How to detect the forger as one of the cleverest of operating criminals

has been solved by the "thumb-print" method of identification, now

spreading throughout the banks, business houses and public offices of

the world.

It is quite as interesting as the suggestion that through the same

thumb-print method in commercial and banking houses the forger is

likely to become a creature without occupation and chirographical means

of support. R.W. McClaughry, chief of the bureau of identification in

the federal prison at Leavenworth, Kan., is one of the most expert in

the thumb-print method of identification in this country, having been

schooled at Scotland Yards in London, where the method first was

brought to its present state of perfection. Mr. McClaughry sees for the

system not only a great aid in preventing the forgeries of commercial

brigands but the easiest of all means for a person in a strange city to

identify himself as the lawful possessor of check, or note, or bank

draft which he may wish to turn into cash at a banker's window.

Thumb-print signatures will eventually be used in all banks as a means

of identification. It will be a sure preventative of forgery. For

instance: A maker of a check desiring to take a trip around the world

shall draw a check for the needed sum and, in the presence of the

cashier of his bank, place one thumb-print in ink somewhere in one

spot on the check--perhaps over the amount of the check as written in

figures. Thereupon the cashier of the bank will accept the check as

certified by his institution. With this paper in his possession the

drawer of the check may go from his home in New York to San Francisco,

a stranger to every person in the city. But at the window of any bank

in that city, presenting his certified check to a teller who has a

reading glass at his hand, the stranger may satisfy the most careful

of banks by a mere imprint of his thumb somewhere else upon the face

of the check.

With the ink thumb-print of the cashier of a bank placed on a bank

draft over his signature and over the written amount of the draft,

chemical papers and the dangers of "raising" or counterfeiting the

draft would have no further consideration. The thumb-print of the

secretary of the United States treasury, reproduced on the face of

greenback, silver certificate and bank note of any series would

discourage counterfeiting as nothing else ever has done.

But this thumb-print possibility in commercial papers has its greatest

future in the positive identification which either thumb or finger

print carries with it. Criminologists all over the world have

satisfied themselves of the absolute accuracy of the fingerprint


At the present time traveling salesmen, who spend much money and who

wish to carry as little as possible of cash with them, have an

organized system by which their bankable paper may be cashed at hotels

and business houses over the country. But with the thumb-print in use,

as it might be, such an organization would be unnecessary.

As between bank and bank, this use of the fingerprint in bank papers

of large face value is especially applicable. A draft for $100,000 or

$1,000,000 may be worth more consideration of the banks concerned than

the penmanship of signer and countersigner of the paper.

In the shipment of currency where there may be question of either

honesty or correctness in the persons sealing the package, a

thumb-print in wax will determine absolutely whether the wax has been

unbroken in transit, as well as establishing the identity of the

person putting on the first seal. As to the protective value of such a

thumb-seal, a case has been cited in which train robbers, discovering

a chance seal of the kind in wax of such a package, left that package

untouched when the express safe had been blown open; it was too

suggestive of danger to be risked.

In the ordinary usage of the thumb-print on bankable paper the city

bank having its country correspondents everywhere often is called upon

to cash a draft drawn by the country bank in favor of that bank's

customer, who may be a stranger in the city. The city bank desires to

accommodate the country correspondent as a first proposition. The

unidentified bearer of the draft in the city may have no acquaintance

able to identify him. If he presents the draft at the windows of the

big bank, hoping to satisfy the institution, and is turned away, he

feels hurt. By the thumb-print method he might have his money in a


In the first place, even the signature of the cashier of the country

bank will be enough to satisfy its correspondent in the city of the

genuineness of the draft. Before the country purchaser of the draft

has left the bank issuing the paper he will be required to make the

ink thumb-print in a space for that purpose. Without this imprint the

draft will have no value. If the system should be in use, the cashier

signing the draft will not affix his signature to the paper until this

imprint has been made in his presence.

Then, with his attested finger-print on the face of the draft, the

stranger in the city may go to the city bank, appearing at the window

of the newest teller, if need be. This teller will have at hand his

inked pad, faced with a sheet of smooth tin. He never may have seen

the customer before. He never may see him again. But under the

magnifying influences of an ordinary reading glass he may know past

the possibility of doubt that in the hands of the proper person named

in the draft the imprint which is made before him has been made by the

first purchaser of the draft.

In the more important and complicated transactions in bank paper one

bank may forward from the bank itself the finger-print proofs of

identity. The whole field of such necessities is open to adapted uses

of the method. Notes given by one bank to another in high figures may

be protected in every way by these imprints. Stock issues and

institution bonds would be worthy of the thumb-print precautions, as

would be every other form of paper which might tempt either the forger

or the counterfeiter. In any case where the authenticity of the paper

might be questioned, the finger-print would serve as absolute

guarantee. In stenographic correspondence, where there might be

inducements to write unauthorized letters on the part of some person

with wrong intent, the imprint of finger or thumb would make the

possibility of fraud too remote for fears. For, in addition to the

security of signatures in real documents, the danger in attempting

frauds of this kind is increased.

As to the physical necessaries in registering fingerprints, they are

simple and inexpensive. A block of wood faced with smooth tin or zinc

the size of an octavo volume, a small ink roller, and a tube of black

ink are all that are required. For removing the ink on thumb or finger

a towel and alcohol cleanser are sufficient. A tip impression or a

"rolled" finger signature may be used. Only a few seconds are required

for the operation.

In giving big checks merchants and bankers would be protected by the

thumb-print system. A merchant could place the print of his right

index finger to the left of his signature on a check. The bank would

have a print, together with the merchant's signature on file. Only a

few seconds would be necessary to convince the paying teller as to its

genuineness. The merchant, also, if necessary, could place a light

print of the index finger over the amount of the check where written

in figures. Any attempt to erase the figures would destroy the

finger-print. If the figures were raised, the one doing so would be

unable to place a finger-print in the same space that would correspond

with the one at the bottom of the check beside the signature, and the

raising of the check would immediately be discovered in the bank where

the check was presented.

The finger-prints could be used also in all manner of documents filed

for record, such as deeds to lands, mortgages, leases, and the like.

Railroads could use it to prevent men once employed and discharged for

incompetency obtaining employment on another division, thus doing away

with inspectors. Each new employee's finger-prints could be kept in a

central office and classified. Any man attempting to obtain employment

again with the same railway, who had once been discharged for cause,

would immediately be detected, and a high standard of personnel thus


Congress recently passed a law whereby the Bureau of Immigration is

permitted to tax each immigrant four dollars; this sum to be used in

detecting foreign criminals who come to this country; also to aid in

ascertaining whether foreigners who come here commit crimes and get

into prisons. If such are found they are to be deported. By the

finger-print system the prints of each foreigner could be taken at all

ports of entry. These could be kept on file in Washington, and from

time to time compared with those sent to the Bureau of Criminal

Registry in the Department of Justice building. Any foreigner located

in a prison could be ascertained, and upon the termination of his

sentence taken to some port and placed on board ship.

It has been demonstrated by experts that the ridges of finger tips do

not change from birth until death and decomposition. Scars made on the

finger tips remain throughout life, and are valuable for identification

purposes. Criminals try to evade identification by the system by

burning the tips of their digits with acid; but these are classified

under the head of disfigured fingers, and a lawbreaker cannot escape

detection. Even the removal of two, three, or four fingers or an entire

hand does not prevent a criminal being traced if his prints were taken

before he lost the five digits. In the case of one hand being

amputated, the missing fingers are classified as they appear on the

other hand. If a search fails to locate the person, then the missing

fingers are classified first as whorls and then as loops, search being

made after each classification. In this manner the search may be a

little more tedious than it would be if all the fingers were there, but

in time he would be identified.

The Department of Justice thinks so well of the system that it has

recently established in Washington a Bureau of Criminal Registry. There

the finger-print sheets, and for the time being Bertillon cards, of

all criminals who have been convicted of violating federal laws are to

be kept. The prints and Bertillon measurements of new arrivals at

government prisons and jails will also be sent there for classification,

none of this work being done at prisons as heretofore. The men held

in federal jails, charged with crimes, are also to have their

finger-prints taken, and these sent to the central bureau. If the

expert in charge of this bureau ascertains that a man indicted for

crime has served a previous term in prison, this fact is to be

communicated to the United States judge and district attorney, and if

convicted the criminal is to be given the full limit of sentence.

Although the system of identification by fingerprints has been in use

in Europe for a number of years, it is not a European invention. As a

matter of fact, it is one of those cherished western institutions that

the Chinese have calmly claimed for their own, and those who doubt

this may be convinced by actual history showing it to have been

employed in the police courts of British India for a generation or so

back. Just who was responsible for its adoption there is not certain,

but Sir John Herschel, at one time connected with the India civil

service, is usually mentioned in this regard. The British police

experienced a great deal of trouble in keeping track of even the most

notorious native criminals and it was a great deal more difficult to

arrest a first offender, for the reason that all the natives looked so

much alike and were such apt liars.

Ordinary methods, even the Bertillon system, were fruitless and

finally the finger-print scheme was tried. It worked like a charm.

Where more arrests had been the exception, they now became the rule

and the power of the law began to merit respect. In case after case

the police were enabled to track the crime solely by the chance print

of a man's finger or thumb on an odd piece of paper, on the dusty

lintel of a doorway or a dirty window pane. Some of the stories told

of their accomplishments in this line rival the most thrilling

detective stories.

In one case, that of the murder of a manager of a tea garden on the

Bhupal frontier, half a dozen or more persons were at first suspected,

among them the real murderer, who was, however, later regarded as

innocent because he was supposed to have been away from the district

at the time the crime was committed. Investigations and questionings

did no good, and at last the local inspector decided to take the

thumb-prints of all concerned and refer them to the central office of

the province. After the records had been searched a messenger came

with orders to arrest the discharged servant of the manager who had

been first suspected and then exonerated, for his finger-prints

tallied exactly with those of a bad character just discharged from

prison. He was later convicted of burglary by a court of appeal, to

which the case was carried, the court refusing to condemn a man for

murder on such slight basis when the actual crime had not been


At the present time in India the papers taken in the civil-service

examinations must be certified to by the thumb-print of the competitor

and wills must likewise be sealed in the same way, and all checks and

drafts must be certified by a thumb-print in addition to a signature.

In India, also deeds of transfer, and records of sale of land in

connection with illiterate natives are executed by the impression of a

thumb-mark instead of an "X, his mark"; and recently this very

superior system of signature has been applied to all kinds of

transactions with the natives, such as post-office savings banks,

pension certificates, mortgages, etc.

The success the plan met with in India led to its trial and speedy

adoption by the French and English police. In Paris it is used as an

adjunct to the measurement system of M. Bertillon, but at Scotland

Yard the Bertillon system has been entirely done away with and full

reliance is had on the prints. M. Bertillon claims to have 500,000

prints in his collection, although this is said by the authorities

to be an exaggeration, and Inspector McNaughton of the convict

supervision office has at least 100,000 criminals' hands catalogued

in his office.

Finger marks do not change in any way through life, and any injury

only temporarily affects the pattern. The pattern becomes larger as

the youth develops into a man, but the arrangement of the lines

remains absolutely the same.

Thumb-marks may be generally classified as loops, arches and ovals, or

whorls; the ovals irresistibly remind one of whirlpools as well as the

volutions of shells, while the majority of loops or arches resemble in

their convolutions the rapid movement of rushing water.

Thumb-print identifications have been extended to commercial uses by

the postal savings bank on the Philippines at Manila. This bank has

recently issued a series of stamp deposit cards, on which are spaces

for stamps of different values to be affixed. When the depositor has

stamps to the value of 1 peso (50 cents) on the card it is exchanged

at the bank for a deposit book, showing the amount to his credit.

Opposite the lines for the owner's signature and address is a square

ruled off for the reception of his thumb-print, so that even if

illiterate, depositors may readily be identified.

If any one wishes to get a thumb-print impression without the

suspect's knowledge, simply hand him a piece of paper, asking him to

identify it or examine it for one reason or another, afterwards

sprinkling some special black powder over it which brings out the

impressions as clear as life. Another sort of white powder is used for

bringing out impressions on glassware.

Once the impression is secured, the fingers are classified according

to a regular plan. The lines on them are divided into loops, whorls,

arches, and composites, the latter class made up of a collection of

the first three. Each pair of fingers as the index, little and ring

fingers has a special valuation which is used to identify them and

facilitate classification. One pair will be classified according to

the number of little ridges between the delta, or point where all

bifurcate, and the outer ring. If there are more than nine on one

finger, it is classed as an over-nine.

It is seldom that two similar fingers are alike and the other finger

usually would be an under-nine finger, say six. So there is the first

pair classified thus, 9-6. The next two fingers may have rotary lines

and are merely classified as R, the next two may not have many lines

at all that will count, so are marked 0, while perhaps the last pair

is unmatched, a point being allowed to one and nothing to the other.

Thumb or finger-prints are absolutely serviceable and certain in the

detection of crime or in establishing a person's identity.

That this system may be most effectively employed as an adjunct to the

rogue's gallery for fixing the identity of criminals there can be no

doubt, since, from various experiments made it has been demonstrated

that impressions made from the dermal furrows of the thumb or finger

of no two persons can be sufficiently identical, when inspected under

a microscope, to be mistaken one for the other; and that it is a

powerful agency for the detection of criminals.

Very often, on the scene of a crime, finger marks are found on glossy

surfaces (bottles, glasses, window panes, door plates, painted and

varnished walls, etc.). By a comparison of such impressions,

photographed by a special process, it is easy either to discover the

maker of the finger marks observed at the scene of the crime, or to

establish the innocence of a suspected person whose digital

impressions have nothing in common with those marks.

Note and study fac-simile impressions of thumb-prints and finger-prints

in Appendix at end of this book.