Pictured are samples from a recent acquisition of 125 mug shots and 85 Bertillon cards which originated with, or were used by, the St. Paul Police Department. This collection documents the identification and incarceration of criminals thought to be in the City of St. Paul and surrounding areas from 1891 through 1911. “House sneak,” “safe blower,” and “swindler” were not uncommon criminal occupations, and tattoos, scars, moles and physical shortcomings were duly noted. One card in the collection describes a criminal as follows: “Walks slightly pigeon-toed, slightly stooped shoulders, round lump on top and back of head…”Most of the mug shot cards were created by the St. Paul Police Department, but some originated in other cities’ police departments, including Duluth, Minneapolis, Superior (Wisconsin), Chicago, Kansas City, Fargo, Denver, and New Orleans. Most are marked “Personal Property Jno. J. O’Connor,” presumably the same John J. O’Connor who was Chief of Police for the City of St. Paul from 1900 to 1912 and from 1914 to 1920.
Mug shot cards are 4 by 2 1/2 inches (pocket size) with a photo of the criminal on the front and the criminal’s name, alias(es), residence, legitimate and criminal occupations, physical measurements, features and “peculiarities” on the back.
The Bertillon cards are 6 by 5 1/2 inches, offering front/profile photographs of the criminal and Bertillon measurements on the front of the card, while the back lists information similar to the mug shot cards. The Bertillon System was an improvement of identification over simple mug shots and basic physical measurements, and was a forerunner to fingerprinting. It was developed by French criminologist Alphonse Bertillon in the early 1880s to increase the accuracy of criminal identification by measuring certain bony portions of the body, including the skull, foot, cubit, trunk and left middle finger. This identification method spread throughout Europe and was introduced into the United States in 1887.
Charles Rodgers, Government Records Specialist