Ouch

Crania Americana illustration

Illustration from Crania Americana, 1839 (PLoS Biology)

Sixty years after the death of Samuel George Morton, Aleš Hrdlička of the Smithsonian wrote to Edward Nolan of the Academy of Natural Sciences:

The actual value of the anthropological work of Samuel G. Morton lies only in the fact that it has drawn, more than any other work, the attention of scientists to the American man, and that it has stimulated further research. His measurements and observations are of only very little value today. He started, as you know, on the premises of phrenology, which later in the century had to be abandoned as entirely groundless.

The 2 May 1911 letter has the latest date of any of the materials in the APS’s Samuel George Morton Papers. The juxtaposition is surprising and a little sad: boxes of letters, a journal, numerous sketches, the work of many years…and then this strikingly complete dismissal of Morton’s work.

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Checks

Check technology hasn’t changed much since 1835. There are a pair of checks from April of that year in the Morton Papers, drawn on the Schuylkill Bank, laid out much like my own checks. “IN THE CITY OF PHILADELPHIA” is sufficient address for the bank, and there are no routing or account numbers. (The latter seems fraught, given the potential messiness of handwriting, though the signature of Thomas Rogers is quite legible.) There’s an illustration of river and bridges where one nowadays expects to find the account holder’s name and address and instead of a memo field (speaking of useless fiddly bits) there’s a slot for filling out “Dolls.” and cents (dash over a “100”…”Dollars” and the incomplete fraction are also helpfully supplied above, where one writes the amount longhand). The checks are sliced from a larger page (at least three checks per page, based on the cuts) and the cut lines are less than precise…but, in fairness, not much worse than I often get when attempting to tear along perforations.

In the Scientists Collection there is a check for $173.25 to Louis Agassiz, dated 15 November 1870. Agassiz endorsed it on 28 November 1870, per the stamp of the Charles River National Bank. Blank spaces for “Dolls.” and “Cts.” sit in the upper left-hand corner, with “Boston, ________ 187__” in the upper right. In the lower left is a space for “No.” and a space for a signature in the lower right. “THE SECOND NATIONAL BANK OF BOSTON” is printed in large letters; below that is a “Pay to the Order of” line and then one for writing out the amount longhand. There are no illustrations. With the exception of the Gothic typeface used for “Fields, Osgood, & Co., Publishers” (printed on the left-hand border), the check is free of embellishments. To complete its utilitarian appearance, a two cent stamp (George Washington, rendered in orange ink) nestles between the word “Boston” and the signature. It’s funny, in this age of security envelopes and fear of identity theft, to think of blithely sending a naked check through the mail, with the expectation that it would arrive intact; but there are plenty of other privacy issues that are widely ignored nowadays.