A miniature phrenology head of white glazed porcelain painted with a gold numbered diagram of the regions associated with different personality characteristics, and a numbered key to the diagram around the bottom. It is mounted on a small, black metal stand. It was most likely made as a Victorian cane handle, later removed and placed on the stand, based on numerous extant phrenology heads still mounted on canes that are virtually identical. A link to one such cane, sold at auction, is in the 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.
Condition: Generally fine overall, the ceramic with only light crazing and wear. Likely a cane handle on later base.
“Tradewinds 2011 Fall Antique Cane Auction, Lot 120.” Live Auctioneers. 2000-2012. http://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/9835038 (24 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).