Friday from the Vault: The Nuremberg Torture Instruments

Henry Walters occasionally bought some very odd things. Probably the strangest of all was the collection of  “Nuremberg Castle Torture Instruments” – 625 items in all, including gallows hooks, iron masks, executioners’ swords, manacles, thumb-holders, whips, and pillories. The Nuremberg Torture Instruments

The most spectacular object in the collection was the “Celebrated Original Iron Maiden,” a (quote) “terror-inspiring” two-part wooden contraption fitted with iron spikes, which, when closed, would impale the occupant.

An English art dealer named Julius Ichenhauser purchased the collection in 1890, and sent it on tour in Great Britain, including Louis Tussaud’s Maddox Street Galleries.  The press went wild.  The London Morning Advertiser of May 18th, 1891 reported that (quote) “it may be safely affirmed that there is nor more comprehensive and reliable collection its kind in the world.”

In 1905, Ichenhauser talked Henry Walters into buying the entire Nuremberg Torture Collection, along with a “Criminal Library.”  Was Henry swayed by twinges of Gothic romanticism from his childhood reading?

We don’t know.

But we do know that soon, Henry Walters came to the realization that he had made a mistake.  Though in fact, he may have had some wise council help him come to that conclusion.  For according to local lore, Henry Walters’ decision to “deaccession” the Nuremberg Torture Collection, came in response to the powerful voice of his neighbor on Charles Street, just two blocks south: none other than James, Cardinal Gibbons.