Anatomical Museum


Busts and masks from the Edinburgh Phrenological Society

Phrenology is a theory (now dismissed) that by studying the overall shape and 'hollows, lumps and bumps' of an individual's skull that they indicate a person's character and mental capacity. Phrenology societies collected busts and made death masks of individuals from across society in an attempt to prove this theory.

The Anatomical Museum has on display 40 life masks of renowned individuals from famous scientists and politicians to notorious murderers.

This remarkable original collection, dating to the 1820s, belonged to the Edinburgh Phrenological Society and was displayed in their phrenological museum (In Chambers Street) until 1886 when it was transferred to the Department of Anatomy.

Until the late 1930's, the collection was only available for viewing by request and became largely forgotten.

By the early 1940s many items were disposed of and by the 1950s the number of casts was reduced even further when a large number of items were damaged beyond repair.

Altogether the museum cares for approximately 1000 items that once belonged to the Edinburgh Phrenological Society and it is estimated this is less than half of their original collection. The range of objects include plaster busts and death masks of individuals, human and zoological skulls, plaster models and artworks.