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Phrenological head of William Dodd, a forger, United Kingdom, c. 1820

William Dodd (1729–1777) began his career as a preacher and a writer. He was a moderately successful preacher but a literary failure. He enjoyed a lavish lifestyle and often spent beyond his means. He forged £4,200 in 1777 to pay off his debts. He was quickly arrested and confessed his crime. Dodd was found guilty of capital forgery at the Old Bailey in London. This crime carried the death sentence. Over 23,000 people campaigned to save him from what they thought was a harsh punishment. However, Dodd was hanged on June 27, 1777. Casts like this were often taken of executed criminals by phrenologists. They believed the shape and size of various areas of the brain (and therefore the skull) determined personality. Heads like this were often part of larger phrenological reference sets. These also included famous people and people of different races.

Object number:

1992-34/9

 

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.