconstruction for facial defects. They offer pre- and post-operative comparison for common procedures such as cleft lip and palate, rhinoplasty, and ear reconstruction. They also document before and after results of treatment on keloid and hypertrophic scars, and aid in the fabrication of implants and preparation of prosthesis.

More information

Additional information on the plaster casts and other medical artifacts at the Wangensteen Historical Library can be found on the library’s website, or by contacting the library at 612-626-6881 or


Rana R E, Puri V A, Aiyer P M, Baliarsing A. Preparation of Plaster Moulage (Cast) in Plastic Surgery patients. Indian J Plast Surg: 2003;36:26-9.

Erinn Aspinall

Author Erinn Aspinall

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