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Stained plaster phrenological bust, London, England, 1821

Stained plaster phrenological bust, London, England, 1821

Credits: Science Museum

Divided according to the system of German phrenologist Johann Spurzheim (1776-1832), this plaster phrenological head has 35 different ‘organs’. Phrenologists believed that different parts, or ‘organs’, of the brain had different qualities. They further believed that an individual’s personality could be read from the lumps and bumps in the skull. The head was made by James DeVille (1777-1846), a phrenologist based in the Strand, London. DeVille had over five thousand phrenological heads at his premises.

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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.