Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Answer: Can you find the original source of this picture?

 It's not every day you look for swordfights... 

And yet, that's what this week's Challenge is all about: What's the story with this image that I found in a well-known magazine? 

1. What is this an image of?  (What's going on here?) 

I'm no fool--I'll first try right-clicking on the image (Control+click on a Mac) to Search Google for Image.  

Unfortunately, Google's Search-By-Image doesn't find any other versions of this image; neither does Yandex or Bing.  

Next image search engine?  I tried next for the search, and found it easily.  


Search results from

These results found a version in the Adobe stock photos, eBay, and multiple hits at the website (which is where I first saw it, in an article in the print edition).  The Economist's version of the illustration is a high-quality version, but it's clearly cropped from the original.  

How do we figure out what's happening in the image?  

I opened the first hit (a link to and found that the descriptor for the image is "A German student's duel at Gottingen. The Mensur, as practised by German fraternities, is a fast yet rarely-lethal affair with cuts accepted as marks of honour."

That's a great clue about what to search for next: 

     [ mensur ] 

this leads to the Wikipedia article about Mensur, which tells us that it's a German dueling tradition--the duels among students that often lead to dueling scars, a "smite" (German Schmiss), seen as a badge of honor, in the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th.  This is a non-lethal duel, with the eyes protected by iron spectacles, made of strong wire net instead of glass. Cuts to the head are accepted as part of the calling of honor, which is why we have the classic image of a German military officer (of a certain age) showing dueling scars.  

2. Where and when did this image first appear?  

I know the image is a cropped version of some earlier publication, the question is--how do I find the full illustration?  I hope it was published in some journal. If I can find the full illustration in situ, then maybe I can find the publication.  

One of the interesting hits in the Tineye results page was to (the Italian eBay).  Turns out there are LOTS of mensur images there. And that made me wonder if some there were some for sale on the US eBay.  Tried: 

     [ a student german duel in gottingen ] 

 and--what do you know!--I found this image, exactly what I was looking for: 

The seller is counting on someone wanting a single page of an archival newspaper.  This worked out well for my search because if you look at the full image, 

you'll see at the very top of the page: 

Where it clearly (although in tiny font size) says that this illustration is from "The Graphic," page 181, publication date of Aug 21, 1880.  ("The Graphic" was a British weekly illustrated newspaper, first published on 4 December 1869 and ran until April 1932 when it changed title to "The National Graphic," running between April and July 1932, when it ceased publication, after 3,266 issues.) 

3. Can you find an online version of the original publication?  

My search was straightforward: 

     [ "the Graphic" newspaper archive ] 

which leads to a number of different archival resources.  I spotted among them, so I went there first. 

 (Why?  Because I know this site typically has excellent scans of their documents, along with a great search tool and viewer.  It's just a great resource.  It DOES require a subscription, which I happily pay each year. You might be able to access it through your local library, as they very well might have a subscription that you can use.)  

On the site I selected "The Graphic: An Illustrated Weekly Newspaper" and then searched for "a german student duel" -- that gave me the one hit I was looking for: Page 181, publication date of Aug 21, 1880. 

Closeup of the mensur duelists (from the scan)

Search Lessons 


1. There are multiple search-by-image engines out there: Use them all!  I tried Google, then Yandex, then Bing, then Tineye.  They're all great, but they also all gave very different results.  This is partly due to algorithmic differences, but also partly due to differences in the pages they crawl.  If they don't have it in their data, they can't serve the result to you.  Use all of them!  

2. Pick up partial clues from what you DO find.  I found the word "mensur," which I'd never heard before, as a description of this image.  That's a mighty handy word to know if you're trying to understand what's going on here.  Knowing that single word then led me to a full-page image, which gave me the date and the name of the publication. 

3. Don't underestimate the value of eBay and other for-sale sites.  I've found more useful clues for historic information in for-sale images than you can imagine.  While I might not purchase the item for-sale, the image posted is incredibly useful for getting additional context and more search terms.  That's how I figured out that this illustration came from "The Graphic," and what the date of the image was.  Handy!  

Congrats to all of the SRS searchers who found the answers.  

Search on! 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Dan,
    I had not heard of Tineye, will be using them.