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Antique Safes/Safe age and usage


Milner Safe
Milner Safe  

Inside safe
Inside safe  
Hi Mike,

You seem to be the expert for this question, I am wondering how old this Milner Safe might be and if it still has a use as a safe, looking for a small jewellery workshop, love it's character!



Hello Ben,

Thank you for your question and the pictures. Thomas Milner was a tinsmith who, having served his apprentiship in his fatherís factory, began making safes in Sheffield at the turn of the 19th century.  In 1830 he moved to Liverpool and established Thomas Miner & Son in partnership with his son, William.  In 1874 the name was changed to Milners Safe Company and continued under this name until the amalgamation with Chatwood in 1956.  (An interesting sidelight is that for a few years during the 1890ís Milners gave up making safes in favour of bicycles, an experiment that did not succeed.)

This particular type of safe is referred to as 'four corner bent'. It was fabricated from a single sheet of mild steel bent to form the 4 sides of a box.  A further plate was rivetted in place at the back and a door hung at the front. The walls of the safe were filled with Milner's patent 'fire proof' mix of sand, sawdust and alum.  This form of construction was already obsolete by 1910 and I would think this one was manufactured circa 1890.  The 'solid patent powder proof lock' refers to black gunpowder - a further indication of its age.

These safes were very vulnerable at the rear as they could be spun around and the riveted back plate quickly ripped out.  Consequently they provide very little protection from cash or valuables.  The loose sand/sawdust mix will now be compacted at the base of the safe and virtually useless.

As you say, these late Victorian safes have bags of character, especially if restored to their original condition, but they are not of much practical use I'm afraid.


Mike Palmer FSyI
Mike Palmer Consultancy

Antique Safes

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Mike Palmer


I earn my living identifying safes and suggesting cash limits for risk advisors and insurance surveyors in the UK. I'm am pleased to comment on safes manufactured in the UK or Mainland Europe but I am unable to accept questions regarding safes made in the USA or elsewhere.


I have been in the UK safe industry for 40 years and have one of the largest archive databases of old safe literature and serial numbers in the country. I started with Chubb in 1960 and became Assistant Manager of their Bank Security Division before moving on to become the Insurance Liaison Manager with the John Tann Group. I became Sales & Marketing Director for Guardian Safes Limited before semi-retiring. I am a Fellow of the Security Institute and ex-Chairman of Eurosafe UK, a trade body representing the interests of UK safe makers and distributors. I now work as a part time consultant.

I am an advisor to the Safe Committee of the Association of Insurance Surveyors, a Fellow of the Security Institute and founding Chairman of Eurosafe UK.

I have had literally scores of articles published in various security trade publications. So far this year I have had 24 features published in various journals including Keyways, Professional Security, Pawnbroker and Safe India. I have published one book, Peckham Boy, the life and times of the world's greatest safe cracker.

No relevant educational credentials.

Awards and Honors
In 1997 I was awarded the annual shield by the Association of Insurance Surveyors for "..outstanding services to crime prevention"

Past/Present Clients
I have represented or been an agent for the John Tann Group (Stratford, Ratner, Dreadnought and Tann safes); Churchill Safes, Chubb Safe Co Ltd, SLS Safes, SMP Safes, Dudley Safes and several others

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