Notation of Scars, Schematic Drawings

Alphonse Bertillon French

Not on view

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.
A prisoner being "Bertillonaged" was first subjected to eleven different anthropometric measurements taken with specially designed calipers, gauges, and rulers. To ensure that the results were accurate and consistent, Bertillon meticulously choreographed the movements and gestures of both prisoner and police clerk.
After measuring the prisoner, the Bertillon operator would jot down his physical description using a precise "morphological vocabulary" and set of abbreviations. Here, Bertillon demonstrates his technique for measuring scars, tattoos, and other "peculiar marks." Below the photograph are instructional diagrams from his treatise Identification Anthropométrique: Instructions Signalétiques (1893).

Notation of Scars, Schematic Drawings, Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853–1914), Albumen silver prints

Due to rights restrictions, this image cannot be enlarged, viewed at full screen, or downloaded.

Open Access

As part of the Met's Open Access policy, you can freely copy, modify and distribute this image, even for commercial purposes.


Public domain data for this object can also be accessed using the Met's Open Access API.