Phrenology was a pseudo-science developed in the 19th century that held that one’s personality, talents and mental ability could be determined by measuring different portions of the brain, each of which corresponded to a different trait. The bigger the part of your brain that controls “firmness,” for instance, the more stubborn you are apt to be. Rather than cutting into the skull to measure the brain itself, various devices were constructed to measure the different parts of the cranium — sometimes using electricity. The fad died down by the mid-1800s, and by the 20th century, the machines (like the Psycograph or Phrenometer) often served only novelty purposes.
The head piece, which looks like a metal basket measures the head at 32 points per a five-point scale ranging from “Deficient” to “Very Superior.” It consisted of a huge hemispherical frame with thirty-two probes pointing inward at the victim’s head. The contraption produced a printed tape that evaluated the character of the person whose head had been poked at.