Great van Tone

In presenting these instructions I wish to particularly emphasize the fact that their successful operation must rely to a great extent upon the performer's own personal ability, ingenuity and nerve. This is obviously so when one considers that in the sensational escapes practiced by professional performers, where they must release themselves from railroad tracks to which they are handcuffed, free themselves from a straight-jacket while suspended head downward in the air, make good on bridge jumping and under-water escapes, they are a portion of the time under critical examination by a "committee" and probably surrounded by thousands of people all trying to find out "how it's done." Therefore, nerve and plenty of it is a moat necessary quality and you will often rind occasion to resort to it in order to bluff an unpleasant situation through.

Harry Houdini is the originator of the Challenge Handcuff Act, also the Escape or Self-Liberation performance. His brother, Hardeen, is also a handcuff king and nearly as well known to the public as Houdini. Two of Houdini's hooks, "The Right Way To Do Wrong" and "Handcuff Secrets" have been banned by the police of Germany, England and other countries, as it was found that burglars were making use to their own great advantage of the information concerning locks, picks, etc., as contained therein.

The basis of any handcuff or jail breaking act is always conjuring of a high order. The impression that the performed must create is that no keys whatsoever are used, whereas as a matter of fact no regulation unfaked irons can he opened WITHOUT a key, or some other appliance which will perform the same function as a key. Therefore, the would be performer must practice continuously until he has become a master of the various conjuring methods employed and can perform them without detection. A few of the most necessary will be explained in these pages. Presuming that the reader will not be acquainted with all of the technical terms and expressions commonly used among performers, I have purposely avoided such, and only introduce instructions for the performance of such feats as can be easily understood by all. As will be noticed, certain of these feats rely to a great extent for their successful operation upon the very audaciousness of their simplicity, as for instance in the "Prison Cell Escape."

In order to escape from about fifty varieties of the most popular and better known irons, you would require an assortment of some 25 keys, picks, etc., and with this outfit you would be prepared to give an exhibition. This variety of keys is absolutely necessary as there is no such thing as a master key that will open all cuffs, but any key which will open more than one lock is a master key. Many keys will open ten different locks. The Bean, Tower, Cummings and Maltby cuffs and shackles are used the most in this country and these are the ones that you should become familiar with first. Here follows a list and description of all those that you will be most likely to come in touch with.

THE UNIVERSAL L. T. MALTBY HANDCUFF: Patented November 1st, 1901. Several varieties of this cuff have been placed on the market and several shapes are used in the key.

THE MALTBY DEAD LOCK HANDCUFF: This handcuff has two separate locks one on each side of the cuff.

THE BOTTLE NECK HANDCUFF: Patented December 2nd, 1879. Manufactured by Harlan Fire Arms Company, Key must be inserted once, turned half way, forced down and turned again, which permits cuff to pull apart. The key must remain in the lock to open, but will lock with key. Many of these in use.

THE EXTRA FINE IVER JOHNSON HANDCUFF; Remodeled since 1906. The key used is a barrel key. To unlock, insert key and turn half way.

THE LILLY HANDCUFF: Invented by Seargent Lilly of the United States army, who never had them patented and died with a pair of them on his own wrists, suffering from delirium tremens. The key is a square which unscrews or screws up the manacles. No other lock to the cuff.

THE EXTRAORDINARY BEAN GIANT HANDCUFF: This is the famous cuff that Capt. Bean for several years offered a reward of $500 to anyone who could escape from this cuff with or without the key, provided that he (Bean) locked the cuff personally on the person's wrists, Houdini released himself with the cuffs locked on his wrists behind his back and the keyhole away from his fingers. He is the only known person who 'ever claimed the reward. Special key, made with an extension required to open this cuff, as it is impossible to reach the handcuff with the regulation key. This is a fine trick for exhibition purposes. Provide yourself with one of these cuffs and demonstrate to the audience how difficult it is to escape from it by locking it on the wrists of one of your committee, giving him the regulation key and asking him to unlock the cuff,

THE REGULATION DOUBLE LOCK TOWER CUFF: Better known as the Tower and Lyon double-dock handcuff. This cuff can be double, locked, and to unlock it will require a double lock to release the bolt. Great care should be taken that the key is not broken in the lock, or anything in the lock itself broken as if this happens the cuff will have to be cut off the wrists.

THE REGULATION DOUBLE LOCK TOWER LEG IRONS: Same working system as above, but for the ankles only.

THE UNIVERSAL OLD STYLE BEAN HANDCUFF: Patented November 28th, 1882. The first cuff placed on the market by Captain Bean.

THE OLD STYLE BEAN LEG IRON: The same key that opens the above will open this iron also. THE

PINKERTON HANDCUFF: Made by Tower & Lyons. Used by Pinkerton men and quite common.

THE AHREND CUFF, KNOWN AS ROMERS: Patented April 27th, 1880, ny Herman Ahrend and assigned to Romer.

THE ROMER'S LEG IRON: Key for above will also open this. Shaped like a padlock and looks like two padlocks chained together. Is quite common.

THE HEAVY EARLY TOWER CUFF: First handcuff invented or patented~ by J. J. Tower. A very simple ratchet lock and the keyhole is on the bottom of the manacle instead of the side.

THE EARLY TOWER ANKLE IRONS: Same working system as above and may be opened with same key.

THE NEW AMERICAN AUTOMATIC HANDCUFF: The very latest on the market, Self closing and self locking.

THE NOVEL W. R. KIMBAL HANDCUFF: These cuffs are generally found in the possession of private or retired detectives irons. The split key next described will pull open this cuff.

THE HOUDINI MASTER KEY: Every performer needs this key, as it opens all common English handcuffs. An invention of Harry Houdini and patented by him in England. It is split, and simply insert the key, give it sufficient turns to catch hold of the thread on bolt and then pull. Will also open old Civil War cuffs.

THE HANDY THUMB CUFF: Patented by Frank McDonald, January 3rd, 1888. Formerly rarely seen, but now that the patent has expired they are being made and used extensively. Can be carried in the vest pocket.

THE CUMMINGS HANDCUFF: Patented July 4th, 1899. Key must be inserted and turned half way around to open.

THE GOVERNMENT JUDD CUFF: Patented by Henry Judd, August 2nd, 1904. Key must be forced down on the plug in key hole as far as possible, turn to the left half revolution.

THE OLD CIVIL WAR HANDCUFFS: Used during the Civil War and very often found. The Houdini Master Key opens this cuff. Simply screw in to get a hold on the thread and pull, when cuff will unlock.

THE OLD CIVIL WAR LEG IRONS: Same key and same system used as on above.

THE BEAN LATEST STYLE ADJUSTABLE HANDCUFF: One of the newest cuffs on the market and much used. Can be purchased by performers, fixed to open automatically sa that escape from the cuff can be made in full view of the audience when keyhole is sealed. No fakes, springs or picks are used. So cleverly made that the secret is undetectable and the cuffs may be freely examined.

THE SINGLE RATCHET PICK: This pick will open as many as eight different single ratchet handcuffs and leg irons. A ratchet cuff means that the bows that close on the wrists have notches cut in them, and in which the spring bolt engages to lock the cuff.

THE DOUBLE RATCHET PICK: This pick will open as many as eleven different double ratchet cuffs; works on same system as above. Very valuable.

THE PRISON CELL PICK: Will open practically all common locks. Sometimes it happens that cuffs are brought to a performer for which he has no key, and while he can always excuse himself with the explanation that he will use them at the next performance, there is no actual need to do this. Cuffs for which you have no key you can secure your release from in the following manner:

FIRST SYSTEM: Use about three pairs of your own cuffs and several pairs from the audience that you are absolutely sure of. Have these locked on the wrists first, and the cuff that you have no key for, last. This will bring the last cuff far up on the thick part of your arm. Unlock and take off the others, when you will find it very easy to ship off the ones for which you have no key.

SECOND SYSTEM: Use two pairs of cuffs that you are sure of and link between these the pair that you have no key for, before the former are locked on your wrists.

In addition to the various regulation cuffs heretofore mentioned, there are several special cuffs used by all performers for exhibition and spectacular purposes. One of the most used is so constructed that it simply PULLS open, -it never locks, although to all appearances it is just as firmly fastened as any cuff. Used principally where instantaneous releases are necessary, such as in bridge jumping and where handcuffed to railroad tracks.

Another cuff greatly used is so made that one of the links in the connecting chain may be removed and returned in an instant. This allows full play for the hands and is very popular with the "mediums" who thus produce manifestations which it would appear impossible to do with the hands in.

Regulation cuffs can be so prepared by filling the catches of the locks, that a sharp blow delivered at a certain point in the cuff will immediately open it. Regulation cuffs (English) and some others may be opened in this fashion even without any preparation. To do this, a piece of metal is sewn upon the leg of the trousers, just above the knee. By fastening the cuffs upon the wrists with the keyhole downward, it is possible by striking them a smart blow just below the hinge, to jolt back the catch, when the escape is made.

Many old time regulation cuffs may be opened with the aid of a thread. A loop is made and inserted into the opening of the lock on the side nearest the catch, it is now easy to lasso the end of the screw in the lock and pull back the bolt.

One of the most ingenious of the special cuffs used by performers contains a small and un-obtrusive hole in the center of the lock. By simple inserting an ordinary pin into this hole, and pushing it home, the release is at once effected-yet without knowledge of this secret it is quite impossible to open the cuffs when once locked.

Another cuff sometimes used, is the German Transport Chain. The wrists are placed one above the other and the chain is wound about each wrist forming a figure "8". Then the chain is drawn as tight as possible and the ends locked together with a padlock. Owing to the position of the hands it is next to impossible to pick the lock, but a release may be effected as follows: Gradually work the arms into a position so that together they form one straight line, one hand resting above the wrist of the opposite hand, and the other below it. Now it will be found that the upper hand may be pulled out of the chain, the teeth being used to help in the operation.

The concealment of the various keys and other implements require attention, and it should be arranged to secret them about the person so that they are instantly available. Double pockets are generally used, and these pockets within pockets are divided into compartments wherein are placed the different keys and this prevents them rattling or becoming mixed. Thus the performer is enabled to secure instantly any key he wants, knowing as he does, exactly where each key is.

The cabinet, for use in concealing your methods from the audience, Is a portable one, consisting of a frame work of metal tubing draped with hangings of plush or some other material. Have a slot made in the tubing of the cabinet so that when necessary you can fasten a key, to the same as sometimes a cuff is found that would prove difficult to operate otherwise. A small pocket ~flashlight will also often be found handy where close inspection of some appliance is required. Usually the cabinet is none too light. Also some files should be concealed in the cabinet or on the person in order that you may cut down a key to fit into the key hole where the post has been enlarged, which is a very popular method of tampering with regulation cuffs.

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THE STRAIGHTJACKET RELEASE: This is a very effective feature that is performed in full view of the audience and there is very little trickery connected with it. The straightjacket is put on in the same way as one would put on a coat, only back to front, so that the buttons are in the rear. However, instead of buttons, the straightjacket is fastened by means of strong buckles, the jacket itself being made of a very heavy canvass and leather. There are no openings in the sleeves at the extremities, which are carried beyond the hands and terminate in leather cuffs, sewn together, and to which are attached stout straps. The arms are folded across the chest, so that each hand is under the opposite armpit, and the straps connecting the hands are buckled together in the rear.

This is a restraint used on the murderously insane and is considered by leading authorities as absolutely secure for the purpose intended, and indeed, unless the following and only correct system is practiced, an escape from the straightjacket is impossible.

To escape it is necessary first of all to insure as large a play as possible~ for the arms, and therefore, when the straps attached to the hands are being pulled and buckled behind the back, the arms must be pressed OUTWARD, away from the body and with as much force as possible. This however, must not be done in such a manner as to attract attention. As soon as the fastenings are finished, the performer is laid full length upon the floor of the stage or platform and the escape takes place In the following manner:

The performer commences by placing the elbow of the arm passing UNDER the other arm, upon the floor, and by sheer strength forcing it over to one side, an upward pull being exerted at the same time. The position is then changed and the pressure applied to the other elbow, an upward pull being again used. This has the effect of forcing the arm backward across the front of the body, and slightly upwards toward the neck, This alternative movement is carried on five or six times, when It will be found that enough play for the arms has been obtained to wrench them from side to side, always working them nearer the neck. Once the strap has passed over the shoulder, sufficient slack has been obtained to pass the strap connecting the wrists, over the head, and in this manner, the buckle strap-ping the hands together is brought to the front, when it is unfastened with the teeth. The sleeves are then pulled down as far as possible, so that the canvass is brought as far as the finger tips. Then placing his hands behind his head, the performer is enabled to undo first one buckle and then another until all are unfastened. How the performer can remove the straightjacket-the entire escape having been made In full view of the audience. By practice this release can be accomplished in less than four minutes and the effect created is most profound.

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THE PRISON CELL ESCAPES: It should be remembered that in performing this much advertised and apparently tremendously difficult feature, the performer is in a much different position to that of a prisoner under arrest. By reason of the very nature of his business the performer can make conditions favorable to himself, state what his requirements are, and otherwise prepare things ahead for the great escape. The police officers are usually only too glad to enter into anything of this sort, and it is while they are listening to the instructions you give them, that, as in the case of the public they are deceived. Was there ever yet a conjurer who did not distract attention from the manipulations of his left hand, by directing attention to his right?

Many methods, all equally successful, are used by various performers, and it should be remembered that the cell is only used in the same manner as the cabinet, namely, to screen the performer's secret operations from view.

If the cell is fitted with the modern spring lock, all you have to do in the course of your conditional examination of the locks, etc., is to fill up the bolt hole with a wedge of hard wood'. When the door is shut, the bolt would "pinch" in this wedge and remain shut tight, but pressure would open it, and to conceal your methods you would secretly remove the wedge.

One performer worked in the following fashion. He would undertake to escape from any cell, after being searched and while in a nude condition, provided that he be allowed twenty-four hours before band to examine the cell in which he would be placed and that the locks would not be tampered with. Upon the day of his trip of inspection to the cell, he would ask for the key to the cell lock on pretense of trying it, and when the same was forthcoming he would take an impression of it on both sides in a small piece of wax that he carried for that purpose, and which he held palmed in his hand. After leaving the jail he would himself take a blank key and make a duplicate of the cell key from the wax impression. Upon the following day set for the test, he would stipulate that there be a man stationed directly in front of the cell door In order to hide his methods. This being agreed upon he would almost entirely disrobe before asking who the man would be, when upon being told, he would shake hands with him and place him in position in front of the cell door. This action would necessitate his placing his hand in a most natural manner upon the man's back, and at that moment he would affix the duplicate key to the man's coat-the key having been previously ~attached to a specially prepared black pin. As the man would be standing with his back to the cell door, the key being attached to the BACK of his coat, would of course not be seen by anyone standing in front of the cell. He would then quickly remove the remainder of his clothes, submit to the usual examination, and then step into the cell. Once in the cell it was an easy matter to remove the key unseen from the coat of the man who stood with his back against the cell. This having been accomplished, the cell door was unlocked but not opened until the key had been secreted upon the person. This was done either by placing it in the hair, which was possible in the case of this performer who had hair of considerable thickness and length, or under the armpit, where the folding of the arms over the chest would effectually cover up any unnatural movement of the arm that hides the key. As there is no examination of the performer AFTER he has completed the test, he ran no risk of detection and hurriedly retired to dress and rid himself of the key, while an inspection of the cell from which he had escaped was being made.

Another successful method requires the use of a magician's false finger, in which is concealed prison cell picks. This false finger is placed in the trouser's pocket and at the time of the examination you strip TO THE WAIST ONLY, leaving on your trousers until the examination of the upper part of your body, mouth, hair, nose, arms, between fingers, etc. is completed. Then you remove your trousers, but in' so doing manage to place your hand in the pocket and attach the false finger, after which you can permit the balance of the examination to be completed. Still another method is to conceal the key in the hair. Where this is done, the performer, after having been examined otherwise, remarks, "Would you care to examine my hair also ?" and while so saying runs his hand through his hair with a careless gesture thereby removing the key which he then holds concealed in his clenched fist, this movement being covered by the simultaneous clenching of the OTHER fist, both of which he then quickly holds out with the request that someone kindly adjust the handcuffs to his wrists, This being a natural movement when being handcuffed, no special significance is attached to the fact of the fists being clenched.

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PRESENTATION: The manner of stage presentation of the Handcuff Act, is to request a number of people in the audience to step upon the stage, bringing with them their own handcuffs, from which the performer states he will escape. It should be noted here that the performer always protects himself by saving that this challenge applies to "regulation handcuffs only," And this is necessary as otherwise he would have presented to him, handcuffs that, had been "fixed," or made so that they would lock but not unlock. This also eliminates some of the few very old and "freak" handcuffs that are sometimes brought forward. The "committee" being seated, the performer goes among them and examines the various cuffs that they have brought, the object of which is to ascertain exactly what he is "up against." He is then in a position to select the cuffs that he is sure of and where necessary eliminate the others; FOR WANT OF TIME.


Originally published in by the Great van Tone in 1917


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