Adorable mug shot of 19th century pear-nibbling toddler

1893 Mug shot of two year old Francois BertillonAlphonse 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 freaking adorable 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. Continue reading

The life of New Zealand’s latest criminal celebrity: the ridiculously photogenic Daniel Tohill (Lohill)

Mug shot of Daniel Lohill, thief.

Daniel Tohill (incorrectly labelled as Daniel Lohill), born in 1881 in New Zealand. Charged with theft and sentenced to 4 months hard labor on 2 March 1908 in Napier. Photograph taken on 11 June 1908 by the New Zealand Police; image via the archives  of the New Zealand Police Museum.

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19th Century Mug Shots from New Zealand

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This slideshow displays a sample of the amazing 19th century mug shots that formed part of a show I curated at the New Zealand Police Museum last year, Suspicious Looking (available here as an online exhibition). Until then, these incredible images had never before been shown to the public. What is it about old mug shots that is so utterly compelling? When we look at them, do we try to see evidence of their criminal nature written in their expression? Can you guess what crimes they committed by looking at their faces alone?

To see more of these mug shots, along with their names and crimes, click here to go to the Picasa web album or visit the NZ Police Museum website here. For some ridiculously interesting facts about mug shots, read on… Continue reading

Museum accession numbers are like gang tattoos

Left column: Museum objects with permanent accession numbers. Right column: Latin Kings gang tattoos.

Left column: Museum objects with permanent accession numbers. Right column: Latin Kings gang tattoos.

I think one of the most bizarre museum practices is the act of marking museum artefacts with an accession number. Like the tattoos of gang members, it is a permanent symbol which marks their lifelong membership in a collective from which they can never again be completely separate.

The most common tattoo among gangsters of all nationalities is one that denotes the gang that they are in. This is seen as the mark of lifelong membership. The gang ethos of “blood in, blood out”–the idea that the prospective member must kill someone as the price of admission to the gang and cannot leave except by dying himself–is embodied in the tattoo as a sign of permanent belonging to the gang.

Linda Goldberg, “Gang Tattoos: Signs of Belonging and the Transience of Signs” (2001)

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