RARA-AVIS: Hammett on fingerprints

E J M Duggan (ejmd@mcmail.com)
Sun, 25 Jan 1998 16:29:08 -0500 On Wed, 21 Jan 1998, Joe Kraus <j-kraus@nwu.edu> wrote:

> does anyone know how I might get a hold of
> an article by Hammett called "Finger Prints"?
> It ran in Black Mask June, 1925.

According to Layman's bibliography, Hammett wrote a letter, published in
the June 1925 issue of _Black Mask_ under the title 'Finger Prints'.

I've looked through my collection and haven't been able to locate a copy
of this item. A quick look through the indices (and a flick through the
appropriate chronological sections) of the major works on Hammett
(Layman, Nolan, Johnson) also fails to find a reproduction of the item
in question. [Actually, this is a bit odd---I'm _sure_ I've come across
a copy of the letter before, I just can't track it down at the moment].

There is a related item which may be of interest: item, No. 20 (of 29)
in Hammett's "Memoirs of a Private Detective" which was published a
couple of years earlier in _The Smart Set_:

Even where the criminal makes no attempt to efface the prints of
his fingers, but leaves them all over the scene of the crime, the
chances are about one in ten of finding a print that is
sufficiently clear to be of any value.

It may be that this tells us something of forensic technology and
fingerprinting in the early 1920s, but when I had a _table_ stolen from
the courtyard (oh, alright then, backyard) a few years ago, the soco put
some silver powder over the gloss-painted gates (refusing to dust any
other surfaces) and claimed to be able to find nothing of any use.

Eddie Duggan

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