The Case of Johann Gaspar Spurzheim (1776 - 1832)


Crania of Johann Gaspar Spurzheim (1776-1832)

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Johann Gaspar Spurzheim (1776-1832) 3D STL Software Image

This is a screenshot from the Still (STL) 3D image software rendering of Johann Gaspar Spurzheim. It captures the finalized 3D animation of Spurzheim's skull based on a plaster cast. On the back of Spurzheim's skull contains a base that was created as part of the plaster cast to keep his skull situated upright instead of angled. The finalized 3D animation was sent off to create 3D prints with PLA plastic. The 3D prints can be found in the Beyond the Bone Box educational kits curated by Warren Anatomical Museum.


Original Draft of The Collection of the Boston Phrenological Society: A Retrospect

Draft of paper written by John Collins Warren's grandson, Dr. John Collins Warren (1842-1927), which discusses the organization of the Boston Phrenological Society and their relation to Johann Gaspar Spurzheim. Warren's retrospect is a reflection on the former practice of phrenology in medical history and its association with Harvard Medical School.


"Some transcribed notes on postmortem examination of Dr. Spurzheim"

Dr. John Collins Warren (1778-1856) assisted by Nathaniel B. Shurtleff and Winslow Lewis performed an autopsy on Dr. Spurzheim. These pages are a copy of the original notes taken from Warren; however, not all of it could be transcribed which leaves many blanks for indecipherable words. The transcription had been completed by a former Warren Anatomical Museum curator. 


Entry on Johann Gaspar Spurzheim in A Descriptive Catalogue of the Warren Anatomical Museum

This text is the official published catalogue of the Warren Anatomical Museum. The Spurzheim cast is listed in the "Third Division" of the 1870 catalogue, which is entitled "Miscellany." The catalogue's first division is entitled "Healthy" anatomy and it's second division is "Morbid" or diseased anatomy. Miscellany is broken up into four series. The Spurzheim cast is in "Series XLIV" or "Phrenology." The other three series in Miscellany are "Zoology," "Mementos," and "National Skulls." Division Three is the smallest of the three divisions, equaling 478 out of the 3681 cases (13% of the 1870 total). Series XLIV is derived from the collections of the Boston Phrenological Society, which John Collins Warren purchased in the late 1840s and donated to the Warren Anatomical Museum in 1847. Many of the Phrenological Society's head and skull casts originally belonged to Spurzheim. The skull cast of Spurzheim is an exception with this larger collection. It was cast and donated in 1848 by Nathaniel Bradstreet Shurtleff. Shurtleff was a graduate of Harvard Medical School and was the curator for the phrenological cabinet of the Boston Phrenological Society. Warren himself had the actual skull of Spurzheim in his Warren Museum of Natural History on Chestnut Street in Boston. The cranium was later donated to the Warren Anatomical Museum, where it still resides.


Entry on Johann Gaspar Spurzheim in the Descriptive Catalogue of the Warren Anatomical Museum, volume one

The entry notes the cataloged skull of Johann Gaspar Spurzheim donated in 1848. Originally, the skull had been part of the Boston Phrenological Society, an organization founded on Spurzheim's birthday to continue the practice of Phrenology. The organization shortly ended after a lose in followers and finances. Spurzheim's skull is cataloged under the number 1125 and then later changed to 3562 after the Warren Anatomical Museum re-cataloged their collection to be categorically instead of chronological.


Discussion of Johann Gaspar Spurzheim in copy of proposed letter of Nahum Capen to Superintendent Mount Auburn, 1864

Nahum Capen, a practicing phrenologist and the founder of the Boston Phrenological Society, made it his duty to ensure Spurzheim's last wishes were met. In this letter, Capen writes to the Superintendent of Mount Auburn in detail about who had been involved with the arrangements of Spurzheim's death along with his collection and possession of his body. The letter is dated over thirty years following the death of Spurzheim.


“Anatomical Report on the Skull of Spurzheim”

A speech given by Nathaniel B. Shurtleff, read aloud in front of the Boston Phrenological Society. Shurtleff implements phrenological practices on the skull of Dr. Spurzheim post death. He includes notes about Spurzheim's own observations and determines their truth in the practice of phrenology. Shurtleff included a figure that traced Spurzheim's skulls and lists the characteristics inhibited.


Portrait of Dr. Johann Gaspar Spurzheim (1776-1832), 1832

The lithography of Johann Gaspar Spurzheim was originally created by Alvan Fisher, but John H. Bufford created copies as well. The first lithographic was published in 1832 by William S. Pendleton from his publishing company, Pendleton's Lithography, in Boston. The image depicts a portrait of Spurzheim pointing at a skull cast with phrenological markings.


Correspondence to John Collins Warren (1778-1856) regarding the Boston Phrenological Society cabinet

Correspondence from the back of John Collins Warren, II's, Original Draft of The Collection of the Boston Phrenological Society: A Retrospect. These letters relate to the Boston Phrenological Society in its final days of being an organization. Correspondence #3 and #4 refer to the Boston Phrenological collection including the crania of Johann Gaspar Spurzheim. The letter dated September 1849, mentions John Collins Warren I being the buyer of the Boston Phrenological Society collection. Warren I will have the collection for a rental period where he will later return it upon request from the Boston Phrenological Society. The other letter dated February 4, 1850 acknowledges the craniums of Dr. Spurzheim and Dr. John Roberton will be returned to the Phrenological Society, but not the rest of the collection due to its condition.

Reminiscences of Dr. Spurzheim and George Combe: and a review of the science of phrenology, from the period of its discovery by Dr. Gall, to the time of the visit of George Combe to the United States, 1838, 1840

Nahum Capen wrote a biography about the lives of Dr. Spurzheim and George Combe and their role in the field of Phrenology. Capen had been a follower of phrenology and founded the Boston Phrenological Society in 1832.

Spurzheim, Johann Gaspar, 1776-1832. Autograph document, undated

Correspondence to Nahum Capen written by Johann Gaspar Spurzheim addressing the study of phrenology. Spurzheim believes that phrenology is an improvement to Anthropology and that it will spread and gain popularity.


"Death of Dr. Spurzheim"

The Phrenological Journal and Miscellany (Edinburgh Phrenological Society) reprinted a letter from Nahum Capen and Robert M'Kibbed, M.D. Capen's letter mentions that Spurzheim's body was embalmed for his relatives if they wished for his body to be sent back to Europe. The letter also indicates that casts of the skull and brain were taken while the heart and lungs were preserved. This casts of Spurzheim's skull predate the casts that Nathaniel B. Shurtleff later donated to the Warren Anatomical Museum.


Silhouette of Johann Gaspar Spurzheim

It is believed that the silhouette of Johann Gaspar Spurzheim was created before his death while he completed his American tour. In his hand, Spurzheim is pointing at a skull. There is a resemblance to the Alvan Fisher Lithography.

Remarks on the case of Dr. Spurzheim

Oliver Wendel Holmes sought private tuition from Dr. James B. S. Jackson while he studied at Harvard Medical School. Two volumes of Holmes' notes on Jackson's lecture are housed at Center for the History of Medicine (CHOM). This one particular entry, dated November 15, 1832, notes Jackon's remarks on the heath of Dr. Johann Gaspar Spurzheim before his death in Boston. These notes were taken five days after the death of Spurzheim. Dr. Jackson had been one of the attendees of Spurzheim's death. In addition, other attendees include John Collins Warren who completed the autopsy and Nathaniel B. Shurtleff who wrote, "An Anatomical Report on the skull of Spurhzeim."


Phrenology cast of skull of Johann Gaspar Spurzheim, 1848

A second plaster cast was created from the skull of Johann Gaspar Spurzheim (1776-1832) by Nathaniel B. Shurtleff in 1848. Shurtleff had been a follower of phrenology and a member of the Boston Phrenological Society. The cast is a complete skull replica with the inclusion of Spurzheim's teeth. It is a mix of white and tan colored plaster. The base of the case is a round pedestal with a recangular nameplate below the mandible. The Spurzheim cast belonged to the Boston Phrenological Society collection, but was purchased by John Collins Warren in 1849 where it was then transferred to the Warren Anatomical Museum. 


Phrenology cast of head of Johann Gaspar Spurzheim, 1803

This is the first head cast created of Johann Gaspar Spurzheim (1776-1832) in 1803 for the Boston Phrenological Society. 

The Case of Johann Gaspar Spurzheim (1776 - 1832)