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Set of sixty miniature heads used in phrenology, Manchester, England, 1831

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Phrenology originated with Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828), a German physician, assisted by his colleague, Johann Kaspar Spurzheim (1809-72). Phrenologists believed that the shape and size of various areas of the brain (and therefore the overlying skull) determined personality. Gall and Spurzheim eventually disagreed and went on to promote rival systems of phrenology. These heads are numbered according to Spurzheim’s classification. The heads may have been used to teach phrenology but were probably made as a general reference collection. A wide range of different heads are present. For instance, head number 54 is that of a scientific man; head number 8 is recorded as the head of an ‘idiot’. The heads were made by William Bally, who studied under Spurzheim from 1828 onwards.

Object number:

A642804

 

Glossary:

Glossary: phrenology

The study of the bumps on the outside of the skull in order to determine a person's character. It was based on the mistaken theory that the skull becomes modified according to the size of different parts of the brain.

Glossary: phrenological head

A representation of a human head, on which the phrenological faculties are illustrated. Phrenologists believed that one could tell personality traits by examining the bumps of the skull. The practice is now regarded as a pseudo-science.