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Antique Safes/phillips & sons birmingham safes


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Hi There Terry

Hope you are well, i was wondering if you could spare some of your wisdom with me, a friends father has recently immigrated out of south Africa and has left us to sell of some items of his, and one is an old Phillips & Sons safe, now i don't pretend to know much about antiques or safes but i cant help but think that this is a fairly uncommon safe to have. It is fairly tarnished (although may just need a wash# and we still have the original key, so i was just wanting to ask what you can tell me about the company?  (i heard they no longer in business) or this safe itself, as I'm attaching pics along with it. (if it works)

Thanks Terry if you can let me know anything


I'm not going to be able to give you a lot of information, as English and European safe manufacturers is not my specialty.   Generally I only research American safe & vault manufacturers, early 1800's through the mid 1900's.   There are two other safe techs on this site (Antique safes also) that are both from England and much more familiar with these safes than me.   I would recommend giving them the same question to see what info they have.
Mike Palmer and Tom Gordon are both great subject matter experts for English and European safes.

Basic information:
Phillips & Son, manufactured safes between 1860 until about 1920, and apparantly had factories in both West Bromwich and Birmingham, England.
There were two safe manufacturers called Phillips, James Phillips & Son of Bristol, and Phillip's & Son of Birmingham, unfortunately little is known about either.

In the late Victorian area the Black Country (Birmingham, Willenhall, Dudley, etc) had over 50 safe makers - today there are just three.  Phillips & Son of Birmingham prospered from 1890 to around 1920 when they seem to have disappeared, either going out of business or being acquired by one of the larger manufacturers.  They do seem to have had a reasonable export market as I frequently receive requests to comment on them from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

The photos you sent do not allow me to "zoom in" to look at details, but based on what I can see, I would assume that your safe also has the "Climax lock", here is some basic info on the lock maker and lock.


Established in 1840, by Edwin Cotterill, as manufacturers of rim mortice, dead ,chest, till, cupboard locks and safes.
On the 25th March 1846 Edwin Cotterill obtained a patent, Number 11,152 for "Certain improvements in articles applied to windows, doors and shutters".  This was a wide ranging patent and covered several latches.  Some had the latchbolt sliding in the deadbolt.  This lock became known as "E Cotterill Climax Detector Lock".  It was derived from the Bramah lock (whose patent had long expired) although the sliders moved radially with respect to the key.

In 1870 E Cotterill and Co were at Climax Works, Vittoria Street.  In 1886 the address was 93 Great Charles Street, Birmingham.  In 1890 they took over F E Wilson and Co and made a lock to Peter Wilson's patent, number 3257 of 1869.  These were sold as the Cotterill-Wilson Lock.  

One major problem with most of the safes made during the late 1800's in England, is that they were all very similar.   While there were exceptions in the better quality safes, the simply fire safes were quite common, with the only major differences being the name plaques, handles, locks and key hole covers.   Many of these latter items are more collectible than the actual safes.

Generally throughout the UK, because of the numbers of the very similar safes, the values are severely diminished.   Prices in the 150 to 200 British Pound range ($240 to $320 US) is fairly common.   In countries like the US, where there was NOT a large import trade, the quantities of these safes is much smaller and the general value higher (double or triple, depending on condition).

My recommendation would be to check with local antique dealers to see what similar safes might be going for.

Hope this helps,

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Terry V. Andreasen (Andy)


Safe and Vault related Questions; Antique Safe Repair and Restoration; With over 44 years in the Safe & Vault industry, if I can't answer your question I know where to get the answer. Current Project: Restoration of an Ely Norris Cannonball Safe from the early 1900's. Will answer Safe & Vault related questions concerning age, value, restoration, moving, opening & repairing, parts, operation and history. Note: It is not my intention to teach you to open safes or to provide information which may aid in the unlawful opening of a safe. I will not give out drill points or information which I deem inappropriate.


44 years in the Safe & Vault Industry. Owner and Service Manager for one of the largest Safe & Vault companies on the West Coast. Graduate of Lockmasters Safe Lock Servicing, Safe lock Manipulation and Safe Deposit Lock Courses. Graduate of Locksmith Institute. Author of "The Coffee Table Guide to Antique Safes". Certified Instructor for the California Locksmith Association teaching Basic and Advanced Lock Servicing, Basic Safe opening and Repairing. Factory Trained by AMSEC, LORD Safes, LeFebure, Mosler, KabaMas, LaGard and Sargent & Greenleaf

Safecrackers International and the National Antique Safe Association Safe & Vault Technicians Association

The Coffee Table Guide to Antique Safes

Graduate of Locksmith Institute 1972 Graduate Lockmasters Safe Lock Servicing 1974 Graduate Lockmasters Safe Lock Manipulation 1975 Graduate Lockmasters Safe Deposit Lock Servicing 1985 Instructor Certified - California Locksmith Association - 1985 Factory trained by AMSEC, MAJOR, STAR, Johnson-Pacific, Kaba-MAS, Allied-Gary, ISM, Lord, Brown Safe, EXL, Mosler, Diebold.

Awards and Honors
2009 - 2015 Listed in AllExperts top 50 Experts. All Experts Categories - Safes & Security Containers, Locksmithing, Antique Safes. Retired US Army Chief Warrant Officer (CW4), with 39 years of total service. With numerous awards from Vietnam, Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. US Navy - 1971-1981 US Army Reserve 1984-2013 US Army Retired

Past/Present Clients
US Secret Service, FBI, BATF, Local Law enforcment agencies, Diebold, Hamilton Pacific, Red Hawk Int., Chubb International, Bank of America, Wells Fargo Bank, Mechanics Bank, El Dorado Savings Bank, many Credit unions and smaller banks. McDonalds, Togos, BurgerKing, TacoBell, Carls Jr. FoodMaxx, SaveMart, Lucky's, Albertson's, Raley's, Safeway, NobHill, Bell Markets, PW Markets. Great America, Century Theatres, Cinemark Theatres, UA Cinemas, and many homeowners and small businesses. Provide warranty service for lock and safe manufactures. Service area is Northern California - Fresno to Oregon, including western Nevada

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