Tag Archives: phrenology

A Phrenological Failure: 1824

veggie face


The science of Phrenology is not likely to be long in fashion. Important anticipations were entertained of indications and discoveries in the head of Thurtell, but they have failed. Some time ago a gentleman found a large turnip in his field, the shape of a man’s head, and with the resemblance of the features of a man. Struck with the curiosity, he had a cast made from it, and sent the cast to a Society of Phrenologists, stating that it was taken from the head of Baron Turnempourtz, a celebrated Polish Professor, and requesting their opinion thereon. After sitting in judgment, they scientifically examined the cast, in which they declared that they had discovered an unusual prominence, which denoted that he was a man of an acute mind and deep research, that he had the organ of quick perception, and also of perseverance, with another that indicated credulity. The opinion was transmitted to the owner of the cast, with a letter, requesting as a particular favour that he would send them the head. To this he politely replied, “that he would willingly do so, but was prevented, as he and his family had eaten it the day before with their mutton at dinner.”

The Gentleman’s Magazine, Volume 135,1824

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The “science” of Phrenology was just getting started. Although it was scientifically discredited by the 1840s, it survived in the patter of the snake-oil salesman, and as a popular lecture-circuit topic and parlour entertainment into the early 20th century, as Mrs Daffodil has written in Bump Parties: 1905, 1907.

Thurtell was John Thurtell who murdered Mr William Weare over a gambling debt. The crime caused a sensation; the gruesome particulars were memorialised in a ballad, part of which ran:

They cut his throat from ear to ear,
His head they battered in.
His name was Mr William Weare,
Wot lived in Lyons Inn.

Thurtell committed a vicious murder, but was astonishingly stupid over it, openly boasting that he would “do” Weare, who was said to have cheated Thurtell at cards, and leaving the murder weapon, one of a matched set he owned, in the road. No doubt the phrenologists wanted to analyse his cranium to determine where he went wrong and prevent future murderers from making the same egregious errors.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

Fingernails of Destiny: 1887, 1891, 1900

fortune telling hand

The Language of Nails.

[Baltimore News]

He who has white spots on his nails is fond of the society of ladies, but is fickle in his attachments. He who keeps them well rounded at the tips is a proud man. He whose nails are detached from the finger at the further extremities, and when cut showing a larger proportion of the finger than usual, ought never to get married, as it would be a wonder if he were master in his own house, for short nails betoken patience, good nature, and, above all, resignation under severe trials.

Nails which remain long after being cut level with the finger end are a sign of generosity. Transparent nails with light red mark, a cheerful, gentle and amiable disposition. Lovers with transparent nails usually carry their passion to the verge of madness. If you come across a man with long and pointed nails you may take it for granted that he is either a player of the guitar, a tailor or an attorney. He who keeps his nails somewhat long, round and tipped with black is a romantic poet.

The owner of very round and smooth nails is of a peaceable and conciliatory disposition. He who has the nail of his right thumb slightly notched is a regular glutton, even nibbling at himself, as, when having nothing eatable at hand, he falls to biting his own finger-nails. And, lastly, he who keeps his nails irregularly cut is hasty and determined. Men who have not the patience to cut their nails properly generally come to grief: most of them commit suicide or get married. Kansas City [MO] Times 7 April 1887: p. 2


What White Marks and Various Shapes Are Supposed to Signify

A white mark on the nail bespeaks misfortune

Pale or lead-colored nails indicate melancholy people.

Broad nails indicate a gentle, timid and bashful nature.

Lovers of knowledge and liberal sentiment have round nails.

People with narrow nails are ambitious and quarrelsome.

Small nails indicate littleness of mind, obstinacy and conceit.

Choleric, martial men, delighting in war, have red and spotted nails.

Nails growing into the flesh at the points and sides indicate luxurious tastes.

People with very pale nails are subject to much infirmity of the flesh, and persecution by neighbors and friends. The Hocking Sentinel [Logan, OH] 29 October 1891: p. 1

In days when superstition was more prevalent than it is now the shape and appearance of the fingernails were considered to have reference to one’s destiny. To learn the message of the fingernails it was necessary to rub them over with a compound of wax and soot and then to hold them so that the sunlight fell fully on them. Then on the horny, transparent substance certain signs and characters were supposed to appear, from which the future could be interpreted. Persons, too, having certain kinds of nail were credited with the possession of certain characteristics. Thus a man with red and spotted nails was supposed to have a hot temper, while pale, lead colored nails were considered to denote a melancholy temperament. Narrow nails were supposed to betray ambition and a quarrelsome nature, while round shaped nails were the distinguishing marks of lovers of knowledge and people of liberal sentiment. Conceited, narrow minded and obstinate folk were supposed to have small nails, indolent people fleshy nails and those of a gentle, retiring nature broad nails. The Christian Recorder [Philadelphia, PA] 31 May 1900

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil wishes to contribute several observations about finger-nails and character that may be pertinent in this context. They are 1) Nails bitten to the quick suggest either a timorous personality or someone with a guilty secret. Either may be useful to a blackmailer. 2) One can never be too scrupulous about nail hygiene. Scrapings from beneath a victim’s fingernails have convicted many a murderer. A nail brush is as essential a part of the assassin’s kit as his revolver or dagger.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find more fashion hints, fads and fancies.

Bump Parties: Popular Phrenology: 1905, 1907

love bump party


Cynthia Grey

A bump party is about the latest of the summer fads.

Among the attractions of Coney Island is a “bump the bumps.” It is along the line of “shoot the chutes.” It is enough to cause a mild excitement even in hot weather.

But when it comes to a bump party given by a college professor, the most languid sits up to take notice.

When it is further announced that the college professor’s bump party is a love bump party, there isn’t a man or woman, married or single who isn’t eager to investigate.

The scientific name for the party is “anthropological matrimonial party,” but love bump party means to us far more and stands for the same thing.

It is said that Professor Fredrick Starr of Chicago University has distinguished himself by inviting the engaged and unengaged students of his classes to attend an “anthropological” party.

We are told that he has promised to tell the engaged, by examining the bumps on their heads, whether or not they have chosen wisely. He will also discover the particular one for any of the unengaged.

The professor evidently has faith, but what a risk he is running.

Imagine the lover’s state of mind when his sweetheart, because of a mere bump, is handed over to a rival suitor.

Picture, if you can, the despair of the maiden who hates red hair, when she is passed onto a freckled faced individual whom she despises, jest because of a little bump that never shows under her pompadour.

Think of the little blond’s consternation when the lover, at whom she has made eyes for six months and who has just proposed, is snatched from her and awarded to the enchanting brunette whose scalp lies smooth above her ears.

Things will be doing at the professor’s party.

It is a brave professor who dares to come between lovers.

The other members of the faculty seem to have Professor Starr’s safety at heart. It is said they have forbidden the students to attend his party. It shows how deep is their regard for him.

Some of the students have declared their intentions of going in spite of the faculty’s orders to the contrary!

Thus, when we are young, do we rush recklessly to our own undoing.

But who cares? Cupid isn’t even flustered by the professor’s party. it is true, and Cupid knows it is true, that as long as the world stands, lovers will marry whom they please—the anthropological discoveries of the professor notwithstanding. The Spokane [WA] Press 5 August 1905: p. 4


Fad in Entertainments Where Club Women Have Head Readings

“Bump” parties are a new form of entertainment adopted by women’s clubs this seasons that bids fair to rival whist and bridge—that is, if all are as successful as the one given the other afternoon by the press committee of the Rainy Day club in the home of Mrs. Thomas H. Whitney, 411 West End avenue, New York.

“Bump” parties are entertaining, even exciting. The diversion is created by a woman phrenologist, who takes herself seriously, says the New York Herald. If husbands of members of the Rainy Day club are importuned to build houses regardless of cost, so that the mistress may have an opportunity to decorate the interior and prove her artistic temperament, they need not be surprised, for it will only be another evidence of the effect of the “bump” party.

“One “Daisy” of uncertain age was warned not to marry by the phrenologist. “Don’t you marry; don’t even consider it until you are really ready,” she was told. “for it would be a pity for you to make a mistake and wed too soon or get the wrong man.”

Another prominent member was startled by hearing the reader say after carefully rubbing the “bumps” on her head. “You have robbed some one, and if there had been a twin I should feel sorry for it.” This same woman was told to write, even if she awakened in the middle of the night, for the phrenologist knew by the size of the lumps that the woman had genius with her pen, and so she must hold herself constantly in readiness for any inspiration.

“You are cold and reticent,” said the reader to another woman. “and it took your husband years to make an impression.”

“Six,” declared the subject amid shouts of laughter from the other members.

“You are still inclined to keep your own counsel,” continued the phrenologist. “for you tell your husband only such things as you think best for him to know.”

In the midst of one flattering reading the subject grew red and quite confused and finally announced that the “bump,” being felt, was not a real one, but a piece of padding that kept up her pompadour. There is but one undesirable feature to such entertainments, and that is that the most elaborate coiffures are disarranged by the hands of the phrenologist as she works over a “bump” of affection or tries to find a lump of genius or a point of locality, and sidecombs and jeweled ornaments are sacrificed.  The Evening Statesman [Walla Walla, WA] 7 January 1907: p 8  

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Phrenology is, of course, the “science” based on the study of the human skull. The originator of phrenology, Franz Joseph Gall, believed that the brain was comprised of 27 individual organs that determined personality and regulated different emotions. The skull was believed to bulge over the more highly developed parts of the brain, leading to the famous “bumps,” which revealed the propensities of the subject. Hence bumps of “amativeness” and “philoprogenitiveness.”Phrenology was largely discredited by the 1840s, but had a slight resurgence at the beginning of the 20th century, particularly in connection with criminal anthropology. The “love bump” party professor, Frederick Starr [1858-1933] was a distinguished academic and anthropologist at the University of Chicago, as well as a popular lecturer. His outspoken and eccentric opinions on an immense variety of subjects—the truth about Belgian atrocities in the Congo” (flogging did not hurt the natives), the secret to long life (a sunny disposition), that women were  inferior to men (and should cease to pretend otherwise), and “the American people are becoming Indians and will eventually revert to the aboriginal type.”—frequently appeared in the newspapers. It does not surprise Mrs Daffodil that a man capable of such crankish pronouncements was interested in phrenology. One expects that the portions of his brain for “tact” and “empathy” were somewhat underdeveloped.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find more fashion hints, fads and fancies, and the bump of amiability.