On 2nd July the CHICC photographers travelled to Edinburgh for some Multispectral Imaging testing on some George Combe letterbooks at the National Library of Scotland. Francine Millard of the NLS writes:
George Combe (1788-1858) was an Edinburgh lawyer who was among the first converts to phrenology. This was a science which believed that people’s characters could be read from the bumps in their skulls.
The National Library of Scotland holds a remarkable collection of George Combe’s papers from 1804 to 1872. The collection begins with his apprenticeship as a clerk to Writers to the Signet and charts his promotion of phrenology which included co-founding the Edinburgh Phrenological Society in 1820 and the works Elements of Phrenology (1824) and The Constitution of Man (1828). Combe’s outgoing and incoming correspondence document his efforts to spread the causes of phrenology, secular education, and criminal and prison reform.
Combe’s letterbooks contain a large proportion of his replies to his brother, Andrew Combe, who was also a fervent supporter of phrenology, and to those seeking his help and advice both in Britain and America. Combe’s replies were copied by wet letter press copying (or wet-transfer) and some pages in these books have now faded to the point of invisibility.
The National Library of Scotland teamed up with CHICC in July to see if multi-spectral imaging would be able to render Combe’s words visible. These tests would inform the Library on what approach to take to preserve the Combe papers through digitisation.
To find out more, watch this short film of the work in action: