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Antique Safes/John Tann Safe


Serial Number 15.047
Serial Number 15.047  

John Tann Safe
John Tann Safe  
I have a John Tann Safe that i estimate was made pre to early 1900, it has attached plates indicating it was made in his original building in Newgate Street, if you could confirm or approximate the age of safe it would be appreciated.
I would also be interested in how the safe was manufactured as i have an engineering background and would be interested in the process they used, a valuation would also be appreciated but not necessary as my wife and i love it.

Hi Greg and Cheryl,

Thank you for your question and the illustrations sent to me by email.

The Tann family business was established by Edward Tann in the late 1700's making it the world's first firm of safe makers.  The serial number of your safe suggests itwas manufactured in 1889.

Tann's London office at 11 Newgate Street, London, overlooked the infamous Newgate Prison when they conducted public executions (the last public execution in the UK took place there in 1868 in front of a crowd of 2,000 spectators). In 1912 the moved premises further down the road to 117 Newgate Street.  These premises remained associated with the John Tann Group until quite recent times (I remember them well) but it is now a rather trendy wine bar opposite the Old Bailey.

There were many fake Tann safes being made by smaller manufacturers trying to trade off John Tann's reputation forcing John Tann to register their anchor trade mark and state in their catalogue that only safes displaying this trade mark were genuine.  

The Tann List 2 is a 'square cornered safe'.  It was constructed from five individual mild steel plates riveted or screwed to an angle-iron frame creating sharp, 90 degree corners - hence the descriptive name.  The body was probably filled with a mixture of sand, sawdust and alum.  This was a primitive fire resistant filling which will have compacted over the years leaving large voids through which heat would be conducted.  Safes of this type are totally obsolete and their only purpose is decorative - they should not be used to secure cash, valuables or important documents.

I am delighted that you are so fond of your late Victorian Tann safe and hope you found this information useful in which case, perhaps you would kindly rate this answer.  If you want to know more about John Tann's history, my old boss and mentor has an excellent website at


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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