"Explanation of Mr. Jn\o I. Hawkins Physiognotrace"

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Watercolor by Charles Willson Peale
(original size, 8Ω x 7æ inches)
Enclosed in a letter to Thomas Jefferson,
January 28, 1803.

"A is a board that moves up and down in the frame B, B. which is fastened to the wall with brackets C, C.1 This movement is convenient to suit the height of different persons, and it is secured to the place by means of a screw on the back part, 2 D is a hollowed board projecting 2Ω Inches, to allow the Pantagraph to move behind it. The person to be traced, setting in a chair rests their head on the concave part, & the hollow of the board below imbraces the shoulder 3 The Physiognotrace is fixed to the board A at a, and in the center of the point b, is a conic steel point with a spring to press it against the paper represented by the doted [sic] line. The steel point is taken off the paper by means of a lever; having the upper end turned at a right angle and the spring in a wedge form, and the other end extended to the point on the right to begin [reach?]

"C is an Index made of brass, the point of which has [plate?] on each side connected by a center pin.4 to the outer plate is screwed a piece of brass 5 Inches long, with a thin edge, which edge is exactly perpendicular to the center of the joint.

"This Index moving round to trace any subject that the edge is kept too, as it moves, the steel point in the center of the upper joint gives a diminished size a perfectly correct representation. The paper to be traced is fixed on a square board by means of an iron rim, and it is in turn placed on a door hinged to the back part of Machine, & [shut?] into a [rabbet?] made to receive & keep it at a proper distance from the steel point."

1. The first French edition was published in 1775-78, the first U.S. edition in 1794, with later U.S. editions following until 1880. Throughout the 19th century the pseudo-science of physiognomy was employed more and more in anthropological studies. See, for example, "Comcomly's Tomb."

2. From the mid-18th century well into the 19th, the word "silhouette" was a pejorative expression inspired by the unpopular reputation of a skinflilnty Frenchman, Etienne de Silhouette, who in 1757 lasted only eight months as finance minister to Louis XV. For a long time thereafter, any miserly deed or cheaply-made product was said to be á la Silhouette. By the 1830s the word's connotation had mellowed enough to allow the Franco-British profiler August Edouart, who termed himself a "black shade man," to use it as a trademark for his product.

3. Inventor John Hawkins, born in England in 1772, gained considerable renown in America as the designer of one of the first upright pianos built on an iron frame. He built an organ for Peale's museum, and a mechanical piano he called the "Harmonica," or "claviola." During his brief American sojourn he also composed seven songs for voice and piano.

4. Wendy Bellion, "The Mechanization of Likeness in Jeffersonian America," MIT Communications Forum, Accessed November 3, 2005.

Funded in part by a grant from the National Park Service Challenge-Cost Share Program.