Antique Locks 

By Karen Parr-Moody


Locks fascinate collectors for a variety of reasons. Some are tinkerers, those who like to take apart and put back together mechanical things; for these, there is the strong allure of the intricate lock mechanism. Others are history buffs who like to daydream about the many ways man has fought off thieves and intruders from day one. Others are a combination of the two, collectors who enjoy history and like to marvel at human ingenuity. 


GasLamp antique dealer Tim Gilbreath maintains showcases at the store that reflect his various interests. In once showcase he sells Chinese export porcelain, which he has collected for many years. In  Showcase S-131, he has amassed a vast array of antique locks. This collection has proven to be quite popular. The case was once flush with locks, but has now thinned out due to buyers who fancy this particular collectible. The lock in the photo, at right, is just one example from his collection. It is a multiple-lever lock made by a company listed in the Indian Trade Marks Registry as Honlock ($45). 


Historians lack an exact date of the first lock's invention, but there is evidence to show that locks developed independently in the ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman civilizations. As early as 4,000 years ago, in Assyria, wooden locks with keys were in use. The earliest lock was called a "pin lock," and it was strung on a rope hanging out of a hole in a door. More recently, in 16th- and 17th-century Germany, complicated locks were found in the underside of the lids of iron-bound strongboxes. These boxes were used for storing valuables, and since some were used by officers at sea, they came to be called Armada Chests. This name was a Victorian invention, a fanciful moniker for chests imagined to be used by the Spanish Armada.

The brass lock in the photo, left, is an antique Chubb padlock from England ($95). The Chubb company was started in 1818 by Charles Chubb, a blacksmith, who was later joined by his brother Jeremiah. The firm patented many locks and safes for leading financial institutions, such as the Bank of England.  The firm's first patent was for a "detector lock," which was constructed so that if an attempt was made to pick it or open it with the wrong key, a mechanism rendered the lock inoperable. 

The Chubb brothers sold locks throughout the world, for many purposes. They were responsible for the security cage for the Koh-i-Noor diamond at the Great Exhibition of 1851. Just a few years ago, an old Chubb padlock was spotted securing a door in the palace of the Maharana of Udaipur, Rajasthan.

The Chubb lock for sale at GasLamp is stamped with the words "Chubb's Patent" and includes their fish logo, which encircles the words "Chubb London." It also bears the address 96 Queen Victoria Street, London, a site which currently houses a variety of financial and other businesses. Queen Victoria Street was commissioned in 1861 to streamline the approach to the central banking district and remains a flagship street today. 

In the photo, right, is an 18th century barrel lock made of iron ($100). This hand-forged lock functions with a key that screws in and out. The round, barrel base has intricate ribbing.  Based on other locks of this design, it most likely originated in the Far East and Middle East; other similar examples have been found in Norther India, China, and Afghanistan. Other interesting versions of this silhouette are  the barrel "word combination" padlocks, which are often of French origins. These feature a series of three to five letter rings on the barrel, which can be matched up to form words as combinations.  




In the photo, left, is an 18th-century handmade lock ($137.50). A small brass panel covers up the keyhole, and the key bears telltale hammer marks made by the blacksmith. Handmade locks are an art form, as well as practical devices. 


Possessing an authentic lock that is fully functional provides any collector with a bit of history. It also can be used to keep one's own treasures safe. And just imagine the daydreams one can have. Any of these locks might have been used for anything from safeguarding famous jewels to protecting a historic bank from a heist.



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