Many have claimed to be ‘The World’s Smallest Man’ but The Little Russian Prince may have actually lived up to that billing. Allegedly, the tiny man weighed less than sixteen pounds and stood only eighteen inches in height.
According to ‘A Sketch of the Life of the Russian Prince’ – a lengthy biography found on the back of his pitch card – Nicholi was born in Siberia in the 1870′s to a Russian Military Officer implicated in an assassination plot against the Czar. Found guilty, his father and mother were moved into a Siberian penal settlement and 14 months later, little Nicholi was born. He was discovered at the age of 28 when the Governor of the colony observed that the boy had never reported for mandatory military enlistment at the age of 21. When the tiny Nicholi was brought before him, the Governor was amazed. Eventually the Czar heard of the tiny man and demanded that Nicholi be brought to him. While before the Czar little Nicholi begged so convincingly for the freedom of his family that stunned Czar granted his request.
Despite his well-padded biography, very little is known about Nicholi. His appearance is somewhat unusual when compared to other ‘midgets’ of the era and there has been much speculation that Nicholi was not a midget at all. Rather, some believe that Nicholi was actually a child afflicted with the rare aging condition known as progeria.
Progeria causes children to undergo physical changes associated with aging but at a highly accelerated rate. Children afflicted loose their hair, their teeth, and develop physical ailments and conditions commonly attributed to the elderly. Stunted growth and a fragile appearance are also major symptoms of the syndrome.
While Nicholi was billed as being in this mid-thirties, if he did indeed have progeria, he was likely no older than 10. Most people with progeria die before the age of 13. Thus, as his pitch card claims that Nicholi spoke Russian, Hebrew, English, and German – skills very unlikely in a 10 year old – his entire biography comes into question. The modern diagnosis does answer several questions and observations and would also explain Nicholi’s sudden disappearance – he likely only had a career of one or two years.
It is also possible, and much more plausible, that Nicholi had primordial dwarfism. Most primordial dwarfs, in addition to being short in stature, also exhibit several skeletal and endocrine disorders. Their appearance is not unlike Nicholi’s. Furthermore, on average, the lifespan of a primordial dwarf is quite short as well.
Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, there have been less than 100 confirmed cases of progeria since its discovery in 1886 and while primordial dwarfism is more common, it is still quite rare. The Little Russian Prince, born in the 1870′s, predated the discovery of one of the syndromes that possibly afflicted him. He may very well be the first photographed case of progeria.