The term handcuff usually conjures up images of two loops linked by a chain that must be unlocked with a particular key. In actuality, handcuffs come in a number of shapes, materials, and purposes. From zipties to “nippers,” police use all sorts of restraints to incapacitate suspects and give police an upper hand in the transportation of said suspects. This month’s artifact comes by way of the Lynchburg Police Department (LPD) and exemplifies the gamut of novelty that handcuffs run.
The Argus Iron Claw debuted in 1934, but underwent several evolutions before it reached the form that was used by the LPD. There were (arguably) six versions of this particular restraint rolled out by Argus Manufacturing during a period of about 30 years, including a small production of a final version produced by Argus-Jay Pee in Taiwan. The police equipment company Jay Pee acquired the Iron Claw from Argus around 1960.
The differences between most of the versions are minute. The initial and most prominent change in the versions of the Iron Claw came between the first and second when inventor Yngve Smith-Stange added a protective sleeve to protect the fingers of officers applying the restraint from the sharp, ratcheting teeth that kept the device locked. The only alterations between the second and third and third and fourth iterations of The Iron Claw were the printing of patents that had been successfully filed for the device. The fifth version of The Iron Claw added the Jay Pee name to the restraint while the sixth version had a slightly elongated housing for the joints of the pincers and the imprint noted that the claw was manufactured in Taiwan.
The Iron Claw was used as a very direct way of controlling and restraining an arrested individual. The pincers were ratcheted open, then shut around the wrist of the individual to be transported and the officer would hold onto the Iron Claw’s handle for control. The pincers would be locked tight and if the suspect tried to resist or escape, a broken wrist was the likely result.
This particular design of restraint was popular for its utility and ease of use. The entire process of attaching it to the wrist of a suspect can be completed essentially with a single fluid motion that results in the handle of this “come-along” device already being in the hand of the officer. Inventor Smith-Strange also mentions in one of the patents for Iron Claw that if necessary the pincers could locked in the open position “as to permit the latter to be grasped safely by the hand of the user when employing the handle bar as a striking weapon.”
Recently, during the museum’s Discover Lynchburg Teacher Recertification Camp, Museum Educator Whitney Roberts had our teacher/campers guess about the use of this heavy, intimidating device. Among the more popular and amusing suggestions was that the Iron Claw was actually an old dental tool. As uncomfortable as the claw must have been as a police restraint, its re-imagined use as a device with which to remove teeth is far more frightening.