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Antique Safes/Identification and restoration


QUESTION: I have been bequeathed a safe of which I know nothing about other than it a Chubb and I love it. I would be very greatfull for any information you may have , or direct me too. Also any recommendations for a good Safe restorer as I would love to get it back yo its former glory. It's fully working with 2 full sets of keys.. Pictures attached .

ANSWER: Hi Colin,

Thank you for your enquiry and the picture of your Chubb safe.  

Firstly, I can give you a general idea of its age.  This type of ancient construction is called 'square cornered' dating back to the late Victorian era and were most commonly made between 1840 and 1880.  Somewhere on the safe will be a serial number, if you can find it I will be able to date the safe exactly.  The address on the name plate is St Paul's Churchyard.  This was Chubb's first London office after moving from Portsea.  They arrived there in 1820 and stayed until 1876 when they moved to Queen Victoria Street London which was subsequently destroyed by fire following an air raid in 1941.  So your safe is at leaset 140 years old.

Before hydraulic presses were introduced, safe bodies were constructed from individual mild steel plates riveted to an angle-iron frame.  This created sharp 90 degree shoulders, hence the name 'square cornered'.  Another steel plate was fixed at the back and a door hung at the front.  The body cavity was filled with sand, sawdust and probably some alum crystals.  This was a very primitive form of fire resistant material - these early safes were designed to preserve valuable ledgers from loss by fire rather than to secure cash and valuables.

These riveted safes were soon considered obsolete and other forms of construction followed.  Consequently we do no recommend securing significant values of cash or jewellery nor should you use them to preserve important documents as the loose fill will have compacted and leaked over the years leaving large voids in the body through which heat can be conducted.  It is relatively easy to spin the safe round and rip out the back plate.

You will note that the name plate displays the Royal Coat of Arms, as did many of their competitors' plates.  The difference was that Chubb was genuinely entitled to display it as they were the very first Royal Warrant holders and continued to be so until they were recently acquired by Gunnebo, a Swedish conglomerate, who moved production to France and Indonesia. Sadly,their safe factory in Wolverhampton no longer exists, and Chubb is now just a brand name.

I am delighted that you love your Victorian Chubb safe.  It is a fine example of British engineering and when you have completed the refurbishment, I would love to see another picture.

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Best regards,

Mike Palmer FSyI
Mike Palmer Consultancy
Specialists in Safes Since 1970

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Door lock
Door lock  

The inside
The inside  
QUESTION: Thank you so much for your prompt reply and such interesting information. The only number I can find on the safe is on the part of the lock that comes out when locked, on the middle one of 3. The number on it is 14516 (new picture attached)

If you could shed anymore light on my heirloom I would be more than great full..

Kind regards in anticipation


Hi Colin,

This serial number confirms that your safe was made in the year 1873-1874 so it is 143 years old. Let's put that into perspective.  Firstly, petrol driven commercial vehicles were not yet developed so it would have been delivered by horse and cart, although Chubb did have a steam driven tractor and trailer but I don't know which year they purchased it.  It was the year that Alexandre Palace was destroyed by fire.  Gladstone was our Prime Minister and it was the year Napoleon III died.

The company was founded near Portsmouth as ironmongers by brothers Charles and Jeremiah Chubb in 1772 and it was Jeremiah's invention of a 'detector' lock that launched them into the security industry.  They patented the first burglar-resistant safe in 1835 although the Tann family is generally credited as the world's first safe maker.  John Chubb succeeded Charles in 1846 and when he died in 1872 it became a private limited company with George Hayter Chubb (later Lord Hayter)
as Chairman.  When I joined the company in 1970 the Chairman was the third Baron Hayter of Chislehurst(George C H Chubb)and not recognising him, I took the vacant seat next to him at an informal lunch at my first annual sales conference.  We chatted about art and the theater mostly and he was a warm and amiable gentleman.

That's about as much as I can tell you.  I hope you enjoy restoring your inherited Chubb safe.

Best 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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