Object Image

Handrock. Frédéric(k). Vilhem. 34 ans, né à Lyeck (Allemagne). Doreur sur bois. Anarchiste. 2/3/94.

Born into a distinguished family of scientists and statisticians, Bertillon began his career as a clerk in the Identification Bureau of the Paris Prefecture of Police in 1879. Tasked with maintaining reliable police records of offenders, he developed the first modern system of criminal identification. The system, which became known as Bertillonage, had three components: anthropometric measurement, precise verbal description of the prisoner’s physical characteristics, and standardized photographs of the face.

In the early 1890s Paris was subject to a wave of bombings and assassination attempts carried out by anarchist proponents of "propaganda of the deed." One of Bertillon’s greatest successes came in March 1892, when his system of criminal identification led to the arrest of an anarchist bomber and career criminal who went by the name Ravachol (2005.100.375.348). The publicity surrounding the case earned Bertillon the Legion of Honor and encouraged police departments around the world to adopt his anthropometric system.

Credit: Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

Albumen silver print from glass negative
4.1 x 2.8 x 0.2 in
Image and text © Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2019

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art
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