Period: Mid/Late Nineteenth Century
The Photographs: 2.25 x 3.75 inches each (x4)
The Frame: 17 x 11.5 inches
Hailing from fourth quarter nineteenth century America, the two pairs of mugshot photographs in sepia black and white showing detained criminals arrested by the Boston Inspector's Office, between 1895-1897 front and side profile, both in thick pea coats, one, middle aged, with a long moustache and the other, more elderly, with a full beard, each with a cowboy hat of the period, and each stamped ‘The Inspectors Office, Boston, Massachusetts’ mounted and displayed within a chunky early twentieth century oak frame.
The condition of the photographs is good with some small blemishes, mainly to the darker picture, which is more clearly defined. They both remain clear with good clarity, whilst the frame has some minor scuffs commensurate with age. They may benefit from a re-mount according to personal taste. We have not inspected the reverse sides of the shots as they are well sealed within the frame but doing so may prove fruitful in so far as identification goes.
Mugshots were originally created because written descriptions were unreliable. A governor at the time these shots were taken said of the new method; “'Photography as an agent in discovering the antecedents of criminals, especially tramps and strangers, is unquestionably a very useful auxiliary and in my opinion should be brought into prison use generally.
Some experts say that the first photographs used for law enforcement were probably taken of prisoners in Belgium in 1843 and 1844, possibly so that the prisoners could be identified if they committed other crimes after being released. By 1857 the New York police had adopted the practice, opening a gallery so that the public could come in to see the daguerreotypes of “hookers, stooges, grifters and goons.” They offer a rare insight into the lower classes of the late 19th century, who were rarely photographed. Photographic portraits were expensive so the portraits which usually survive from this time are mainly of the gentry and middle classes who could afford them.
Whether thieves, poachers, forgers or murderers, this pair of laconic Americans represent a very scarce opportunity to own not just a wonderfully decorative photographic talking point but more importantly a hugely intriguing slice of American criminal history.