Skin Furrows of the Hand
Nature Magazine, William Herschel, November 28, 1880

Allow me to contribute the information in my possession in furtherance of the interesting study undertaken by your Japan correspondent [vol. xxi, p. 605]. 

I have been taking sign-manuals by means of finger-marks for now more than twenty years, and have introduced them for practical purposes in several ways in India with marked benefit.
The object has been to make all attempts at personation, or at repudiation of signatures, quite hopeless wherever this method is available.

(1) First I used it for pensioners whose vitality has been a distracting problem to Government in all countries. When I found all room for suspicion effectually removed here, I tried it on a larger scale in the several (2) registration offices under me, and here I had the satisfaction of seeing every official and legal agent connected with these offices confess that the use of these signatures lifted off the ugly cloud of suspiciousness which always hangs over offices in India. It put a summary and absolute stop to the very idea of either personation of repudiation from the moment half a dozen men had made their marks and compared them together. (3) I next introduced them into the jail, where they were not un-needed. On commitment to jail each prisoner had to sign with his finger. Any official visitor to the jail after that could instantly satisfy himself of the identity of the man whom the jailor produced by requiring him to make a signature on the spot and comparing it with that which the books showed.
The ease with which the signature is taken and the hopelessness of either personation or repudiation are so great that I sincerely believe that the adoption of the practice in places and professions where such kinds of fraud are rife is a substantial benefit to morality.

I may add that by comparison of the signatures of persons now living with their signatures made twenty years ago, I have proved that that much time at least makes no such material change as to affect the utility of the plan.

For instance, if it were the practice on enlisting in the army to take (say) three signatures - one to stay with the regiment, one to go to the Horse Guards, and one to the police at Scotland Yard - I believe a very appreciable diminution of desertions could be brought about by the mere fact the identification was becoming simply a matter of reference to the records.

And supposing that there existed such as thing as a finger-mark of Roger Tichborne, the whole Orton imposture would have been exposed in the full satisfaction of the jury in a single sitting by requiring Orton to make his own mark for comparison.

The difference between the general character of the rugæ of Hindoos and of Europeans is as apparent as that between male and female signatures, but my inspection of several thousands has not led me to think that it will ever be practically safe to say of any single person’s signature that it is a woman’s, or a Hindoo’s, or not a male European’s. The conclusions of your correspondent seem, however, to indicate greater possibilities of certainty. In single families I find myself the widest varieties.

15, St. Giles, Oxford, November 13, W.J. Herschel

P.S.-It would be particularly interesting to hear whether the Chinese have really used finger-marks in this way. Finger-dips (mere blots) are common in the East, as “marks.”