Law Enforcement Collectibles
HOST: In the quest to maintain law and order in the territory of Idaho in the late 1800s, a jailhouse was built in Boise. The history of incarceration in this state is explored here at the Old Idaho Penitentiary Museum, a former territorial prison, which opened in 1872 and operated for 101 years. Appraiser Gary Piattonni met us in a cell block to look at a few artifacts connected to prison life of decades past. Gary, standing here, you really get a sense of what life must have been like for people who were sentenced to this prison, and it couldn't have been pleasant.
Right, it must have been pretty bleak for the folks on the other side of these bars. HOST: We have here some prison-related items that you can tell us about, and the first one is the ball and chain.
This particular example was found on the penitentiary grounds and was thought to be from a prison break and cast off by one of the prisoners while he was making his escape. He would have had a cuff and a lock for each ankle. One chain would be shackled to each leg, and to move effectively, the prisoner would have to pick up the ball and kind of shuffle along as he walked. HOST: And what does a ball and chain weigh?
This example with the chain probably weighs between 15 and 20 pounds. Hard to date these because this one would have been hand-forged, but based on the construction, we could put it between the late 19th and early 20th century. One like this without the cuffs and locks would probably bring around $500 retail. A complete example with the locks and the cuffs for each ankle might bring as much as $1,000 retail. HOST: We've all seen the ball and chain-- that is pretty much the quintessential restraint that we've seen in movies and cartoons and things like that-- but this one I've never seen before. What is this?
This is more unusual. This is known as the Oregon boot, or more formally known as the Gardner shackle, named after its inventor, J.C. Gardner, who was a warden at Oregon State Prison. It was meant to hobble them as well as throw them off balance. I understand it did serious physical damage to the hip. They weighed from around ten pounds to as much as 30 pounds. It's made out of a nickel-plated steel. The top part is in two sections, and it rests on this metal cage, which is attached to the boot. This one has a patent date of 1876. I've seen them sell anywhere from around $2,000 to $7,000 retail. HOST: So who collects this stuff, Gary?
Well, not surprisingly, a lot of collectors are current or ex- law enforcement people who are interested in the history and development of these devices over time. But surprisingly, there are a number of magicians that are fascinated by these because they want to know how to escape from them. HOST: We move from these restraints to a medal here. Tell me about this.
It was won by the Idaho State Penitentiary guards in a shooting competition with the Zouaves, which were a local militia unit raised by the governor. You can see it's dated 1895, engraved "Penitentiary Guard" across the top. This medal is typical of jeweler-made pieces from the late 19th century. It's probably locally made, but there are no maker's marks or manufacturer's marks on it, and it's most likely made out of a silver-plated brass or copper. It's a pretty unusual piece. A badge like that would be valued retail from around $1,500 to $2,000. HOST: Gary, very interesting to look at these restraints and a little bit of the prison history here and certainly great to walk around Old Pen and check this out. Thank you, Gary.
Executive producer Marsha Bemko shares her tips for getting the most out of ANTIQUES ROADSHOW.
Value can change: The value of an item is dependent upon many things, including the condition of the object itself, trends in the market for that kind of object, and the location where the item will be sold. These are just some of the reasons why the answer to the question "What's it worth?" is so often "It depends."
Note the date: Take note of the date the appraisal was recorded. This information appears in the upper left corner of the page, with the label "Appraised On." Values change over time according to market forces, so the current value of the item could be higher, lower, or the same as when our expert first appraised it.
Context is key: Listen carefully. Most of our experts will give appraisal values in context. For example, you'll often hear them say what an item is worth "at auction," or "retail," or "for insurance purposes" (replacement value). Retail prices are different from wholesale prices. Often an auctioneer will talk about what she knows best: the auction market. A shop owner will usually talk about what he knows best: the retail price he'd place on the object in his shop. And though there are no hard and fast rules, an object's auction price can often be half its retail value; yet for other objects, an auction price could be higher than retail. As a rule, however, retail and insurance/replacement values are about the same.
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