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Antique Safes/John Tann safe box


John tann safe box
John tann safe box  

John tann safe
John tann safe  
Could u please identify this safe box - how old is it and what or where was it used for   we want to restore the interior and would like to know if this would have been the original paint colour-
Many thanks
Pete Marsh

Hello Peter,

Thanks for your question and the pictures.  This chest carries the name J Tann.  The company was founded as Edward Tann in the late 1790's and was taken over by his grandson in 1845 who changed the company name to John Tann.  For a while the plate would say, 'J Tann Late E Tann'.  This one doesn't mention the company's former name so my guess is that it was manufactured in the early 1860's.  

In those days the main concern for businesses was to protect valuable ledgers from loss by fire and it is possible that the body of the chest is filled with a primitive heat resistant mix of sand and sawdust, which would give it some weight, or it may pre-date this and simply have empty 'air chambers'.

As for its use - it is hard to say, it is possible that it may have been used by the Royal Mail.  It would be interesting to see the key.  I would expect a safe of this type to have a 'box of wards' lock with a heavy, elaborate key.

Some of the very early chests were made of cast iron but I'm pretty certain this one is constructed from mild steel plates rivetted or screwed onto an angle-iron frame.

The chest has obviously been thoroughly refurbished but from all the old Tann safes I have see, I think the interior may well be the original colour.  What the exterior colour was is anyone's guess but it is a very nice specimen and an fine example of mid Victorian engineering.


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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