Who's What Character Analysis and Phrenological Charts
Rotating Chart by Frank Newell, New York: 1922
Who's What Character Analysis Chart


Who's What Phrenology Chart


Detail of back

Detail of back.

Detail of front

Detail of front.

Frank Clarence Newell, Jr.
Who's What Character Analysis and Phrenological Charts
Newell Research Institute, New York: 1922
Color-printed paper on cardboard
Rotating dials and metal fasteners
8.5 x 8.5 inches, overall

To see other phrenology items on our site, use our site search engine.

A rare double-sided character analysis and phrenological chart in the form of a volvelle -- consisting of a sleeve with three rotating cards that have openings cut in them.  On the front, titled Who's What: An Instant and Authoritative Character Analysis Chart, the rotating cards together form eight faces in profile, four male and four female.  Instructions on the front direct the user: "Turn the disks and fit together the head, face, and nose resembling the person to be read -- then read the printing in front of this face.”  The instructions advertise that "512 combinations of faces with 512 different character readings may be made."  Each of the three components have a number with a line under it, so when the outer ring, the middle ring and the inner ring of cards line up they form a three-digit number representing that particular set of character traits, with a printed list beside it (on the inner ring). The front is printed in black, blue and tan.

The back of the device, titled The "Who's What" Phrenological Chart, is illustrated with three black-and-white line drawings of phrenology heads in profile, front and back, with an explanation of  "The Three Main Types of Temperaments" and "The Seven Groups of Faculties."  A trapezoidal window in the upper left reveals brief explanations of the numbered sections of the heads (as revealed on the front) when the dial is turned.  They are introduced with a paragraph titled, "The Science of Character Reading":

There is real joy in character reading. It is entertaining and instructive. Theodore Roosevelt was of the Mental-Motive type. William H. Taft is of the Mental-Vital type. Which type are you?

This device was patented in 1922 by Frank Clarence Newell, Jr. as "a new and useful Improvement in Phrenological Charts."  In his patent application he identifies himself as a resident of Manhattan. The application is reproduced online (see References below).

The "science" of phrenology was introduced by the Viennese physician J.F. Gall (1758-1828), and promoted with the assistance of his protégé J.G. Spurzheim.  Although there were always skeptics in the medical community about the claims of character analysis, phrenology became the leading science of the mind for much of the 19th century.  Assisted by diagrams and "phrenology heads" -- three-dimensional models diagramming the regions of the head made of ceramic, plaster or wood -- phrenologists believed they could divine character traits and intellectual aptitudes by examining the convexities on the surface of the head.  The notion that any information about the brain can be gleaned from the surface of the skull has, of course, been fully discredited, as has the phrenologist's map of the locations of particular faculties within the brain.  But Gall's underlying premise that the brain is the organ of the mind, and his postulation that multiple localized regions within it control distinct functions, makes phrenology a forerunner of modern neuroscience.

In the United States and Britain, phrenology was popularized by the Fowler family, notably Lorenzo Niles Fowler.  In the 1830s, Lorenzo and his brother Orson established phrenology practices in New York and Philadelphia respectively and also founded the American Phrenological Journal and Miscellany, which continued publication until 1911.  They expanded into publishing other phrenological texts and by the 1840s were among the largest publishing firms in New York. In 1863, Lorenzo and his wife and daughter emigrated to London. There they established the Fowler Institute for phrenology, which gave readings, offered courses and housed a reference library and museum.  Lorenzo Fowler is renowned for his ceramic and plaster phrenology busts, which he designed and produced in a variety of forms and sizes, and were often marked L.N. Fowler.  Today the originals are prized by collectors, and numerous later reproductions are also on the market.  By the early 20th century, phrenology was increasingly a fringe pursuit, though the British Phrenological Society, which had been founded by Fowler in the 1880s, did not disband until 1967.

Full publication information: Newell Research Institute, 17 West 42d Street, New York City. Patented Mar. 21st 1922. Frank C. Newell, Jr.

Condition Report: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning, handing, wear.  Light dampstain lower right margin. Small tab on inner volvelle lacking.


"Patent US1410342 - MENTS." 1922. Online at Google Patents: http://www.google.com/patents/US1410342 (23 April 2013).

van Wyhe, John. "Overview." The History of Phrenology on the Web. 1999-2011. http://www.historyofphrenology.org.uk/overview.htm (24 April 2013).

van Wyhe, John. "The Fowlers." The History of Phrenology on the Web. 1999-2011. http://www.historyofphrenology.org.uk/overview.htm (24 April 2013).

Search and Site Maps Globes and Planetaria Home Prints and Art How to Order Decorative Arts About Our New York Gallery Features and News Maps and Celestials George Glazer Gallery Home Page Home Decor, Gifts and Collecting