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Phrenology head inkwells are a curiosity

Phrenology, the study of the shape of the skull, supposedly could tell the shape of your brain and information about your behavior.

The "science" became popular about 1810, years after it was developed by German doctor Franz Joseph Gali, in 1796. It remained popular until about 1840 as a way to understand personality and to help with decisions when hiring employees or choosing a spouse. It is now considered a pseudoscience and ignored by the medical profession.

Doctors today use brain scans that show areas where feelings of anger, sadness, fear or information-processing originate. So technology seems to have vindicated part of the theory of phrenology: It was right about areas of the brain, but wrong about the skull identifying the locations.

You can still buy the icon of the phrenologist, a head marked with regions of the brain and the emotions controlled there. Both new and old paper charts and decorative 3-D pottery heads are available. A pair of old phrenology-head inkwells sold for $1,750 at Doyle New York in April. Each bald head was marked with the phrenologist's map and held a small inkwell in front of the neck. The inkwells often were kept on a doctor's desk in the 19th century. If you like the look of the inkwell, be careful where you buy one. New ones, available for as little as $30, are almost exact copies of old ones.

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>Q: My 90-year-old aunt recently gave me her old Bye-Lo baby doll. The back of the doll's head is marked "copr. Grace S. Putnam, Made in Germany." Please fill me in on this doll's history.

A: California-born Grace Storey Putnam (1877-1947) was divorced and trying to earn some money when she started designing doll's heads. In 1922, she copyrighted ("copr") a plaster doll's head designed to look like the head of a 3-day-old infant. Within a couple of years, the doll, called "Bye-Lo Baby," went into production with a stock cloth body.

Later, a cloth body designed by Putnam was used, and other dolls were all bisque or all composition. The first doll's heads were bisque and made in Germany. Later heads were composition, wood, vinyl, wax or celluloid and were made in Germany or the United States. The doll was distributed by Putnam's sole licensee, George Borgfeldt & Co., a New York importer. Bye-Lo Babies were on the market until 1952. The dolls came in several sizes. The value of yours depends on its size, condition, age and head and body types. Some Bye-Lo Babies sell for well over $1,000, others go for prices in the hundreds.

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Tip

When cleaning silver, use plastic or cotton gloves, not rubber gloves. Rubber makes silver tarnish faster.

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