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These glass plate negatives represent a fraction of the City Archives’ collection of mug-shots dating from around the turn of the century and extending into the 1920s or 1930s, when the technology was superceded by photographic paper.

There is an index in the City Archives that connects the numbers on the plates to names. The numbers also correspond to the mug shot cards, known as Bertillon Cards after the French law enforcement officer, Alphonse Bertillon, who pioneered criminal identification techniques such as anthropometry (measurement) and indeed the mug shot itself. Through careful cross-checking one may use the City Archives to trace the identities of some of these anonymous arrestees.

People were arrested for numerous offenses in the early days of the twentieth century. Among the most common was also the most vague: “dangerous and suspicious.” Others included “drunk and disorderly,” “reviling police,” “sneak thief,” “vagrancy,” and “lying drunk.” These criminal designations index a world of poverty, desperation, and hopelessness.

[New Orleans Police Department. Photograph Collection]