Centuries-old torture devices to be sold in New York

Mon May 11, 2009 3:02pm EDT
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NEW YORK (Reuters) - A collection of torture devices used in the 16th and 17th centuries will be sold in New York City with some of the proceeds going to charities campaigning for a ban on torture.

Arlan Ettinger, president of Guernsey's Auctions, said 252 devices, hundreds of torture engravings and a library of rare books devoted to torture would either be sold as a collection or auctioned separately at a later date. The firm estimates the collection could fetch several million dollars.

"It's almost what's your pleasure, what part of the body would you like to hurt, which is a terrible thing to say," Ettinger said of the devices. "As brutal as these things are, it's history and if these items get dispersed that would be gone."

The collections includes items like an arm clamp with spikes, a chair with spikes, heavy iron masks, and a metal mitten that could be made red hot in a fire and then put on someone's hand.

Ettinger said the collection was exhibited in Britain and the United States in the late 19th century. It was eventually bought by a Norwegian Holocaust survivor living in the United States in the 1950s and is now being sold by heirs.

"These are curious but brutal devices all designed for the purpose of hurting people in specific ways," Ettinger said. "We had to think twice before we would want to represent a collection like this."

But he added the decision was made a little easier by the seller's pledge to donate an undisclosed percentage of the proceeds to charities including Amnesty International, which are campaigning for a ban on torture.

"(The seller) went public with the collection by coming to us because of all the discussions today about torture and felt that if there was ever a time, now was it to present it to the world," Ettinger said.

A debate has dominated headlines about whether some techniques used by U.S. authorities could be considered torture. President Barack Obama's government has banned the used of waterboarding, a simulated drowning technique, saying it is torture. But Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, refused to describe the technique as torture or rule out its use.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

<p>Pieces from a privately owned collection of torture devices from the 16th century are displayed at Guernsey's auction house in New York May 11, 2009. REUTERS/Eric Thayer</p>