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Antique Safes/19th Century Chubb fire resisting safe

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Chubb safe
Chubb safe  

Chubb safe details
Chubb safe details  
Dear Mike,

With great interest I've been reading your knowledgeable answers on antique safes; I live in port city Valparaiso, Chile, and purchased an old house made of thick 'adobe' walls. Embedded in one of the walls there is Chubb fire resisting safe as featured on photos, with address 128 Queen Victoria St, London and imported by Graham,Rowe&Cia, Valparaiso.
I am very interested in the early history of the property - late 19th century, but can't find much about the construction date or first owners in the Chilean archives. I suspect the first owners were English settlers, who put the safe in the house (as well as numerous British firebricks in the garden like Hannington, E&M, Rufford, Garnkirk).
I would be interested in finding out what extact year this safe is from, and if there is a way to open it - we found a similar but not matching key.
Thanks so much and saludos from sunny Valparaiso,
Bart

Answer
Hello Bart,

Thank you for your very interesting enquiry.

The first thing is to get the safe opened.  I know nothing about Valparaiso but I would be surprised if there were not a few good locksmiths there.  The safe is in such good condition that it would be shame to drill it open but a skilled locksmith should be able to pick it using modern lock picking aids.

Once the safe is unlocked, you need to find a serial number so we can establish the exact year of manufacture.  This can normally be found stamped on the end of one of the moving bolts.  When the safe is opened new keys can be cut and the safe restored into working condition

However, we can make some general observations.  I can't see the edges of the safe clearly from the pictures but I think the construction would be described as 'square cornered'.  Before metal presses were introduced towards the end of the 19th century, safes were made by riveting mild steel plates onto an angle-iron frame.  This created sharp 90 degree corners, hence the name.  An inner lining was added and the cavity filled with a loose mixture of sand and sawdust with possibly some alum crystals.  This was a primitive fire resistant material.  When alum is heated much of its bulk is converted to steam.  This dampened the sand and sawdust keeping the temperature below 212F.  Over the years this will have compacted and leaked leaving large voids in the top of the safe through which heat would be transmitted.

The main problem was the ease with which the riveted sheets could be popped open using simple hand held forcing tools.  It was probably manufactured between 1860 to 1890 when this form of construction was discarded in favour of bodies shaped using bent steel plates.

Chubb's first London office was in St Paul's Churchyard but they moved to 128 Queen Victoria Street in 1877.  These premises were destroyed by a fire-storm following an air raid in 1941.
The Chubb family were very progressive and quick to recognise the value of modern technology.  Their first heavy delivery vehicle was a steam driven tractor and they were one of the first companies to install the telephone.  I can't remember the exact telephone number but it was something like London 3.

That's about all I can tell you until the safe is open and the serial number is known.  Please come back to me when you have it.

Meanwhile, if this answer has been useful, please take a moment to rate it.

Kind regards,

Mike Palmer FSyI
Mike Palmer Consultancy  

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Mike Palmer

Expertise

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.

Experience

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.

Organizations
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.

Publications
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.

Education/Credentials
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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