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Antique Safes/Milner Square Banded Safe


QUESTION: Good Morning Mike

I read, in answer to an earlier question regarding Milner safes, that you have records and serial numbers of Milner safes.

I have recently bought, and plan to restore, the Milner safe in the photograph. The serial number begins with an X, which I think dates the manufacture to the 1920's ?

Would your archive be able to shed any light on the history of this safe

Many Thanks

ANSWER: Hello John,

Thank you for the picture and the question. My records show that the safe was made in 1912 and 4,639 safes were manufactured that year.

In fact is is a four corner banded safe.  A single sheet of mild steel was press-bent 4 times to create the top, bottom and two sides of the safe.  A back plate was fixed to a frame from the outside and similarly, the door was hung at the front.  Because the seams were very vulnerable, heavy bands were added at the front and rear edges and overlapped to protect them. An inner body was added and the walls filled with a mixture of sand, sawdust and alum crystals.  When heated the alum converted to moisture to form a steam jacket to prevent the interior temperature rising beyond 212 degrees F.  Hence the number 212 on the brass name plate.

I can't comment much further without seeing inside the safe.  However, my best guess is that it is a Milner List 3 safe costing around 15/17/0 secured by a seven-lever 'unpickable' lock which was protected by a hardened steel plate.  The lock and bolt-work mechanism was built inside a 'pan' that was then bolted to the back of the door plate.  This made them very vulnerable to explosives as a relatively small charge would strip their threads and force the door open.

This type of construction was most popular between 1900 and 1932.

That's about all I can tell you at this point.  If you would like to send me a further picture with the door open so I can see the bolt-work and door-plate thickness, I may be able to tell you more or even send you a copy of an old leaflet.  You can send directly to

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Mike Palmer FSyI
Mike Palmer Consultancy

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

Internal view
Internal view  

Internal Drawers
Internal Drawers  
QUESTION: Good Morning Mike,

Thank you very much for your prompt reply and information regarding the safe. I am amazed that Milner's produced 18 safes a day in 1912, given the weight of each unit and the labour intensive nature of the work. I have attached two more photographs of the internals.

The safe came with only a key for the main door. I am hoping to make a new key for the internal draws from a blank. I have no previous experience, but it will make a great winter project while the cosmetic restoration is ongoing. I am enjoying the research and very much looking forward to getting started. I think the finished safe will make an excellent addition to our home. We have already becoming quite attached to it, even in it's rather bruised condition.

I have read about the meaning of the number 212 while searching for information on the internet. On inspection, it appears this brass plate has no mention. Could it be a later replacement, although the brass screws are a perfect fit.

I would be grateful for any further history you may have at hand. The leaflet sounds very interesting. A guesstimate of the weight would also be helpful as would any hints for obtaining a suitable blank key for the draws.

Thanks again for your help,

Good Morning John,

Thanks for the additional pictures.  Whilst Tann was the world's first safe maker and Chubb was the best known, Milner's was the most prolific and the vast majority of enquiries I receive about antique safes are Milner's.

I am pretty sure this is an original Grade 3 and probably a Size 2 which weighs a little over 6cwt (I will leave you to do the conversion).

A common way to attack these old safes was to drive a number of wedges around the leading edge of the door to bow the side until the bolts were released from their seating.  The triangular sections around the door are there to deter wedging.

Any Master Locksmith with a safe engineering department should be able to find a key blank for the drawers. If you have difficulties in Norway, go to and search for a Master Locksmith with safe engineering facilities and they will probably be able to send you a blank.  Come back to me if you still have problems.

I do have a copy of their original leaflet on the List 3 but I tend to have problems sending pictures via the Allexperts site, so if it is not attached, give me your email address and I will send you a PDF by return.

Good luck with your project.

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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