Flexibles, Snappers, Nippers & Twisters……alias……Handcuffs


If you fancy this special prize for designing a new generation of handcuffs, I’m pretty confident entries are now closed given that it’s well over 100 years since this offer appeared in Vol.1., No. 1., of a brand-new publication called The Modern Detective magazine issued on Wednesday March 9th, 1898, price one penny, but certainly have a doodle if you wish, you never know,  you may be the one with the breakthrough design for the 21st century.

In fact, I have tried to locate the winning design, but The Modern Detective; Vol.1., No.1., seems to be the only one ever published. Somewhere there could be a stash of drawings featuring radically re-designed handcuffs, hidden in an old desk waiting to be discovered.

The editor and the proprietor – a certain Inspector Maurice Moser, (who always liked to refer to himself as: ‘late of Scotland Yard’)  –  did not, it seems, manage to produce a second issue of the magazine.


 He did, however have some pretty solid fixations on handcuffs, their origins and their future development. He frequently made the interesting observation that engaging in “…a prolonged struggle with low and savage ruffians” in order to secure their wrists with, “… heavy, unwieldy awkward machines,” (by which he meant English handcuffs – known as the “Flexible”  as represented in the competition drawing above) – was almost handing such ruffians a seriously potent weapon to assault you with. He recounts this story:

On the occasion of my arresting one of the Russian rouble note forgers, a ruffian who would not hesitate to stick at anything – I had provided myself with several sized pairs of handcuffs, and, it was not until I had obtained the very needed assistance, that I was able to find the  suitable “darbies” * for his wrists. We managed to force him into a four-wheeler to take him to the police station, when he again renewed his efforts and savagely attacked me, lifting his ironed wrists and bringing them down heavily on my head, completely crushing my bowler hat.”(Source: The Strand Magazine, Vol. 7. Issue 37, January, 1894, pp.94-98.)

*“darbies”  – police slang for handcuffs, thought to date back to a unscrupulous, illegal, money-lender called Darby or Darbye,  in the 16th century who would ‘bind you’ in bond agreements that were rigid and unyielding – ie: Darby’s Bonds)

So, he had a point in asking the English reading public with any design skills and an interest in grabbing five guineas (worth around two thousand pounds today) to get sketching and designing.

Moser had often spoken of America ingenuity as the way forward with what he also termed “contrivances”, and indeed the USA were to lead the way by 1912 with George Carney’s invention of the swing cuff, the bow- style cuff with serrated teeth that we’ve all seen mimicked in twentieth century kids’ toy handcuffs. The style that allowed police officers to quickly close the cuff onto wrists of different sizes and without having to unlock them first. Here is Carney’s original 1912 patent drawing:



 Unfortunately for Maurice Moser, we are still at the tail-end of the previous century, so that was yet to come. Maybe England could have got there before Boston’s George Carney had Moser been more organised with his competition entries!

So, at this moment in time, there were certainly other designs available – here’s the “Snapper”


The small loop snaps around the wrist, the officer holds the larger loop as a handle to control the prisoner. There was a similar, slightly more lethal skin-trapper, that worked on the same principle called “Nippers” which also used a handle and a pincer movement loop system.


Strictly, outlawed by Moser and indeed became prohibited in Great Britain anyway, was any police use of The “Twister” as this was deemed to incorporate a form of torture as the chain twisting possibilities were seriously dangerous to the arrested prisoner from an over-zealous officer.


So, for Inspector Moser, it needed a fresh start and when he describes the current police issue, “Flexible” you can understand why;

They weigh over a pound and have to be unlocked with a key in a manner not greatly differing from the operation of winding up the average eight-day clock, and fastening on to the prisoner’s wrists, how? The fates and good luck only know! This lengthy, difficult and particularly disagreeable operation , with a prisoner struggling and fighting, is, to a degree, almost incredible.”  (Source: The Strand Magazine, Vol, 7. Issue 37, January, 1894, pp.94-98)


Moser’s competition was to not just find a new design but it had to be lighter, more portable and should be able to be used by one officer without the need for additional assistance – so there’s your brief – get designing.

Last word from Inspector Maurice Moser, ‘late of Scotland Yard’:





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