Past Definitions of Stuck-Up
The earliest definition of stuck-up that I’ve been able to find is in John C. Hotten, A Dictionary of Modern Slang, Cant, and Vulgar Words, Second Edition (1860), published in London, which offers this very narrow meaning:
STUCK-UP, “purse-proud”—a form of snobbishness very common in those who have risen in the world. Mr. Albert Smith has written some amusing papers on the Natural History of Stuck-up People.
John R. Bartlett, Dictionary of Americanisms, Fourth Edition (1877), published in Boston, has this:
Stuck-up. “”Stuck-up people” is a term applied to the proud and haughty.
J.S. Farmer & W.E. Henley, Slang and Its Analogues, volume 7 (1904), has a much lengthier treatment:
Stuck-up adj. phr. (colloquial).—Conceited ; purse-proud ; assuming airs, dignity, or importance. Also (rare) as subs.
18[?] Betsy Bobbet, 272. She was dressed up like a doll, but she didn't act stuck-up a mite.
1839 DICKENS, Nicholas Nickleby, ix. 'He's a nasty stuck-up monkey, that's what I consider him,' said Mrs. Squeers, referring to Nicholas. 'Supposing he is,' said Squeers, 'he's as well stuck-up in our schoolroom as anywhere else.'
1847 A. SMITH. The Natural History of Stuck-up People [Title].
[later citations omitted]
A search for the Betsy Bobbet quotation reveals that it appears in an 1872 volume by Marietta Holley titled My Opinions and Betsy Bobbet’s.
And Eric Partridge, A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, Eighth Edition (1984) has this brief entry:
stuck-up Unjustifiably 'superior'; offensively conceited or pretentious: coll[oquial]: adj. 1829 (OED)
First Occurrence of Stuck-Up
In a Google Books search, the earliest instance of stuck-up in the relevant sense is from Horace Smith, “The Steam-boat from London to Calais,” in Gaeities and Gravities, volume II (1825):
”I believe,” said the voluble dame, looking round with a gracious and comprehensive smile, “I believe we are all butchers’ ladies.” “I believe we ar’n’t no such a thing, Ma’am,” cried a corpulent female with an oleaginous face, while trying to turn up her pug-nose, which however was kept tolerably steady by a triple chin, she waddled away to another part of the vessel. “Well, I’m sure! Marry, come up! Hoity toity!” burst from the coterie with which she had disclaimed carnificial affinity ; “here’s airs for you!” … “I say Croak, who is that stuck-up fat thing that just left us?" " Don't you know her?" inquired Croak, in a whisper ; " why, that's Mrs. Dip, the great tallow chandler's lady, of Norton Falgate." " Well, suppose she is, she need'n't turn her nose up at us : if we were to call upon her on melting-day, we might have something to turn up our noses at, I fancy, ha ha ha!”
The odd thing here is that the standard form of the expression for using the upward thrust of one’s nose to express superiority or disdain—and the form that appears three times in the quotation—isn’t “stick up one’s nose”, but “turn up one’s nose.” For example, in John Braithwaite, The History of the Revolutions in the Empire of Morocco (1729):
Because he [the son of “a great Alcaide”] was a great Man's Son, Mr. Russel gave him a Moydore, or some such Matter, by the Advice of Abdelzack and Perez ; but he [the son] turned up his Nose, and looked upon it with great Contempt : So that Mr. Russel was advised to increase it, lest he should be able to bring some Interruption to his Journey.
Ultimately I’m not persuaded that the real-world thing that "stuck up" originally referred to was people's noses stuck up in the air. One problem with that theory is that the earliest Google Books search match for the phrase "stuck her [or his] nose up" or “stuck up his [or her] nose” comes only a decade before the 1825 first-occurrence date for stuck -up (cited above). Under the circumstances, if the point of “stuck up” was to refer to people’s haughtily elevated noses, wouldn’t it have made more sense to use the phrase “turned-up” instead of “stuck-up,” given that “turn up one’s nose” was the established idiom for such nasal posturing?
Early Occurrences of Stuck-Up Noses
The first (fictional) human being who is described as sticking his nose up in a Google Books match is from Elijah Sabin, Life and Reflections of Charles Observator (1816):
Jack Upstart drew a thousand dollar prize and set up merchandizing. He despised farmer A's boys, and would stick up his nose at them with disdain. He looked on their frocks and home-made dress as badges of meanness ; and thought his long watch-chain and wide ruffle, authorized him to call them mean dogs.
The second is from A Scientific Farmer, "Fattening Hogs with Boiled Food," in The New England Farmer (May 25, 1831):
1 tried to persuade the owner to adopt my plan with this hog, and feed him on corn meal boiled, but be soon stuck up his nose at the idea of making 'hasty pudding for his hogs!' As my effort to persuade him was ineffectual, he finally made me an offer of his hog, to try the plan myself, confident, as he said, that I would find it altogether unsuccessful.
The third is from Mary H. Pike, Ida May: A Story of Things Actual and Possible (1854):
O, let her go on! Let her! She better try it! She better stick up her nose at me!
And the fourth is from Mary C. Ames, "His Two Wives," in Every Saturday (May 9, 1874):
'Twa'n't no use! I can't make no company of no such folks. My! Mister Cyril, jest you think! she actelly stuck up her nose at my dinner! though I'd cooked many a dinner for quality at Squire Monteith's sech as she could never think of bein'. 'T'was the forks—the steel forks—that turned her atomic.
But if stuck-up didn’t originally refer to the stuck-up nose, what did it refer to? I don’t have a good answer for this question, but I can at least observe that in the early 1800s the phrase “stuck up” most often appeared in the context of placards, proclamations, and other notices displayed in conspicuous public locations. Perhaps the original “stuck-up” person was someone who put himself or herself on prominent display for the inferior masses to study and admire.