In Cranioklepty (Unbridled Books, 2009), author Colin Dickey explains: “From 1790 to the mid-nineteenth century, interest in phrenology sparked a bizarre and intense fascination with the human skull, and in particular the skulls of great men.”
It drove other men to skullduggery, literally. Notable victims include composers Franz Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and English philosopher Thomas Browne. According to Dickey, Browne stands as an icon in the history of cranioklepty because of his concern over the desecration of his final resting place. “Who knows the fate of his bones, or how often he is to be buried?” Browne wrote, adding, “To be gnawed out of our graves, to have our skulls made drinking-bowls, and our bones turned into pipes to delight and sport our enemies, are tragic abominations.”
In the course of my investigation of this realm, I learned that Ludwig van Beethoven’s skull is for sale.
The seller is California businessman Paul Kaufmann, who first became aware that his family possessed the item in 1990. While searching among his late mother’s possessions, he happened on an ancient, pear-shaped box labeled “Beethoven.”