Juan Vucetich

Date: 1938
Owner: Museo de la Policia de la Provincia de Buenos Aires, La Plata
Source Type: Images


This photograph, signature, and thumbprint of Juan Vucetich were published in 1938 as the cover plate to Homenaje a [homage to] Juan Vucetich. Although fingerprint identification was a well known concept among contemporary criminologists, police departments had no effective system for collecting and cataloging fingerprints of offenders. Vucetich gained international renown in the 1890s for creating and implementing dactyloscopy (finger description), which used a system of letters (A,I,E,V for the thumb) and numbers (1-4 for the fingers) to describe the distinct loops of one's set of prints. For example, V2443 (from thumb to pinky) meant whorl, inner loop, whorl, whorl, outer loop (Rodriguez 2004). The efficacy of this system was recognized worldwide and became standard practice among criminologists.

Vucetich was a paragon of the spirit of progress that was sweeping Argentina in the late nineteenth century, an era when reformers attempted to use positivistic science to solve both real and perceived social problems. He thus recommended the implementation of dactyloscopy as a scientific cure for many social ills. Most obviously, fingerprinting could help keep track of convicts and help prevent recidivism, but it was also envisioned as a way to register prostitutes and keep track of immigrants, especially lower class ones from Southern Europe who were generally perceived as a menace. The fingerprint records allowed state bureaucracies to monitor Argentina's population with more accuracy and thus extend the progressive government's control over undesirable elements of the population.

CITATION: Rodriguez, Julia. "Juan Vucetich." in "South Atlantic Crossings: Fingerprints, Science, and the State in Turn-of-the-Century Argentina." American Historical Review. vol. 109, no. 2: April 2004. pg. 393. Frontplate with photo, signature, and thumbprint of Juan Vucetich, in Homenaje a Juan Vucetich, (Buenos Aires, 1938).