Steve Santini: owner of the world's largest torture collection
Steve Santini has the resume of a Victorian polymath. Hypnotist. Inventor. Escape artist. Memory man. Collector.
And it's the last of these facets we're discussing today.
Because when the Canadian isn't sourcing Titanic artefacts, he's adding to his vast collection of torture instruments. In fact, he's the world record holder.
Here Steve reveals all about "double nutcrackers", "witch gowns", and the torture device that would get you confessing the fastest…
JustCollecting: You have an astonishing CV. How would you describe yourself?
Steve: I suppose I could be described as a man who follows his passions and interests no matter how unconventional they may seem. If I am into something, I am all in.
You have a strong anti-torture stance. So why do you collect torture instruments?
I do have a strong human rights and anti-torture stance. Because of my research and collecting, I am keenly aware of what we are capable of as a species. I am also aware that when we sweep unpleasant events from history under the rug because we find them distasteful or because we are trying to be “politically correct”, we run the risk of committing the very same horrific acts again.
My collection serves as a tangible cautionary tale that warns of the dark side of human nature. It is meant to be learned from and understood.
What's the scope of your torture collection?
It spans a number of centuries, beginning in the 1500s and leading into modern times. I have over 200 authentic instruments of torture, judicial punishment, and even court-sanctioned execution.
What's your favourite torture artefact in your collection?
A 17th century rough cloth gown worn by a suspected witch when he/she was in a prison awaiting torture and/or execution. There is only one other “witch prison gown” known to exist so this example is quite the historic treasure.
As a Pagan, I find the great witch hunts of great personal interest and the bulk of my collection is comprised of witch hunting materials.
A hand- and finger-crushing torture vice from Austria dated by the blacksmith who made it to the 1500s.
Which one would get JustCollecting confessing the fastest?
Likely the shin crusher. This is a device that fastens over the lower leg. It is studded on the inside with blunt spikes and is tightened by means of a large wrench.
Where do you find your artefacts? Any good stories from "the hunt"?
This may be hard to believe, but these devices can turn up practically anywhere. I scour antique shows, antique weapons fairs, auction houses, and the internet to find them. I have literally crawled under castles and through dilapidated (and structurally unsound to the point of being rather dangerous) medieval dungeons in the quest.
Any strange or funny tales to tell?
I once came across a pair of 17th century thumbscrews at an outdoor antique market. The guy selling them told me they were a special and rare type of device to crack the shells of two walnuts at once. A double nutcracker if you will. I informed him what they really were and then he gets into an argument with me and angrily tells me I know nothing! In the end, I thanked him for the education and I went ahead and bought the “double nutcracker.” Sometimes it is good to know nothing!
What do your friends and family think about your collection?
My daughter thinks that the third floor of our home, where much of the collection resides, is haunted. My wife understands my passion for history and is extremely supportive, and our friends find the collection to be extremely interesting. So, aside from the haunted part, all is good at Casa Santini.
Do you get any odd requests?
I have had models want to do various photo shoots posing with objects in the collection. I have also had various ghost hunting groups and alleged psychics eager to do “investigations” of the collection. Because of my respect and reverence for these relics and their history I am extremely particular when it comes to fielding such requests. To my way of thinking, education is fine. Exploitation is not.
You've been known to try out the torture instruments on yourself. Any mishaps?
One would have to be either insane or a super masochist to want to test drive the instruments in my collection. Personally, I do not make it a habit.
On one occasion, when I was filming a video about the history of a finger crushing vice in the collection, I placed it on my own hand to demonstrate for the viewers how it worked. I accidentally tightened it a bit too far and broke a bone.
These instruments, although centuries old, are definitely not to be toyed with. They can still inflict a variety of damage.
Have any of your instruments got famous names attached to them, so to speak?
I do have a number of items connected to Johann Georg II Fuchs von Dornheim (1586-1633), a former Prince Bishop of Bamberg, Germany. He bears the dubious distinction of having ordered the construction of the world’s first purpose-built witch torture prison. In a 10-year span, over 1,000 innocent people met their fates in his witch prison.
Are there many collectors in this area?
Whenever authentic torture and execution relics come up for private sale or auction they always seem to sell quite quickly. This would suggest a competitive pool of buyers or collectors.
Unfortunately, many of these same collectors are unknown to others with the same interests. Perhaps this is due to the non “politically correct” nature of what we collect. I do know of a handful of museums and private collectors who seek out these objects but I am certain there are still more who are unknown to me and who prefer anonymity.
Is this a rich man's game? Or are there entry-level options collectors?
Authentic torture, judicial punishment, and execution artefacts usually command high prices when they appear for public sale.
Perhaps due to a demand with limited supply, and also a large group of people who may want to own a representative piece without selling a kidney to do it, there are people who make replicas. Many of these are made in India and show up on online auction sites. Some of the sellers are honest and list their creations as replicas while others do not. Buyer beware certainly applies where any item of value is concerned.
Any advice for the novice?
Read, read, and read some more! Do your homework and learn as much as you can about the subject. Not just about the devices themselves but also about the laws that governed their creation and use and how these laws were applied in history. Knowing this will help you to decide if what you are looking at is a bona fide authentic device or a fantasy replica with no real roots in history.
What else do we need to know about you?
My dream/wish for the collection is to have it as a permanent standalone public museum where it can be seen and learned from (as it should be). Should there be any community or developer here in Canada, or even internationally, who may be willing to work with me towards the end plan of installing the collection as a legitimate tourism draw please get in touch. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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