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Signaletic Instructions, including the Theory and Practice of Anthropometrical Identification

Nature volume 54, pages 569570 | Download Citation



THERE is much that is both interesting and instructive in Major R. W. McClaughry's translation of Bertillon's last book of 1893; for it contains an account, revised up to date, by M. Bertillon himself, of the system as at present in work in Paris. Its contents may conveniently be divided into three parts: first, the anthropometric definition of individuals, whereby what may be called a natural name is given to each person measured, based upon five principal measures (but there is some want of definiteness about this), which can be classified and looked for, just as a real name is classified and can be looked for in an alphabetical directory. There are, of course, many persons who have the same “natural” names, just as there are many Smiths; still, the knowledge that the name of a person is Smith, is a very important help to further differentiation. The second portion is of a hybrid character, partly subserving the same purpose as the first, to an extent and in a way that is not clearly described, and partly as affording particulars whereby it may be positively affirmed whether any, and, if any, which, of all the “Smiths” is the right man. This second portion includes photographs and the verbal descriptions briefly worded or symbolised, of a great variety of personal characteristics, as of forehead, nose, chin, hair, eyes, ear, eye brows and lids, mouth, wrinkles, &c., and finally of cicatrices and body-marks. It is not clearly stated how much of all this is generally entered on a prisoner's card; but the total entries on the specimen signaletic card (Plate 78) contains, as well as I can count them, 12 measures, 58 separate details in a sort of shorthand, and 193 facts concerning marks and scars, also in shorthand, so that the whole of this extraordinarily complex description, containing some separate 263 notations, packs into small space. The third portion somewhat trenches on the second, as the second did upon the first. It endeavours to show how a verbal portrait may be built up out of specified materials. Let us say, for brevity—forehead No. 3, nose No. 4, lips No. 1, and so on, and there you have the picture. It is, at all events, an amusing game to try how far, with a box of specimens, like a kindergarten box, a recognisable face might be built up. I would suggest that toy manufacturers should study this part of the book, and bring out a box in time for the forthcoming Christmas parties.

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