Scary weapon: "Man Catcher" from 1601-1800

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According to the Science Museum, London, this item from Henry Wellcome's curiosity collection is a "man catcher… used in Europe in the late 1700s during times of war. The terrifying collar pulled riders off horseback. In peacetime, it is thought the device may have caught and held escaped prisoners." "Man catcher, Germany, 1601-1800" (via Neatorama)


    1. Oh duh, neck. For some reason, without any visual reference I had the scale all wrong and pictured it grabbing around the torso/waist. Neck makes much more sense now.

    2.  My first thought was that the legs get caught in there because it was intended for pulling men off of horses.

    1. Halberds are more for killing/dismembering. This falls under the “less lethal” category, kind of like a renaissance taser for capturing and ransoming knights. I think I saw a replica of one of these for sale in a Museum Replicas catalog a dozen or so years ago. The next time I ride my bike, I’m wearing a gorget and a helmet.

      1. How does puncturing a rider’s jugulars qualify as “less lethal”? This is designed to pull a rider off and ensure that he’s dying by the time he hits the ground.

        1. I don’t think those spikes are razor sharp.  They’re a deterrent against having the other guy try to fight and maybe knocking you off your horse.  If the guy does fight then yeah, they could be dangerous, just like Tasers.

        2. This seems like it could be a fun project  for Mythbusters if they could figure out how to get their dummmy to ride a horse.

          This was designed to be used on armored opponents whose  necks would be  procected. There are easier ways to kill a rider than by trying to snag him around the neck.

    1.  Hmm. Maybe the spikes help prevent the captured from turning the tables on the captor? Because I can imagine that if I got snagged by this thing, I could grab the pole and yank the other guy off his feet/mount, but the spikes would make that risky to my own health.

    1. I saw temple staff demonstrate the use of similar, um, tools at a temple in Kyoto, Higashi Honganji, when I happened to be there during their biannual safety meeting. (The demos were a response to a nutter who had threatened to burn down the temple on a previous occasion, iirc.) Theirs were designed to be used around the waist, though, and had no spikes.

      Very blurry pics here.

  1. Saw one in the weapons chamber of a fortress in Austria once. The tourguide said the spikes were placed to puncture the cartoid arteries of the person captured.
    It was used to fight off invaders who tried to scale the fortress wall by ladder.

    Nasty way to die..

  2. What is the function of the triangular part? Is it flexible enough that if pushed against someone’s neck the two sides will flex out and let the neck pop into the hoop with spikes?

    Also, it seems to me that while it may catch a man, it will turn him into a corpse in short order. Both the catcher and the catchee will have to be very very careful to actually keep the person alive.

      1. Thanks for pointing that out. I hadn’t noticed the two hinges and leaf springs (in fact the top leaf spring is broken in this particular sample). I initially thought the entire hoop flexes out, but now I can see how this thing works.

  3. As with similar BB posts (I think that there was one on some mask-like device once), I’m calling BS. Not only would it be nearly impossible for someone to grab someone else with this while one or both were on horseback without killing them (a simple spear would suffice for that function), but it’s something that would put the wielder at nearly the same risk as the intended target if the target should be able to grab hold of it; plus, of course, someone so snared could easily free themselves if they weren’t immediately killed, and if their hands were bound, why would you need this?  A simple loop of rope on the end of a staff would suffice.
    No, I’m thinking that, like the vast majority of antique chastity belts, or the “fantasy” knives and swords that you can find in a modern BUDK catalog, this is created for the kind of person that collects these things rather than any practical purpose.

    1. Perhaps you should let the Wellcome Collection know that they are mistaken about the provenance of this item in their archives. I’m sure they didn’t research it at all.

      1. I’d certainly like to know more.  I’m not willing to just assume that the authority in question here is correct without more specific evidence, given that very similar hoaxes (like the Iron Maiden of Nuremberg) have been passed off before.  (The link seems to imply the source was Henry Wellcome himself; I don’t know what his standards were, or what further research the curators have done.)

        I’m just as interested in hearing specifics about how and when they were used in warfare.  I’ve heard of similar things being used for transportation of prisoners, but not in actually acquiring them.  

      2.  Do you know that they did? The Wikipedia article seems to be in need of citations aside from one lonely reference back to the same source you linked to. According to the article on Wellcome himself, his collection originally consisted of around one million items, with about 125,000 in medicine alone. Not trying to rain on your parade with my reflexive skepticism here, but maybe not everything in it was rigorously researched.

  4. Look carefully and you’ll see that the outer bits that would first contact the victim are hinged, you can see the hinge pins at the corners.  Those arms bend in with the initial thrust and then pop back into place thanks to the two leaf springs (the top one is broken), preventing escape. I don’t know if it’s genuine or not but it would seem to be well designed.

  5. It’s my understanding that man-catchers were mainly a tool of law enforcement rather than war. It’s not as messy and violent to use as war weapons, and is safer than using a truncheon when you’re trying to catch an armed man.

  6. I thought you were geeks! This is a classic DnD weapon, which caused 1-2 points of non-lethal damage. I’m fairly certain this is real as well, I saw a similar one at Castel San Angelo in Rome. 

  7. Wouldn’t this be aimed at the arm or leg if the goal is to catch a man and not kill him?  If this were around someone’s neck it would be fatal unless the man was very still.  Also the arms and legs are a much easier target.

  8. It seems like an impractical weapon of war. Without a way for a quick-release from the user, it would be a single-use, albeit, effective weapon.

    1.  I assume that as a weapon of war, the idea was to pull knights off horseback then hold them so you and your footman buddies could ransom them off and make your fortune.

  9. There’s a device with similar purpose in Cambridge (UK) in the Fitzwilliam Museum, though in that one the claws are spring loaded and click shut around the neck on contact… billed as as ‘peasant catcher’ I recall.

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