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Antique Safes/John Tann Safe Number 9901


John Tann Safe
John Tann Safe  

The lock
The lock  
I brought a John Tann safe with no key, I had a lock smith open it by drilling a hole in the door and found it had a different lock to it, can you tell me can I buy parts for it and what year was the safe made and is there any thing about the safe you can tell me about. Thank you.

Hi Vanessa,

Thank you for your enquiry. This John Tann safe was made in 1883/4.  It is of slightly unusual construction, usually referred to as 'pillar banded'.  The back and two sides were formed from a single sheet of mild steel bent 4 times.  Top and bottom plates were then added and held in place by vertical 'pillar bands' on each of the 4 corners.  In this case fake hinges were added on one side, presumably to confuse and prospective safe cracker - they wouldn't know if the safe was hinged on the left or right.

Naturally, with the safe being nearly 130 years old, spares are very hard to come by, especially in New Zealand.

It is no longer any use as a safe but it is an interesting piece of Victorian engineering.  It wouldn't fetch much in the UK were Tann safes are very common, but if tastefuly refurbished, it could do well in New Zealand.  It is a shame the locksmith couldn't pick the lock open - he/she could then have serviced the lock and cut new keys.  My best advice is to log on to the New Zealand Locksmiths Association website and phone around to see if anyone can find a suitable replacement lock.

Just for your information, Edward Tann was the world's first safemaker, established in 1799 and eventually taken over by his grandson John.  They later moved to offices further up Newgate Street - the reason was said to be that upstairs at number 11, windows overlooked the execution yard in the notorious Newgate Prison.  This tended to put the office workers off their sandwiches.


Mike Palmer FSyI
Mike Palmer Consultancy

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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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