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Antique Safes/Antique Habsburg Strong Box?


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Hi there,
My grandfather brought this strong box over from Holland after the war. It is believed his father purchased it from a church sale - probably mid-late 1800's.  From looking around the net, I think (please correct me if I'm wrong) the double headed eagle with sword and chalice means it was built for the roman catholic church during the Habsburg era during the Charles V or Joseph I reign in the 1700's??? The double headed eagle on the outside of the box and on the painting on the inside lock plate seem to be rare, as I can only see one other like it on the net, but still it's quite different - albeit much more modest.  Have you come across anything like this at all??  Unfortunately the outside of the box has had a few paint jobs, some rivets missing, a bit of rust, and the wooden interior is definitely not the original - although I hope the painting is. All unfortunate, but it's still really interesting I think.  Any info or thoughts you can give me would be wonderful. Any makers marks I can look for? Any concerns about authenticity? Value? Just interested to see what an expert thinks really. Appreciate anything you have to say.

Hello Sandra,

Thank you for your interesting question.  I have worked in the safe industry for nearly 50 years but I have never encountered a Hapsburg strongbox in the UK.

All I can tell you is that it looks like most other wrought iron strong boxes made in the late 1700's and early 1800's so your estimate of its age is spot on.  This one is a thing of beauty and in excellent condition.

The key will be heavy I would expect it to operate a 'box of wards, lock.  That is to say that the lock had a fixed obstruction over which the tongue of the key would have to pass before retracting the locking bolt.  These keys are often very elaborate.

Strongboxes of this type were superceeded by the development of the first 'safes' in the late 1790's by Edward Tann (thought to be the world's first safe maker, although the first burglar resistant safe wasn't patented until the mid 1800's).

As you observe, the crowned, double-headed eagle holding a scepter and sword was the symbol of the Holy Roman Empire but I can tell you no more than your own investigations have already revealed.

Wrought iron chests of any sort can fetch good prices and this one is exceptional and at auction I would expect it to do very well.  A strongbox of this age and quality will be rarer than hen's teeth in New Zealand which should substantially boost its value.

I am really sorry that I can't tell you more.

Kind regards,

Mike Palmer FSyI
Mike Palmer Consultancy
Specialist in safes since 1970  

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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