During the 19th century the study of phrenology became a popular way to define a person’s character based on the shape of their skull. The idea that the skull ossified around the brain during infancy and therby showed the shape of the brain provided the basis for phrenology. Because the brain controlled mental functions and because the size of the regions of the brain were believed to denote levels of control of mental faculties, the study of the skull and thus the brain’s shape would allow a phrenologist to predict a person’s personality.
Schools of phrenology used busts such as this to teach the practice of phrenology. The Onslow County Museum’s 2018 winter exhibit will focus on medical practice in Onslow County, including some practices like phrenology now counted as quackery.