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Phrenological head, London, England, 1821

The plaster cast head shows the areas responsible for certain characteristics and personality traits according to the theories of Johann Gaspar Spurzheim (1776-1832). Phrenologists believed that the shape and size of various areas of the brain (and therefore the overlying skull) determined personality. In the 1800s, phrenology became popular with large numbers of people but soon became controversial within medical circles. The head was made by James Deville (1777-1846), a plaster cast maker turned phrenologist. Deville opened his first shop in Soho, London in 1803 and began making casts from 1821 onwards. He had a collection of over five thousand different casts at his premises. Deville became one of the founders of the London Phrenological Society in 1823.

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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.