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Antique Safes/Very Old, Intricate Strong Box Safe


Hello!  I have a very old (late 1600's - 1700's, I believe) safe, or strong box, that I recently purchased at a live estate auction.  It has a complex locking mechanism located under the top of the safe which can be viewed when the safe is open. This locking system is composed of twelve individual locking bars (four bars evenly spaced apart from one another located on each of the two facing sides of the safe, and two bars evenly spaced from one another on the left and right sides of the safe)that move in unison into their locking positions with two full turns of the large skeleton key that was made for the safe. You can view the inner workings of the complex locking system move about when the key is turned. When the bars are in the locking position, the heavy top of the safe becomes impossible to open as the locking bars are now under the lip of the body of the safe (which holds the top down in place).  When the safe is closed, a secondary locking mechanism can now be used by moving each of the two hinged locking bars (found on the front facing side of the safe)upward into position so that they intersect with the "U" shaped "buckle" attached to the top of the safe. Now a padlock on each of these bars can be placed and locked.
The inside of the body of the safe is open without any compartments or secret drawers, etc.  There are long intersecting strips of steel on the bottom and sides of the safe.  On one of these strips of steel located on the inside bottom of the safe there is an identifying mark that was imprinted into the steel possibly when the steel was still soft from the intense heat it took to shape it.  "I N N E R B E R G" is what I believe it reads.  The last letter, the "G" might not be an "G" as this letter has been worn down and is not nearly as pronounced as the other letters. It might be an "O".  Also, the two "N N" might be "M M". Perhaps this was the name of the person who once owned the safe?  Perhaps it refers to the great Innerberg Iron Company? Or the name of the maker? Also on the bottom of the safe are two holes (a little less that half an inch in diameter) allowing the safe to be nailed or screwed down into the floor that it sat upon.
More misc. information: This safe was brought to the United States from Austria or Belgium -- or Germany perhaps, years ago by it's last late owner, a wealthy man who passed away fairly recently.  The safe weighs about 105 pounds and measures 21.5" long by 15" high by 14.3" from the back to the front facing sides.  This safe has been referred to as an armada chest as well.  The paint on the safe is obviously not original, but the paint was applied quite a few years ago, and it was done in good taste.  The safe also came with two very old padlocks for the secondary locking mechanis; one slightly larger than the other.  I am not sure if they came from the same period as the safe.   
About the skeleton key: The key hole for the skeleton key is located on the top center of the safe, and it is hidden behind a decorative hinged escutcheon. The skeleton key is magnificent, measuring 6" long by 2" wide at the handle.  Like the safe, the beautiful craftsmanship of the key was obviously made by a skilled blacksmith  without the use of any machines.  
I am sending an image of the safe, and I can send more if you like.  I hope you can tell me more about this safe.  It is truly a masterful work of art and is still as functional today as it was the day it was made.  Thank you VERY MUCH!
P.S. I am having trouble with sending this question with my image attached for some reason. I have tried numerous times and it keeps saying "failed spam test". I am going to send my question now without the image.  Is there an alternative way I can send the picture of my safe, such as an email address or some other way?

Hello Mark,

Thank you for your enquiry.  What have described sound like a very typical high quality strongbox, variously called Armada chests or treasure chests.  The period is also correct.  Edward Tann was a family business specialising in wrought iron-work and between 1727 and 1760 frequently made cast iron chests secured by wrought-iron bands.  In 1795 they began to focus entirely on making safes and are credited with establishing the world's first safe company at Moorfields in London.  It was not until 1845 that they began to incorporate an inner lining that could be filled with fire-damp material, that they began to look recognisably like safes.

These early chests were secured by 'box-of-wards' locks.  An intricately patterned key passed over a fixed obstruction to operate the locking mechanism.  The term 'skeleton key' emerged when keys were cut with all the intricate part removed.  What was left was a skeleton which would entirely pass over all the obstructions or wards and unlock the box.

Mostly these boxes were made of cast iron which was often brittle and would shatter if hit with a heavy hammer.  They can be truely wonderful things and many years ago I worked for a safe retailer who had one placed in their showroom window with the lid raised and a perspex cover over the locking mechanism so it could be admired.

Unfortunately, I can't comment further on the maker.  If you would like to send me the pictures direct to my personal email, I may be able to say more.  Send to


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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