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Calliper used to measure head size, London, England, 1886-1927

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Not much is known about this instrument. It is thought that it was used by phrenologists to take accurate measurements of the head. Phrenology was a practice based on the belief that personality could be read from the bumps and lumps of someone’s skull (and thus the underlying structure of the brain). Made by Arnold & Sons, surgical instrument makers, the callipers were once owned by the British Phrenological Society. Founded in 1886, the Society closed in 1967.

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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: anthropometry

The measuring of body parts so that comparisons can be made. The aim is to measure normal and abnormal development. In the past, it has also been used in attempts to measure racial difference.

Glossary: calliper

Instruments consisting usually of a pair of hinged legs used for measuring dimensions, for example thickness or diameters.