Rogues' Gallery

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Tue Oct 15 15:43:09 UTC 2002

1857:   Daguerreotype Gallery of Criminals at the Detective Police Office.  ***  There must be positive proof that the man or woman, girl or boy, whose likeness is added to the Rogue's Gallery of the Detective Police, is an incorrigible offender. . . .  NY Times, December 5, 1857, p. 1, col. ?

1858:   His likeness was taken and hung in the rogues' gallery, as it should have been before.  NY Times, May 22, 1858, p. 1, col. ?

1858:   THE THIEVES' GALLERY.  ***  While at Headquarters, the doctor was invited to look at the Thieves' Gallery, and in scrutinizing the countenance of this and that notorious character, his eye suddently fell upon the likeness of the scamp who had swindled him out of the $100.  ***  New-York Daily Tribune, June 28, 1858, p. 7, col. 4.

1860:   He was then shown a picture of Charles, in the Rogue's Gallery, and in it recognized the man who had addressed him on the boat.  New-York Daily Tribune, January 17, 1860, p. 7, col. 4

The OED has "rogues' gallery" from 1859, so the 1857 reference is an antedating of only 2 years, but it is of interest because the story makes clear that the daguerreotype collection of portraits of villains was begun only "a few weeks since" and contained only "twenty-eight likenesses of well-authenticated culprits, male and female".  We notice with approval the gender-blind nature of the collection, and also the concern for civil liberties shown in the fact that perpetrators were not photographed on their first arrest, but only after they had proven themselves to be "an old and hardened offender".

So we seem to have this term treed, at least for America.  I see from the Reader's Encycl. of American History that Philadelphia did not establish a police force until 1858, and presumably the constablulary or watch system that was in place in 1857 and earlier would not be likely to have kept a portrait gallery of this sort; and other US cities also seem unlikely to have felt the need for a rogues' gallery.

I found the first two items recently through the NYTimes historical database; the last two I had found some time ago through reading the Tribune.


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998.

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