Biography: Pioneer of Mug Shot – Alphonse Bertillon

Biography: Pioneer of Mug Shot – Alphonse Bertillon


Alphonse Bertillon (1853 – 1914) was a French police officer and biometrics researcher who applied the anthropological technique of anthropometry to law enforcement creating an identification system based on physical measurements.

This system, invented in 1879, became known as the Bertillon system, or bertillonage, and quickly gained wide acceptance as a reliable, scientific method of criminal investigation. In 1884 alone, French police used Bertillon’s system to help capture 241 repeat offenders, which helped establish the system’s effectiveness. Primarily, investigators used the Bertillon system to determine if a suspect in custody had been involved in previous crimes. Law enforcement agencies began to create archives of records of known criminals, which contained his or her anthropometric measurements, as well as full-face and profile photographs of the perpetrator (now commonly known as “mugshots,” which are still in use today).

Bertillon was a friend of the surgeon and anthropologist Paul Broca, and borrowed Broca’s ideas about measuring physical differences. In 1881, Bertillon developed techniques and instruments to measure individual features that would not change, for example eye colour, the shape and angles of the ear, brow and nose, and the distances between them. He also developed ways to reliably record other physical data about the body, including identifying marks such as tattoos. He collected vast quantities of data and used the new technology of photography.

By 1883, Bertillon had made 7336 measurements and identified 49 repeat offenders. By 1884 he had found 241. Bertillon described his system as anthropometry, literally ‘measuring humans’. The system became known as ‘Bertillonage’, and it eventually incorporated body measurements, a verbal description, a photograph and fingerprints. The system relied on progressively sorting records of people with matching characteristics until an individual was identified.

Bertillonage was initially popular. However, from the 1890s it was superseded by fingerprinting techniques from India. Frances Galton championed their use in forensic science. Fingerprinting proved far simpler for identifying individuals because each person has a unique fingerprint.

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914) Bellemans. Eugène (ou Michel). 23 ans, né à Gand (Belgique). Tailleur d’habits. Anarchiste. 9/3/94 1894 Albumen silver print from glass negative 10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.) Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853-1914)
CharriŽ. Cyprien. 26 ans, nŽ le 7/10/67 ˆ Paris XVIlle. Imprimeur. Anarchiste 2/7/94., 1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative; 10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.) each
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853-1914)
Dupuis. Augustin. 53 ans, nŽ le 24/6/41 ˆ Dourdan (Seine & Oise). Charron, forgeron. Anarchiste. 3/7/94., 1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative; 10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.) each
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914) Feneon. Felix. Clerk of the Galerie Berheim Jeune 1894-85 Albumen silver print from glass negative 10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.) Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853-1914)
Mocquet. Georges, Gustave. 17 ans, nŽ le 17/5/76 ˆ Paris IXe. Tapissier. Anarchiste. 6/1/94., 1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative; 10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.) each
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853-1914)
Nic. Celestin. 20 ans, nŽ ˆ Conflans-St-Honorine (Seine & Oise). Emballeur. 26/2/94., 1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative; 10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.) each
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914) Olguéni Gustave. 24 ans, né à Sala (Suède) le 24-5-69. Artiste-peintre. Anarchiste. 14-3-94 1894 Albumen silver print from glass negative 10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.) Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853-1914)
Peticolin. Henri. 23 ans, nŽ le 8/6/71 ˆ Goersdorf (Bas-Rhin). Vernisseur. Anarchiste. 2/7/94., 1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative; 10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.) each
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853-1914)
Rampin. Pierre. 3/7/94, 1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative; 10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.) each
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853-1914)
Ravachol. Franois Claudius K?nigstein. 33 ans, nŽ ˆ St-Chamond (Loire). CondamnŽ le 27/4/92., 1892
Albumen silver print from glass negative; 10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.) each
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853-1914)
Robillard. Guillaume, Joseph. 24 ans, nŽ le 17/11/68 ˆ Vaucresson. Fondeur en cuivre. Anarchiste. 2/7/94., 1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative; 10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.) each
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853-1914)
Roobin. Joseph. 40 ans, nŽ ˆ Bourgneuf (Loire-InfŽrieure). Terrassier. Anarchiste. 2/3/94, 1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative; 10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.) each
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853-1914)
SchulŽ. Armand. 21 ans, nŽ le 28/2/73 ˆ Choisy-le-Roi. Comptable. Anarchiste. 2/7/94., 1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative; 10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.) each
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853-1914)
Soubrier. Annette (femme Chericotti). 28 ans, nŽe ˆ Paris Ille. Coutire. Anarchiste. 25/3/94., 1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative; 10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.) each
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853-1914)
VŽret. 0ctave-Jean. 19 ans, nŽ ˆ Paris XXe. Photographe. Anarchiste. 2/3/94., 1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative; 10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.) each
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914) Beaulieu. Henri, Félix, Camille. 23 ans, né le 30/11/70 à Paris Ve. Comptable. Anarchiste. 23/5/94 1894 Albumen silver print from glass negative 10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.) Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005


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