Finger-print Directories

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    Abstract

    IT will be remembered that the Departmental Committee which reported in the beginning of last year upon the best method of identifying habitual criminals, recommended the adoption of the Bertillon system of measurement conjointly with the plan of taking fingerprints now associated in this country with the name of Mr. Francis Galton. He loyally disclaims the honour of being the first to use it; that rests with Sir William Herschel, of the Indian Civil Service. But it is really from the unwearied labours of Mr. Galton that the scientific certainty of the system has been fully proved. He has so simplified the processes of taking and recording the impressions of the finger, has invented so complete and intelligible a series of indications and formulas, that the system can now be worked with the greatest facility and with mathematical precision. Of the supreme value of the finger-print as a means of identification, there can be no manner of doubt. It is, as Mr. Galton happily describes it, “an automatic sign-manual subject to no fault of observation or clerical error, and trustworthy throughout life.” The Committee above quoted fully recognised this. “Finger-prints,” they reported, “are an absolute impression taken direct from the body itself; if a print be taken at all, it must be necessarily correct.” But they were met with the difficulty of classification as applied to any large collection of impressions. Where these were comparatively few, the index adopted by Mr. Galton was admirable and most effective. But where the numbers rose to many thousands, as would of course be the case in a criminal register, it might be a serious question whether searches could be made with reasonable facility and dispatch. It was for this reason that the double system of identification was recommended, for the strongest point in the Bertillon plan of measurement as practised in Paris was its perfect classification. There the particular card required, giving the name and antecedents of an individual, “could be found as certainly and almost as quickly as an accurately spelt word could be found in the dictionary.”

    Finger-print Directories.

    By Francis Galton (London: Macmillan and Co., 1895.)

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    Finger-print Directories. Nature 52, 194–195 (1895) doi:10.1038/052194a0

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