$700+ original or $35 fake? Get your head examinedBy

Get Your Head Examined

$700+ original or $35 fake?

Phrenology was a popular 19th century theory that intelligence and personality and character traits are revealed by the location of contours, or bumps, in the skull. Three dimensional models of phrenology heads showing these locations or personality traits are a highly sought after collectors' items. Depending on the material they are made of, original heads can sell from several hundred to several thousand dollars. A recent ceramic reproduction of an 11½″ phrenology head, shown in (Fig. 1), was seen extensively in malls around the nation.

This fake, as well as similar reproductions from the 1960-70s, can be identified by the large holes in their bases (Fig. 3). This is a by-product of slip casting. The large original heads, (Fig. 2), do not have this hole. The vast majority of original china heads have glazed bottoms. Many, but not all, of the reproductions have unglazed bottoms. Also be very wary of all over crazing. Virtually all the reproductions have excessive and deliberate crazing to give the appearance of age. Originals may have some areas of crazing but rarely have coarse crazing over their entire surface.

These reproductions, plus earlier ones, are marked "L.N. Fowler" in several places as well as "London". But don't be misled. This reproduction is made in China; the ones from the 1960-70s were mostly from Japan and Taiwan.

Fowler, an Englishman, was one of the leading teachers of the phrenology theory during the second half of the 19th century. He also sold textbooks, charts, prints heads and other articles to practicing phrenologists around the world including many in America. Fowler's name and London address are on most of his products and associated with good quality original phrenology items. That's why it has been included on most reproductions.

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Fig. 1 New reproduction ceramic phrenology head with L.N. Fowler name on base. Wholesale was $37.50; 11 ½″ high.

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Fig. 2 Old 11 ½″ phrenology head by L.N. Fowler as shown in
Miller's International Antiques Price Guide, price was $750-$1000.

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Fig. 3 Large holes in the base of the heads almost always means a reproduction. These holes are left by slip casting. Originals do not have the holes in the bases. This new hole is 2½″ diameter.

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Fig. 4 Most all of the reproductions have a deliberate heavily crazed glaze over the entire surface. This close up is the surface of a 1970s era reproduction.

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Fig. 5 Mark on the side of a new head: "L.N. Fowler, Ludgate Circus, London." Generally similar marks are found on original pieces.

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Fig. 6 Catalog page from reproduction offering phrenologist head marked Fowler. Thirteen-inch heads sold for $13.50 each. Also shown is reproduction ceramic palmistry diagnostic aid.