It cost me about $350. The antique dealer delivered it to Jim Stewart in London who took the following pictures and wrote most of the following text. Thanks Jim. I added some pictures I took of it in February 2001.
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Basic conclusions: A very unusual curiosity, but not ground-breaking in terms of design or efficiency. Probably a prison punishment straitjacket. Applied until the wearer is ready to be more co-operative
Fabric: The jacket is double thickness, made with two different types of woven material. Both seem to use the same fine but hard textured natural fibrous thread such as was used for mail sacks just before the introduction of man-made fibers. In Britain I'm told a mix of flax and jute was used (also known by the Bengali name of gunny).
To know for sure would need an expert in mid-20th century textiles or somebody on the Internet who used to work with real canvas. Outside, the canvas type is a very close herringbone weave, smooth but harsh. A slight sheen may have come from steam pressing of the finished garment with put a gloss on the fabric dressing Inside, the fabric is a fine but equally harsh mesh plain weave canvas, such as mail-sacks rather than flour sacks were made of in Britain pre 1950 much finer than burlap sacking this is very very dense and tough.
Rope used in profusion to fasten and tether the jacket (no straps) is 3/8th thick twisted double strand course natural fiber rope (over 50 feet in all!) This could be hemp but because it's waxed is not as hairy as most hemp rope so might be jute or some other mix. Somebody might tell from the smell. I'm still asking around.
A French or German source for this very odd jacket has been suggested. Initials HM stamped on in small letters could (as David [the antique seller] suggested) mean Hospital Militaire.
Over-elaborate, crude, inefficient, uncomfortable is the general reaction of people who field-tested it with me for the photo session. Designed by a civil servant with nothing better to do rather than somebody experienced in handling mentally disturbed people. Certainly a prison rather than hospital concept. Probably manufactured for punishment rather than simple restraint. General design is, apart from the very unusual two-strand fabric tails attached to the bottom hem at either side of the body, a basic front-opening short coat with rounded closed-end baggy sleeves.
On the sleeves an interesting feature is a pair of very useful canvas loops at inner elbow level.
At the end of each sleeve, two more canvas loops (again three inches deep) each have six foot rope permanently spliced to circle the canvas loop.
On each side of the jacket waist are canvas flat loops which span only five inches so are not wide enough to allow hands through easily when encased in baggy sleeves.
Being a front-opening jacket, methods of getting a struggling person into it need not be considered because the process of threading rope through sixteen narrow slits each less than an inch long suggests a totally passive wearer.
Two ways of lacing were tried. One threading single rope end through two parallel holes from top to bottom of the jacket; the other, a herringbone lacing style bring rope in from the back and out of the front of each hole. A half hitch in what rope is left over was all that was needed if hands couldn't reach it. Using the spare rope was tempting but when brought up around the crossed arms in-front, dragged the whole jacket dangerously high. Taking the rope through the crotch and tying it off on the sleeve-end ropes where joined at the back, was practical but a messy tangle.
Crossing the arms for the first time we did not use the side loops because they didn't allow the hands through easily. We brought the two over-long sleeve-end ropes around the body and through the side loops. Also tried was to bring the rope around the biceps and pull them back (like using Pinion Straps) and in various ways running the ropes through the inside-elbow canvas loops.
Pulling the canvas elbow loops backwards over the biceps worked but was not logical. Tying the elbow loops closer together was also effective but rope over the elbows could have been worked off the arms thus giving dangerous slack. On the whole, because the rope is not ideal for knot-tying, we decided that keeping the whole jacket drenched in water would be one way to stop the knots slipping! The mysterious side tails took much more time and experimentation.
Our first thoughts were to bring them up over crossed arms and perhaps through the otherwise pointless shoulder epaulets. Each pair of bands brought up front and back and crossed over opposite shoulders seemed promising. These added to the possibility of restricting arm movement but the angle of the tails at waist level looked wrong. Anything we tried when bringing the bands upwards made the whole jacket rise- and with such a wide open neckline the whole jacket might eventually just shuck off over the head. Experimenting with the tails as leg-restraints started with each leg wrapped separately ending in a useful ankle tether but we were not convinced. Criss-crossing both legs together suddenly looked more logical.
Making off the ends of the two pairs of bands (one with attached rope and the other only a canvas loop) was what we eventually settled for but it left nothing to tether feet out to sides of a stretcher or bed. Finally, the two ankle ropes were together used to tie off to a center point of the bed-end which was reasonably effective and the legs were suitably immobilized. Together with the pairs of ropes from behind the back of the neck and those permanently attached to the jacket canvas side-loops, gave a five-point tether configuration whether laying down of standing up.
The overall opinion was that rope closing (especially such harsh rope) is not efficient. The general collar, front closing and small side loops could all be improved on in a modern interpretation of this jacket and the tails, although turning the jacket into a full-length restraint, got in the way and tangled and made the whole garment very unmanageable; certainly very difficult to handle in any sort of struggle.