Portable physiognotrace used by Raphaelle Peale
A physiognotrace allowed artists to trace the outline of a sitter’s head and simultaneously record a small profile on a piece of paper. The silhouette head was then cut from the paper. The style of this portable case suggests a piece of furniture rather than a tool, perhaps to impress sitters. Raphaelle Peale traveled throughout America with this object, using it to cut silhouettes of everyone from Thomas Jefferson to ordinary citizens.
Physiognomy involves reading a person’s character through his or her facial features, and while modern science disputes this notion, many people in the 1800s believed that a head’s outline conveyed character and offered a means of classification.