Safes and vaults


This article is related to a previous article, Locks for chests and boxes, in which I describe the oldest “safes” in Sweden – chests or cabinets locked into the sacristies of churches and containing any excess funds the church might have.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, money chests were made in Germany, Britain and France, either wholly or at least in part of sheet iron. They were decorated with ornamentation, chasing, etching, gold plating and sometimes brass details. The locking devices varied – there could be one or more padlocks and/or complicated built-in locks with many bolts hidden under the lid. The keyholes were placed on the top of the lid, cleverly camouflaged in some way.

At least three factors led to a great demand for safes in the transition to the 19th century. The first was that Britain became an industrial center of Europe in the early 19th century. The second is that as Britain grew into an empire, multiple state and private administrations evolved, and improved transportation increased trade to all parts of the country and its colonies. All of these conditions, combined with trade with the rest of the world, led to a large surplus and inflow of capital to institutions and individuals. The third factor was the invention of several kinds of unpickable locks in the late 18th century.