Illustration of Anthropometry

1893 Anthropometry

The book of science

Tom Sharp

Alphonse Bertillon biometrics Illustration of Anthropometry


The Bertillonage system by Alphonse Bertillon measured ten physical features of the human body— giving numbers that could be filed and easily used to identify recidivists. Before fingerprinting was generally adopted, repeat offenders too easily escaped justice. General descriptions and photographs alone where too hard to find when needed, and recidivists consistently failed to give police the same name twice.

Circumstantial affairs

Bertillon himself was highly eccentric, even insane. His paper on fingerprint analysis was based on altered and forged images of fingerprints. His analysis of a handwritten document helped wrongly convict Alfred Dreyfus of espionage. He was perhaps antisemitic. Others who used his methods overtly supported eugenics and racism.


I am repeat offender. I’m not guilty of every deadly sin, but my sins are many, my confessions meager, and I make the same mistakes over and over. A dossier on me would be to thick to file. I work on the Sabbath. I eat more than I should. I drive a car that burns fossil fuels over the speed limit. I fart in public places. I make wisecracks. I criticize authorities. I doubt the faith of politicians. I forget my wedding anniversary. I repeatedly jaywalk.

Alphonse Bertillon standardized the mug shot; his own mug shot often illustrates articles about him.

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