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Antique Safes/OLD John Tann Safe


John tann safe
John tann safe  

john tann safe
john tann safe  
Hi Mike,
I have attached pictures
Can you help out will some information on this John Tann safe?  It has the Royal Coat of Arms and underneath has "Dieu et mon droit".
Can you tell me any history on this safe?  
We do not have a key and would like to have one made, is this possible? A lock smith has advised us he can drill into the safe and he can make matching locks- will this effect the value of the safe? Also is this safe valuable? we are located in Sydney Australia and i have contacted leading valuers and been told it is not worth anything. Any information would be greatly appreciated.  Many Thanks Vanessa

Hello Vanessa,

Thank you for your enquiry and the pictures of your safe.  The Tann family was the world's first safe maker dating back to 1799 when it traded as E Tann.  It was later inherited by Edward's grandson John and the company took on his name.

The construction of your safe is known as 'square cornered' as it was made from separate sheets of mild steel riveted or screwed to an angle iron frame - this gave it the typical sharp cornered look.  They were primarily designed to preserve ledgers in the event of fire so the hollow walls are filled mostly with sand and sawdust, a very primitive form of fire proofing.  This type of construction dates from circa 1850 to 1890 so it is late Victorian.

Tann's great rival, Chubb & Sons was the first holder of the Royal Warrant and I am sure Tann also had the right to display it (many companies displayed the Royal Coat of Arms without authority to do so).

One point of interest.  The upper floors of No 11 Newgate Street were said to have overlooked the execution yard of the notorious Newgate Prison and this tended to put staff off their lunch.  Whether this was true or not, around 1900 they moved further along the road to 117 Newgate Street.

Safes of this age are totally obsolete and have no commercial use for the security of cash, valuables or important documents.  Smaller safes are often restored to a high standard and sold on as drinks cabinets, etc., but the larger models are not too popular because of their weight, so it won't have a lot of value other than as a really interesting piece of history.  

You may get some idea of values by visiting Ebay and searching on 'antique safes'.  These old safes do scrub up very well and the badges are normally brass.  Finally, you can learn more about John Tann's history by visiting It is maintained by an old friend who used to be a director of John Tann.  Sadly, the company was acquired by a big Swedish conglomerate some years ago and this proud name finally disappeared.

I hope you find this interesting.


Mike Palmer FSyI
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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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