Combe personnal phrenological callipers in silver offered by ladies who attended his lectures in Edinburgh – 1825

Combe personnal phrenological callipers in silver offered by ladies who attended his lectures in Edinburgh – 1825




Country of manufacture

UK and Ireland

Categories: Scientific, Diagnostics, Other Medical Antiques, Calculating, Medicine


Phrenological callipers, in silver, Edinburgh, Scotland, ca 1824- 1825, dimensions : 15 x 9 cm, engraved on the silver case : “To George Combe Esq’r. From Ladies who attended his Lectures on Phrenology in 1825 & 1826”, and likewise on the calliper arms “To George Combe Esq’r. From Ladies who attended his Classes on Phrenology in 1825 & 1826”.


Instrument and case hallmarked in multiple locations as follows :

-Town mark : castle, for Edinburgh.

-Date letter : “t” of a special font and special surround, datable 1825-1826.

-Assay master’s mark : thistle.

-King’s head : means duty has been paid.

-Maker’s mark : “I R” within rectangle (only two possibilities according to Jackson’s comprehensive Silver and Gold Marks, John Robb – first recorded in 1816 – or James Redpath – first 1822).


Stowed compactly, the callipers assemble to stand 22-cm tall, opening on the arc graduated every one-eighth inch from 1 to 11 inches of opening of the arms.

The screw heads, hinge boss, and ball are all beautifully cut as flowerheads, the case with a long floral opening.

In use the ball is placed in the ear (or another principal point), the other arm against any region of the head of interest, and the direct distance in inches read out on the arc.


A present to the great Scottish phrenologist George Combe from grateful ladies who attended his lectures in Edinburgh

“In contrast [with halls of science], women were far more integrated into phrenological gatherings and were enthusiastic in appreciating their inclusion. The Edinburgh Philosophical Association, one of the earliest institutions to aid in the diffusion of phrenology, even passed a resolution regarding the attendance of women at scientific lectures […] Women not only availed themselves of these opportunities but also expressed their awareness that such inclusion was unique. For instance, a group of women presented a pair of silver callipers to George Combe for being the ‘first lecturer on a serious subject who admitted their sex to his class’ (Gibbon 208), and, upon Combe’s death, The English Woman’s Journal remembered him as ‘Woman’s Friend’ who ‘recognised no distinction of sexes’ and ‘demonstrated the interest men have in raising the condition and relative station

of women’.” (Shalyn Claggett, Equal Natures : Popular Brain Science and Victorian Women’s Writing, State University of New York Press, 2023)


An instrument introduced and popularised by George Combe himself

The physician George Combe (1788-1858) was a leading pioneer and populariser of phrenology. When Gall and Spurzheim introduced phrenology in the first two decades of the 19th century, they had initially proposed only visual and manual examination of the skulls. However, in the 1820s, Combe introduced and advocated for the use of callipers and a new instrument he called a craniometer for the production of phrenological measurements, hoping to make phrenology more like the admired physical sciences. This particular type of spreading callipers is illustrated in his Elements of Phrenology, first published in 1824.

Probably the finest phrenological callipers, with a most desirable provenance.

Fine condition, the case with small denting underneath.

This callipers is exhibited during the NY Antiquarian book fair at the Park Avenue Armory from 27 to 30 April.

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FR Le Zograscope

Established by Alexandre Piffault in 2014 and based in Paris at 5 rue de Condé, 75006, very close to Odéon, Le Zograscope specializes in antique and rare books in Science, Medicine and Technology, and rare antique instruments in the same fields. We have especially a strong interest in early and continental microscopy, early and special mathematical/drawing instruments, medical and surgical instrument, and rare technology.
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