The concept of restraining devices is an ancient one that dates back to pre-Medieval times. The hands and feet of those deemed to have done something wrong were often bound so that the suspect could not escape custody. Aside from criminals, slaves were also bound so they could not run away from their masters during long journeys. From intricate rope to primitive metal rings, handcuffs came in a variety of forms unlike the simple contraptions we see today.
In modern times, the world of antique handcuffs is one of fascination for collectors everywhere. Although we are used to seeing restraining devices with a lock-and-key contraption, many older versions did not always come with this type of mechanism. Ancient handcuffs often consisted of bent metal rods that fit snugly around the wrists. They were then held together with a short chain – preventing the suspect from separating his limbs. Cuffs are usually made of various metals, including carbon steel and aluminium.
For many North American collectors, there is a particular fascination with U.S.-based handcuffs, made during the time of the American Civil War all the way to the 1970s. Below are some of our favourites:
Foth Lock Company – USA – 1940s
Flash Action Manacle – USA – 1930s
Tower Double Lock – USA – 1879
A simple search online for antique restraining devices will yield hundreds of results. But be careful: There are thousands of scammers out there claiming to sell genuine vintage handcuffs. Always exercise caution before engaging in any transactions. According to eBay’s buyer guide, there are several ways to spot potential fakes in the lucrative world of antiques:
● Actual vintage cuffs are not sold with grand story lines of how they were acquired (i.e. at an old plantation in the Deep South or from a great grandfather who was a Texas Sheriff in the 1930s)
● Fakes are often described as being found fresh off an “estate sale” or “storage auction”, allowing the seller to justify not knowing its history but still being able to claim that the cuffs are old and valuable
● Most reproductions come with a set of keys whereas genuine antiques don’t because they have become lost over the decades
● Starting price is always more than $29.99
If you’re interested in cuff collection, it usually means you have a passion for history and are curious about our justice system and perhaps even the treatment of slaves. Although antique handcuffs can seem frightening, there is a wealth of knowledge to be acquired by examining the concept of restraint. Meanwhile, these collectibles also make for great investments. It’s not rare to see vintage cuffs triple their value over a steady period of time!