Handcuffs also became popular with the general public thanks to performers like Houdini.
About two or three times a year, he gets a call from law enforcement agencies like the IRS, DEA and Sheriff’s department to open a safe.Most collectors, he said, favor the beauty and engineering of 19th and 20th century German and Finnish cuffs.Fakery is rife in the handcuff collectibles industry and Lyons is often called on to identify reproductions.Accused by officials in Cologne of fakery in 1900, the Hungarian illusionist proved his lock-picking skills in court by escaping from several pairs.Lyons also owns a specially designed 1880s set he calls the “Handcuff King Breakers.” Dressed in disguise, Houdini would often take the generic-looking cuffs — for which he had the only key — to his competitor’s shows.Other impractical cuffs he owns are the French chain Berliners that are too difficult to place on a writhing suspect and American thumb cuffs, which are too easy to wriggle out of.
There are “nippers,” corkscrew-like single cuffs from the 1880s that can be twisted tight to make a prisoner more compliant; dainty “lady cuffs” for small-boned people; and pre-Civil War-era Palmers ring cuffs that came in five sizes and operated with screw keys.
Over the years, he has collected antique locks and even jail cell keys, but cuffs have always been his favorite.
He loves the many different ways that cuffs have been engineered over the centuries, he’s fascinated by the ingenious locking mechanisms and he’s an acknowledged expert in handcuff history and spotting fakes (his collector’s guide to fraud on e Bay has been viewed 77,000 times since January).
For most of his life, locks and keys have had a hold on Mark Lyons’ heart.
He’s run a North County locksmith business for decades and he’s a safecracker-on-call for local law enforcement agencies.
Posing as a policeman with mass-market cuffs, he’d challenge the performers to escape the device so he could humiliate them onstage.