Are you ‘good with the household’? ‘Sensible in marriage’? A ‘little hypocritical’? If you’re not sure, worry not, this 18th-century forehead reader from the Wellcome Collection will be the judge…
Among the many unusual items that find their way into the Wellcome Library is this forehead reader (above), printed in 1785 in Nuremberg to accompany a 32-page pamphlet written in German. These small, painted cardboard inserts have survived remarkably well, held within a slipcase containing instructions for revealing character and making predictions. You, too, can now enjoy recreating this parlour game that was partly designed to help those looking for potential partners. At least you will have some fun deciding if the subject is indeed, ‘very stingy’ or ‘a friend of pretty clothes’.
This particular period of European history marked a renewed interest in discerning people’s personalities through their facial features, aka physiognomy. This was largely due the amateur enthusiasm of Johann Casper Lavater (1741-1801), a self-styled connoisseur of faces, who brought a lavish, expensive five part set of books to the attention of the cultural elite. It was popular among those who could afford it, so a certain Dr Silbermann sought to capitalise on Lavater’s success by producing a cut-price, dramatically reduced version.
Lavater’s efforts attempted to give a more ‘scientific’ kudos to the practice of measuring angles and accurately tracing silhouettes of profiles. The idea was to promote self-awareness in order to improve your moral values. In contrast, Silbermann looked back to earlier beliefs in astrology and reintroduced fortune telling into the proceedings. Judge for yourselves if anything is ‘written’ on your forehead.
How to use it: Cut out the female forehead reader template (above - click on the image for full size). Trace the lines of the subject’s forehead with a pen (non-permanent, mind). Place the reader on the forehead, so the pen lines appear through the cutout sections. Mark the numbers where the lines appear, then look up the numbers in the key (below) to reveal the characteristics.
Words: Danny Rees, Wellcome Library