A hundred and fifty years ago, shortly after the invention of photography, some police departments began making images of convicted criminals. Shayne Davidson, a visual artist based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has delved into a collection of photographs made by the St. Louis Police Department between 1857 and 1867. The archive, held at the Missouri History Museum, comprises the oldest extant examples of mugshots in the U.S.
Rogues’ galleries, as mugshot collections were called, became widespread in the late 19th century as one of the earliest and simplest uses of images used by police to “know” and control populations. They were later replaced, in 1888, with the standardized frontal and profile mugshots developed by French police officer and biometrics researcher Alphonse Bertillon.
Though never produced as art objects, mugshots and police photos have become hot items for collectors in recent decades. The passage of time provides a romantic veneer to the harsh realities of the pictures.
This gem ambrotype of John Lockhart was called the first photo in the “illustrious collection.”
After he was arrested for embezzlement, Joseph Johnson was unable to post bail and sent to jail to await his trial.
Elizabeth Wohlman was accused of stealing jewelry from Eugene Jaccard and Co. and sentenced to the Missouri State Penitentiary. She was eventually pardoned by Governor Thomas Fletcher.
John Fight, a native of Ireland, was convicted of grand larceny in St. Louis and went on to serve two years in the Missouri State Penitentiary.
Dave Marshal was a suspected “moll buzzer,” that is, a thief who pickpockets or steals women’s purses.
Hiram Cole was caught in an affair and suspected of killing his wife who died from strychnine or arsenic poisoning.
The description on the back of John Jordan’s photo describes him as a “whore house pimp” and a “bagman.”
John Ellies was accused of stealing horses in September 1866.
The German-born Charles Rammelsberg was a jack-of-all-trades: He was arrested in St. Louis for “false pretenses” and for counterfeiting.
Armstrong, whose first name went unrecorded, evidently told police officer Charles Brownfield that he was a “rebel prisoner.” Brownfield described hi as a general thief.
Ed Buckley, an Irish immigrant, was described as a 5-foot 7-inch, 26-year-old “thief and burglar.” This image appears covered in cracks because either the collodion coating on the surface of the glass or the paint or lacquer on the back of it is damaged.
Fitzgerald, whose first name went unrecorded, was one of many con men in St. Louis.
A 19-year-old native of New York, Chas Jamison was a prisoner in the St. Louis County jail in 1860. He seems confident that he won’t be in custody for long.
The man identified in this photograph as Charley Jones, alias Williams, spent time in the Missouri State Penitentiary prior to December 1858 for grand larceny, according to the information written on the back. But it could be a case of mistaken identity.
Miller, whose first name is no longer legible, was described by the officer who wrote the note on the back of his photo as a “coneyman”—19th-century slang for a bank-note counterfeiter.
John Regan was a suspected steamboat thief: He’d break into passengers’ rooms and steal wallets and other valuables.
Mike Jordan was described by police as as a “garroter”—the 19th-century term for an individual who forcefully grabs a victim around the neck from behind in order to disable (not kill) the victim during a robbery.