On the Gradual Diminution of the Human Head

by F.F. Tuckett and Dr. Beddoe, F.R.S.

[Originally published in Proceedings of the Bristol Naturalists’ Society, New Series, vol. 3, part 3, 1882. Thanks to Desmond T. Donovan for bringing it to our attention.]

Mr. Tuckett’s attention had first been directed to the subject of his communication by a remark made to him some time ago by Mr. Castle, hatter in St. Augustine’s Parade, to the effect that during the last twenty-five years the size of hats, as regards the dimensions of the head, had been gradually diminishing, the difference of the circumferential measurement during that period amounting to as much as half an inch.

Other hatters, both in Bristol and in different parts of England, were requested to communicate whatever information they might possess on the subject, and it appeared that this experience agreed with Mr. Castle’s.

Mr. Tuckett gave a tabulated form, drawn up by Mr. Castle from the hats supplied to him by Messrs. Lincoln & Bennet, the well-known London hatters, and showing the progressive rate of diminution since 1855, from which it appeared that the average size of hats sold by them had fallen from No. 7–1/25 in 1855 to 6–19/21 in 1880, the average shrinking in size being 1/7 in., or rather more than one size, which amounts to 1/8 in., the scale of measurement used by hatters being derived from the sum of the length and width of the head, divided by two, and is expressed in inches, and eights of an inch.

One hat manufacturer wrote: “Fifteen years ago the usual sizes of hats in England were from 6–3/4 to 7–3/8, and even 7–1/2 was not uncommon. But now, if a 7–3/8 hat was wanted, we should have to make a block purposely. The diminution in size has been attributed by some to the prevailing fashion of wearing the hair short; but as heads certainly average two sizes less than they did, and as the difference between long and short hair cannot amount to a quarter of an inch in length and the same in width, this solution of the matter is inadmissible.”

Dr. Beddoe produced evidence, collected for him by Mr. Garlich, hatter, of Castle Street, which very nearly agreed, as to the extent of the reduction, with that given by Mr. Tuckett. While in Scotland last summer, Dr. B. inquired of Mr. Kirsop, the principal hatter in Glasgow, what his experience was, and he fully corroborated what had been stated, so that the diminution appeared not to be confined to the southern portion of the islands.

Several explanations had been brought forward, but none were entirely satisfactory.

The most plausible of these rested on the different manner of wearing the hat, which was formerly drawn somewhat further down on the back of the head. Those which were based on supposed changes in the classes of people wearing hats did not appear to Dr. Beddoe to be of any value—the lower classes, who had the smallest heads, wore fewer stiff hats now than formerly.

There was a good deal of evidence, much of it collected by himself, pointing to a certain degree of physical degeneration in the population of large towns; and he thought it possible that heads as well as bodies might have dwindled somewhat; but the fact, if it were one, was not capable of proof.


This article is republished with permission from the January-February 2012 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift! Visit their website for more research that makes people LAUGH and then THINK.

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