You probably never heard of them, but these are some interesting keys with an unusual shape and history.
First of all, let me brag with my little collection:bramah1

First time I saw one of these keys I was so puzzled, I even begun to think the previous owner of it made the weird slits by himself for an unknown purpose. I’ve seen a lot of unusual vintage keys since then.

bramah2But after researching I found there was a proper name for these types of keys, and I discovered their history.

The Bramah keys are named after their inventor, Joseph Bramah (1748-1814), a cabinet maker that invented many things, from the hydraulic press, a paper making machine, to an improved flushing system for the toilet 😀
This is how inventors were back then, they looked around and thought about what they could improve in the world around them.

Around 1800, he made the Bramah padlock, and he was so confident and proud of his invention that he challenged people to lock-pick it, displaying the “Challenge Lock” in the window of his shop with a note saying: “The artist who can make an instrument that will pick or open this lock shall receive 200 guineas the moment it is produced.”
200 guineas were a lot of money back then. Anyone could try, but it took more than 60 years until someone finally succeeded. So for 60 years, the locks held the title of unpickable locks and were used for diamond safes and important secrets 🙂 Most burglars and thieves gave up instantly when they saw a Bramah lock.

image from www.antiquebox.org

The American locksmith Alfred Charles Hobbs worked 16 days, few hours a day totaling 52 hours, and finally managed to open it and got the big prize. Hobbs was a seller of locks too, and he was driven not by the large money amount, but he was determined to ruin the reputation of the locks sold by his competition, something he did on regular basis 🙂 After he opened the Bramah lock, the Bank of England got scared and had all of their locks swapped out for the ones Hubbs was selling. Talking about a good salesman!

The Challenge Lock is now displayed at the Science Museum in London.
Bramah locks and their tubular keys are still made today with variations and no two keys are ever repeated.


[avatar user=”ILONKA” size=”100″ align=”left” /]

Ilonka has an eye for finding the most interesting treasures for us to use in our work, to collect and sell in our shop. She’s in love with everything vintage and doesn’t miss a fair day, like, ever! Ilonka is an artist and her designs are mostly one of a kind art books. That’s because she’s got too many ideas and too little time.


There are 5 comments on this post
  1. Dori
    November 05, 2014, 10:03 pm

    What a cool article, I love it that the keys inspired research 🙂 And the story is pretty interesting, too. 60 years is a very long time for a lock to remain unpickable :O

    • Medieval Journey
      November 05, 2014, 10:12 pm

      I wonder if in the history (of England at least) one can see that there were fewer break-ins during those 60 years 🙂

  2. November 05, 2014, 10:29 pm

    Very interesting keys and article 🙂

  3. November 05, 2014, 11:19 pm

    It is amazing how just one lock has such a history, imagining people’s entire history is just impossible 🙂 Thanks for sharing, so cool!

  4. BHB Kidstyle
    November 05, 2014, 11:59 pm

    Ha! That was interesting! Thank you, Ilonka! 🙂

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