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Antique Safes/Id a Key ?


2 days ago I was lucky enough to purchase a small double door 24"x24"x18" safe/strong box with 2 keys.

I have had to come back to work offshore so have no photos of the actual safe but I do have a photo of one of the keys.
What could you tell me about the key please ?

Hello Simon,

My expertise is in British and European safes so I don't usually accept questions from elsewhere.  However, I can offer some comments regarding this key.

Way before lever locks were invented in the early 1800's, security was provided by warded locks.  Wards were simply a series of fixed obstructions over which the key must pass.  However, by removing most of the body of the key (thereby known as a skeleton key) the wards could easily be by-passed and the lock quickly opened.

These warded locks were found on the doors of convents and churches back in the Middle Ages.  I suspect your key probably belongs to cast iron strongbox dating back to the mid 1700's.  Obviously these ancient strongboxes have no security value but they are interesting historical curios.  Edward Tann began making safes in London in the late 1790's and is generally regarded as the world's first safe maker.  I suspect your strongbox pre-dates this buy quite a few years.


Mike Palmer FSyI

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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