These Vintage Female Mug Shots are a Fascinating Window to the Past

by Samantha Vincenty

When I went to the Renegade Handmade fair in Chicago last fall, I noticed a new trendy motif in the crafting world. Everybody was still definitely putting a bird on all of it (if not antlers, or a mustache) but several vendors were selling things with vintage mug shots on them. Coasters, greeting cards, and posters, all emblazoned with black and white photos of people being booked.

There must be a public domain law that makes them an inexpensive design idea, and they’re often totally context-free because the subjects are anonymous and their placard doesn’t usually state the offense.  I think the presumption might be that their crimes are all adorably old timey, like being caught pitching pennies in the alley or smugglin’ moonshine ─ although I’m sure there’s a market for H.H. Holmes coasters, especially in Chicago. Unlike the ever popular celebrity mug shot, the joke isn’t that it’s taken them down a few pegs or that they’ve become more famous for their missteps than for their talent.  I think the joke is that this person could have been your grandmother or maybe your sessy boyfriend if you had lived in the 1950s.

This gallery of female mug shots on Flavorwire fall on the more macabre end of the spectrum, taken from a book called Death Scenes: A Homicide Detective’s Scrapbook. The thing that makes them especially compelling is that their crimes are crudely scrawled underneath the photographs, “lesbian” and “mental case” among them.  I desperately want to know their back story: What happened in the life of 325OOM4 that turned her into a procuress? I’m extremely interested in this book even though I’m scared to see pictures of moiders (that’s how you pronounced “murder” in the days of noir). At the very least I want to read the foreword by Katherine Dunn, author of Geek Love. And I’ll be thinking of these women the next time I hear someone claim that the Cold War era was a ‘simpler time.’


image credit: Sean Tejaratchi via

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