Auction house sells off incredible collection of old mugshots
posted Monday, November 18, 2013 at 1:05 PM EDT
There's something remarkable about old mugshots, a glimpse into the criminal past of our world, and the way it has changed. Recently, Swann auction galleries held a large photographic auction, and buried within were multiple sets of incredible old mugshots.
Probably the most impressive of the bunch was Lot 60, a book of almost 1500 mugshots, of what appear to be primarily members of the international union group, the IWW. These are hundreds of mugshots of various types from all across the country, bound into a single book which fetched $10,000 at the auction. Here's how the gallery described it:
A spectacular mugshot album with nearly 1500 entries, including several depicting members of the International Workers of the World ("Wobblies"), in addition to a cross-section of crimes from across the country, including California, Oregon, Iowa, Arkansas, and New York (and Canada), likely assembled for surveillance and perp identification. Also includes a variety of mugshot formats, including the standard front and side view, as well as the accused standing with a mirror, triple shots, and slender full-length images. Silver and copy prints, often approximately 3x4 inches (7.6x10.2 cm.), and smaller, mounted recto/verso and 3 per page, each entry in a numbered field with a printed form labeled "Criminal Record," and each with a combination of notations, in ink, including the subject's name, their place of origin, their current location, crime, age, identifying characteristics, and a date. Large folio, red leather, worn, backstrip perished. 1905-1920
Very similar, but on a smaller scale, was lot 61A — a Sacramento mugshot album of 141 portraits, described as "related to the International Workers of the World, including pictures of Wobblie members and Bolshevik allies." The album was put together in 1918-1919, and seems to have been specifically focused on IWW members — and it went for $4,000.
Some of the other mugshot sets in the auction were likewise interesting, but in a very different vein. Lot 59, which fetched $5,500, was a drawer set of 46 mugshots of shoplifters, all cataloged together. The images are primarily of women, from Baltimore, Maryland and Washington D.C.
Lot 61 was a group of images from 1963-1965, of African American individuals arrested for "illegal lottery" (better known as running numbers). It reached $2,250 at auction.
Compared to the usual crop of Eggleston and Adams that you see at photography auctions, it's extremely interesting to see such a remarkably different set of photos under the hammer.