In the 19th century scientists were increasingly interested in comparing personality with brain anatomy, but they faced a problem: Lower-class brains could be acquired fairly easily from hospital morgues, but people with exceptional brains had the means to protect them from the dissecting knife after death.
The solution was the Society of Mutual Autopsy (Société d’autopsie mutuelle), founded in 1876 “for the purpose of furnishing to the investigations of medicists brains superior to those of the common people.” Anatomists bequeathed their brains to each other, and the results of each investigation were read out to the other members of the club. (An early forerunner was Georges Cuvier, whose brain was found to weigh 1830 grams and displayed a “truly prodigious number of convolutions.”)
Similar “brain clubs” sprang up in Munich, Paris, Stockholm, Philadelphia, Moscow, and Berlin before the practice began to die out around World War I. Until then, writes anthropologist Frances Larson in Severed, her 2014 history of severed heads, “Members could die happy in the knowledge that their own brain would become central to the utopian scientific project they had pursued so fervently in life.”