The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things

Adorable toddler mug shot

1893 Mug shot of two year old Francois Bertillon

Alphonse Bertillon was a French police officer and biometrics researcher who was responsible for standardizing the modern mug shot. (Fun fact: the profile shot was included because Bertillon thought our ear shape might become a unique identifier, in the days before fingerprinting). This cute mug shot features his two-year old son François Bertillon, a hardened criminal who was caught nibbling all the pears from a basket on 17 October 1893.

This mug shot is adorable, but it is also a pretty remarkable as a historical artifact: it is one of those rare objects that documents a part of history while also giving us a glimpse into the life and personality of its creator.

Like most historical innovators, Alphonse Bertillon is usually only remembered in the context of his life’s work, just a name attached to a set of achievements. Capturing a lighthearted moment with his son, this photograph brings Bertillon to life as a real man and a father. I can’t help but look at this photograph and imagine the exchange between naughty son and bemused father, perhaps as he worked on inventing mug shots in his workshop one afternoon.

Mug shots have become one of the most iconic and recognizable photographic forms in the twentieth-century; this image is so special because it infuses this relic of visual culture with the personal history of its inventor.

// Image: Alphonse Bertillon, 17 October 1893. Silver albumen print, 8.1 x 12.7 cm. Via the Museum of Modern Art, New York.


  1. trekkiegrrrl

    Interesting mug shot :) Cute.
    As a matter of fact, ears ARE unique. They are almost impossible to alter, and people who have “disguising” nose jobs ect done to look like someone else typically forget about the ears. They are a great identifier. Also, passport photos, at least in the EU has to show the right ear.

  2. Matthew Currie

    Late to the party, I would add that exposing the ear was probably due not to ear shape but because for a long time certain crimes in France were punished by cutting off an ear. When my family went to France in 1951, all our visa shots were done with the right ear exposed (even though I was three and my sister 5), and this was the reason given then.

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  6. Isa

    Hi, I’m quite sure that Francois was not Alphonse’s son but his nephew as I am doing family research and am related to the Bertillon Family. Francois is Alphonse’s brother Georges’ son.

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  8. What an adorable find! That’s interesting about the profile shot being used to show the ear. I’ve heard about the ear being nearly as unique as a fingerprint, and that such evidence was used in Anna Anderson’s claim that she was Anastasia Romanov (before DNA testing proved her a fraud). It will make me pay more attention to vintage mugshots to see how (and if) the ear is being displayed.

  9. Wonderful post! It reminds me of some fingerprint cards in my collection. They were used by a US police inspector in the 1950s to practice the art of catergorising prints. Both his sons were his guinea pigs. Unfortunately only the prints and some personal details were added but no mugshots.

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