Frazer, Persifor, 1844-1909

Alternative names

Hide Profile

Persifor Frazer was a geologist and mineralogist.

From the description of Papers, 1884. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 122632840

Persifor Frazer (1844–1909, APS 1872) was a geologist and handwriting expert. He participated in geological surveys for the United States and for Pennsylvania and, after 1870, held the chair in chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania. He also published a manual on handwriting and, as a specialist in the identification of forged documents, served as an expert witness in several high profile trials. Persifor Frazer, also known as Persifor, Jr., was the only son of the Philadelphia scientist and educator John Fries Frazer (1812–1872, APS 1842) and his wife Charlotte Cave Frazer. He attended private schools before enrolling at the University of Pennsylvania, receiving his B.A. in 1862.

Frazer enlisted in the Union Army at the beginning of the Civil War. He served in the United States Coast Survey and was assigned to a South Atlantic squadron under Samuel F. DuPont (1803-1865, APS 1862). Later, he volunteered to fight in the Gettysburg campaign; and in 1864 became the acting ensign attached to the Mississippi Squadron. In 1865, after his honorable discharge, Frazer was granted a semi-honorary A.M. degree from the University of Pennsylvania.

Frazer studied chemistry in Philadelphia for six months before enrolling in the Royal Saxon School of Mines in Freiburg, Germany. He remained there for three years, focusing on the study of mineralogy and related subjects. In 1869 he was selected to serve as mineralogist and metallurgist to the United States Geological Survey, led by Ferdinand V. Hayden. In this capacity, he completed a report on Mining and Mineralogy of Colorado and Wyoming. In 1870 he became an instructor at the University of Pennsylvania; the next year he succeeded his father as Professor of Chemistry.

In 1874 Frazer resigned from his faculty position to join the Second Geological Survey of Pennsylvania, under the leadership of J. Peter Lesley (1819-1903, APS 1856). During his eight years with the Survey, he published a highly regarded report primarily on the southeastern counties of the state. In 1881 Frazer was the General Manager of the Central Virginia Iron Company. He was a founder of the American Geologist which he edited from 1888 to 1905. In 1889 he accepted an appointment as Professor of Chemistry of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. Two years later he became the Chair of Chemistry at the Franklin Institute. Frazer was a member of the American committee at the International Congress of Geologists three times: in Berlin (1885), London (1888), and St. Petersburg (1897). He also worked as a consulting metallurgist, geologist and mining engineer. In this capacity he traveled to different places in North America and abroad.

In later years, Frazer turned his attention to the study of handwriting, and soon became a widely respected expert in the field. In the course of his studies, he visited Aphonse Bertillon, the eminent French police officer and biometrics researcher. In 1894 Frazer published the highly regarded book A Manual for the Study of Documents (later re-titled Bibliotics; or, the Study of Documents … ), which was intended to assist in the detection of forged handwriting. His main contribution to the field consisted in his recognition that fine tremors in handwriting could be detected under a microscope, and that these tremors were linked to the nerve state of the writer. A close comparison of tremors in different writing samples could help detect forgeries. Frazer’s expertise soon attracted the attention of lawyers. He was asked to serve as an expert witness in several high-profile trials, such as the 1899 murder trial of Roland B. Molineux of New York City. Based on his experiences in these trials, including his dismissal from a case for his refusal to swear to his belief in the existence of God, Frazer wrote the article "Expert Testimony: Its Uses and Abuses" (1902). In it he attacked the ways in which expert witnesses were generally treated by judges on the bench. The City of Philadelphia awarded him the John Scott Medal in 1906 for his invention of the colorimeter which measured the intensity and color value of ink in handwriting.

Frazer's scholarly output numbered around 300 titles. He also belonged to numerous learned and patriotic organizations. He was a founder of the Society of American Geologists and the Franklin Institute Journal . Other affiliations include, but are not limited to, the Academy of Natural Sciences, the Society of American Geologists, the Military Order of the Loyal Legion, the General and Pennsylvania Society of Sons of the Revolution, the Society of the War of 1812, the Society of Colonial Wars of Pennsylvania, the British Association for the Advancement of Science, the New York Academy of Science, and the Reichsanstalt of Vienna. He became a member of the American Philosophical Society in 1872, serving as its secretary from 1896 to 1898.

Persifor Frazer was married to Isabella Nevins Whelen. They had four children, three of whom lived to adulthood. He died on April 7, 1909, the day that the Pennsylvania State Senate passed a bill that allowed agnostics to testify as competent witnesses on affirmation.

From the guide to the Persifor Frazer papers, 1882-1906, 1882-1906, (American Philosophical Society)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Frazer, Persifor, 1844-1909. Papers, 1884. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn Frazer family. Papers, 1779-1955, 1977-1979 (bulk [1860]-1909). University of Pennsylvania, Archives & Records Center
referencedIn American Philosophical Society Archives. Record Group IIh, 1892-1896 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Francois André Michaux papers, 1802-1911, 1802-1911 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf Fontaine, William Morris, 1835-1913. Letters to William Morris Fontaine, 1874-1878. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Smithsonian Archives. Ru 33: Office Of The Secretary, Outgoing Corres..
creatorOf Frazer, Persifor, 1844-1909. Correspondence with Henry Charles Lea, 1887-1904. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
referencedIn Smithsonian Archives. Ru 26: Office Of The Secretary, Incoming Corres..
referencedIn Henry M. Robert Papers, 1853-1937, (bulk 1880-1923) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn John L. (John Lawrence) LeConte papers, 1812-1897, 1812-1897 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn American Philosophical Society Archives. Record Group IIf, 1866-1886 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Century Company records, 1870-1924 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn American Philosophical Society Archives. Record Group IIj, 1898-1988 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Smithsonian Archives. Ru 52: Assistant Secretary, Incoming Correspondenc.
creatorOf Persifor Frazer papers, 1882-1906, 1882-1906 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn American Philosophical Society Archives. Record Group IIg, 1887-1891 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn American Philosophical Society Archives. Record Group IIi, 1897 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Robert, Henry M. (Henry Martyn), 1837-1923. Henry M. Robert papers, 1853-1937 (bulk 1880-1923). Library of Congress
referencedIn Peale-Sellers Family Collection, 1686-1963, 1686-1963 American Philosophical Society
Role Title Holding Repository
Direct Relationships
Relation Name
associatedWith Alger, W. H. person
associatedWith American Association for the Advancement of Science. corporateBody
associatedWith American Philosophical Society. corporateBody
associatedWith Arnold, Edward M. person
correspondedWith Baird, Spencer F. person
associatedWith Baker, John person
associatedWith Barker, Arthur A. person
associatedWith Barker, Jessie M. person
associatedWith Baynes, Robert E. person
associatedWith Bertrand, Charles Eugène, 1851-1917 person
associatedWith Bevan, J. O. (James Oliver) person
associatedWith Beverley, Michael person
associatedWith Blake, William Phipps person
associatedWith Blanford, William Thomas, 1832-1905 person
associatedWith Briggs, Arthur person
associatedWith Browne, Walter person
associatedWith Browne, Walter R. person
associatedWith Brown, H. Binney person
associatedWith Brown, John person
associatedWith Burton, Frederick M. person
associatedWith Butcher, W. Draur person
associatedWith Carver, Alfred J. person
associatedWith Centennial Exhibition (Philadelphia, 1876) corporateBody
correspondedWith Century Company corporateBody
associatedWith Cooke, Conrad William, 1843-1926 person
associatedWith Cooke Taylor, R. W. person
associatedWith Cotterill, James H. person
associatedWith Cotterill, Professor person
associatedWith Craigie, P. G. person
associatedWith Cunningham, D. J. person
associatedWith Dallinger, W. H., (William Henry) person
associatedWith David, A. J. person
correspondedWith Dellenbaugh, Frederick Samuel, 1853-1935 person
associatedWith Dobson, G. E. person
associatedWith Dowling, J. F. person
associatedWith Dowson, J. Emerson person
associatedWith Durham, Thomas person
associatedWith Fewings, James person
associatedWith Fontaine, William Morris, 1835-1913. person
associatedWith Foster, Le Neve person
associatedWith Fox, Charles person
associatedWith Frazer family. family
associatedWith Geikie, James, 1839-1915 person
associatedWith Gisborne, F. N. person
associatedWith Godson, Alfred person
associatedWith Gwyther, R. F. person
associatedWith Haddon, Alfred C. (Alfred Cort), 1855-1940 person
associatedWith Haeckel, Ernst Heinrich Philipp August, 1834-1919 person
associatedWith Hall, James, 1811-1898 person
associatedWith Harley, George person
associatedWith Hayden, Ferdinand Vandiveer, 1829-1887 person
associatedWith Hayward, Robert B. person
associatedWith Heath, Thomas person
correspondedWith Henry, Joseph, 1797-1878 person
associatedWith Hoffmann, G. M. person
associatedWith Horniman, Frederick John person
associatedWith Hotblacu, George S. person
associatedWith Hubbet, R. G. person
associatedWith Hudson, William H. H. person
associatedWith Hunt, Thomas Sterry, 1826-1892 person
associatedWith Jackson, Alfred H. person
associatedWith Jackson, M. person
associatedWith King, E. M. person
associatedWith LeConte, John L., (John Lawrence), 1825-1883 person
associatedWith Leidy, Joseph, 1823-1891 person
associatedWith Leidy, Joseph, jr. person
associatedWith Le Neve Foster, C. person
correspondedWith Lesley, J. Peter person
associatedWith Lister, Thomas person
associatedWith Liveing, G. D. (George Downing), 1827-1924 person
associatedWith Loudon, J. person
associatedWith Mactear, J. person
associatedWith Marshall, A. Milnes person
associatedWith Marshall, William P. person
associatedWith Martin, John B. person
associatedWith McClure, J. H. (John H.) person
associatedWith McKendrik, John G. person
associatedWith Michaux, Francois André, 1770-1855 person
associatedWith Moseley, H. N. person
associatedWith Mulhall, Michael G. person
associatedWith Nutt, Lilian M. person
associatedWith Ommanney, Erasmus person
associatedWith Peace, G. H. person
associatedWith Peale-Sellers families. person
associatedWith Pearson, Helen E. person
associatedWith Pegler, Alfred person
associatedWith Perry, A. J. person
associatedWith Pim, Bedford person
associatedWith Pullar, Robert person
associatedWith Pullar, Rufus D. person
associatedWith Ramsay, William, 1852-1916 person
associatedWith Ransom, Edwin person
associatedWith Ravenstein, Ernest, 1834-1913 person
associatedWith Rayleigh, Clara person
associatedWith Raymond, R. W. person
associatedWith Readman, J. B. person
associatedWith Reynolds, A. H. person
associatedWith Rideal, Samuel person
associatedWith Rigg, Arthur person
correspondedWith Robert, Henry M. (Henry Martyn), 1837-1923. person
associatedWith Robertson, George H. person
associatedWith Ross, A. person
associatedWith Ross, W. A. person
associatedWith Salt, Shirley H. person
associatedWith Saunders, Howard person
associatedWith Saunders, Trelawney person
associatedWith Savery, G. M. person
associatedWith Schuster, Arthur, Sir, 1851-1934 person
associatedWith Seville, Thomas person
associatedWith Shadwell, John Lancelot person
associatedWith Slattery, James W. person
associatedWith Spanton, W. Dunnett person
associatedWith Spruce, Samuel person
associatedWith Stewardson, J. H. person
associatedWith Stewart, George, Jr. person
associatedWith Stone, W. H. (William Henry), 1830-1891 person
associatedWith Story, James person
associatedWith Suess, Edward person
associatedWith Taylor, C. person
associatedWith Thompson, Isaac Grant person
associatedWith Trail, James W. H. person
associatedWith Weldon, Walter, 1832-1885 person
associatedWith Wells, Edward person
associatedWith Westlake, Ernest, 1855-1922 person
associatedWith Westwood Oliver, J. A. person
associatedWith Whittall, J. person
associatedWith Williams, E. Starbuck person
associatedWith Woodall, John W. person
associatedWith Woodcock, T. person
associatedWith Worthington, A. W. person
associatedWith Wright, Arthur person
associatedWith Wrightson, Thomas person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Great Britain
Subject
Exposition
Exchanges Of Publications
Scientists
Scientific organizations
Natural history
Surveys And Explorations, General
Congress
Photography
Science--Societies, etc
Smithsonian Exchange
Standardization
Scientists--Great Britain
Geology
Scientific publications
National Museum
Academy Of Natural Sciences In Philadelphia
Occupation
Function

Person

Birth 1844

Death 1909

English,

French,

German

Information

Permalink: http://n2t.net/ark:/99166/w6kd1zm8

Ark ID: w6kd1zm8

SNAC ID: 26314545