George Price Safe Plaque Sign Cast Brass Plate Vintage Old Original & Infamous

George Price Safe Plaque Sign Cast Brass Plate Vintage Old Original & Infamous

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George Price Safe Plaque Sign Cast Brass Plate Vintage Old Original & Infamous:

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George Price SAFE plaque sign cast brass plate vintage old original & infamous

Original & very rare!

I took the liberty to copy this from the wonderful 'Gazeteer of Lock & Key Makers' There probably could be an epic film made about the 'goings on' in the cut throat business of Safe's and Locks!

George Price would certainly be a main protagonist!

George Price's Safe, Lock & Engineering Company Ltd., Wolverhampton A Gazetteer of Lock and Key Makers The Burglar's Bible: George Price's Treatise by Pat Tempest. Buy it! ...A very good read.

page 3

Demonstrations of resistance to fire

In 1854, George set up his first public demonstration of the fire-resistance of his safes. Public demonstrations were supposed to prove that manufacturers' claims and advertisements were true. George gives an account in his Treatise of this first demonstration, which he asked a Milner's foreman to assist him in setting up.

"Soon after taking over the business of which I am now proprietor, relying on the statements of other makers as well as on the assurances of a person in my employ, as to the fire-resisting capabilities of safes made fire-proof by the use of a simple non-conductor (which activated the production of steam to preserve the contents) I had a public test of two safes made on this principle and invited my friends and fellow townsmen to be present a the trial.

One safe was in an intense fire for three hours, and the other for five hours - Mr. Milner's foreman and his agent and lock manufacturer in Wolverhampton were present and assisting me. The contents comprised books, bound in leather, loose papers and a parchment deed. After the safes were cooled and opened, the books were found to be burnt black at the edge for some distance towards the centre of the paper; the loose papers were more or less burned, the leather destroyed, and not a vestige of parchment could be found. The disappointment, vexation and chagrin I experienced at the result of this my first test, caused me to study the manufacture, not only as a mechanical art, but as a science requiring some research. From that day, it has had my undivided study and attention."

An old woodcut showing a public demonstration of the security of a safe. In this case a group of German operatives were failing to effect an entry despite all their equipment

It was public humiliation which motivated him to write his huge book. Milners had always claimed in their advertisements that their own safes would protect "deeds" from fire. But they must have excluded parchment deeds from their public tests. "It would invariably be assumed (by the public) that 'deeds' meant parchment deeds, even though the word parchment was excluded." George should have remembered that Bilston's bonnet makers used to buy offcuts of parchment from his father's print shop. Parchment is made from animal skin and the bonnet makers used to boil it for size to stiffen bonnet brims. Steam could never be used to protect parchment from heat. It was melted, cooked, frazzled by steam. Paper, made from cotton waste and wood pulp, survived, as did money and precious metals. What incensed George was that Milner's foreman had allowed - perhaps encouraged - the novice safe maker, himself, to include parchment in his first challenge, knowing it would frazzle. (In writing about this, George says nothing about the fact that Noakes' advertisements had also claimed to protect deeds.)

From there on George was on his high horse, the bit between his teeth, hell bent on outdoing all competitors, and above all, William Milner, son of Thomas, the founder of the company.

But George was not above sharp practice himself. Far from it! The locks on Price's safes in the early days were made by Charles Aubin, whose lock trophy had been purchased by Mr. Hobbs. Aubin had also worked for Samuel Chatwood, another powerful competitor in the safe industry. Later George patented Aubin's design as his own. Then there was the bad feeling caused by recruiting William Dawes, again from Samuel Chatwood. It was dog eat dog.

Developments at George Price's works

The 1903 Ordnance Survey Map shows the Cleveland Works (here outlined in red) on the north side of Cleveland Street and the east of Bell Street. This area was still predominantly industrial at the time.

All this time, George Price was working on converting Noakes' old workshop to a steam-powered manufactory. The following item appeared in the Wolverhampton Chronicle for June 20th 1855:

We have inspected the new works of Mr. Price and were as much surprised as pleased with out visit .… The manufacture of wrought iron safes we have always considered one of the legitimate trades of Wolverhampton as it is well known that both the iron plates of which they are made and the locks which secure them, are made in the neighbourhood of the town. And yet, their manufacture has been almost entirely confined to London and Liverpool .… We were very much pleased with the machinery and fittings and also with the steam engine made by Thompson and Co. of Bilston. The buildings are substantial, the rooms wide, lofty and well ventilated. Crowding of workmen is completely avoided. The iron of which the safes are constructed goes in at one end of the building in sheets and comes out at the other end a finished and painted safe, ready to be lowered into the carrier's wagon.

By this time George felt he had overcome the problem with frazzled parchment by patenting an iron box to hold parchment documents to be placed inside his safes as protection against steam in case of fire.

He had sixty men "at full work with the aid of steam machinery and every contrivance which ingenuity could suggest". With governments, bankers, insurance companies, railway companies desperate for security, there was a lot of money to be made.

In 1855 he began to travel to give lectures on fire-resistant safe manufacture in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dublin and Belfast. "But for ill health", he wrote, "I would have visited other towns and cities in England." Instead of that, he sat down and wrote his book.

George Price's great treatise

George Price's 1,000 page book, Treatise On Fire And Thief-Proof Depositories And Locks And Keys was published in 1856 by E. and F.N. Spon. Charles Chubb had already written a Treatise on Locks, but George's was much more detailed.

It was highly praised, although some bankers called it "The Burglars' Bible" because of the scores of detailed diagrams of locks. George Price argued in the book that progress would be speeded up if expertise were freely shared amongst competitors.

But the locksmiths and safe manufacturers - including himself - were just as ruthless as any burglar, forever stealing, sometimes patenting, each others' ideas.

George also used the Treatise to advertise his own wares, even though he had only been in the trade a very short time. He setup his own "Which Safe?" survey, sending the specification for his own "first class safes" - single and double door models - to his competitors, asking them to quote their prices for similar safes. In a table of prices given on pages 126 and 127, the George Price safes were shown to be twenty five per cent cheaper than those manufactured by Enemy No. 1 - Milner. Did he set his own prices before or after receiving the other manufacturers' prices? Who's to say? Perhaps he set his prices unsustainably low, in order to undercut his competitors.

The title page to the Treatise. The drawing on it is full of Masonic symbolism.

An illustration from the Treatise, showing a device for picking Bramah locks

The Cleveland Works went from strength to strength, specialising in building strong rooms in the basements of the great banks being built up and down the country, as well as manufacturing a great variety of specialist safes with very fancy names:

the Super XB Commercial Safe,
the Merchant's Hold Fast Bent Steel Commercial Coffer Safe,
the Everybody's Bent Steel Safe,
the Al Quality for slight risks only Bent Steel Safe.

The war against Milner

After the publication of his Treatise, George Price set up fire resistance demonstrations again and went on to be involved in more spectacular challenges between safemakers to demonstrate that gunpowder could or could not be inserted into the keyholes of their safes. This son of a pious churchwarden had become quite a showman.

But tragedy struck in 1860, in Burnley. After one of these gunpowder challenges, one of Milner's foremen packed the lock of an old out-of-date Price safe with gunpowder and trundled it back into the yard while the crowds was dispersing. He then lit the fuse, the safe shattered and a little boy was killed by one of the shards piercing his head.

At the inquest the Coroner expressed his view that things had got out of hand and the challenges were a public danger. Both George and Milner were full of remorse.

However, George soon invented another way of getting at Milner. He set up his agents all over the country to inform him every time a Milner safe was successfully burgled by one of the gangs of increasingly violent and skilful robbers who were roaming the country. On hearing of "successful" robberies, he planned to rush to the scene of the crime, if he could, to denigrate Milner's name and to advertise his own products as superior.

In hissecond treatise Price is careful to describe this as "Milner's PhoenixEscutcheon, engraved from theone on the safe blown up in Burnley".

In 1860 George published his second treaties "A Treatise on Gunpowder-Proof Locks, Gunpowder-Proof Lock-Chambers, Drill Proof Safes, &c, &c, &c.."

The Masonic symbolism from the first treatise is missing but there is a quotation from Robert Blair: "Although there may be some few exceptions, yet in general it holds that when the bent of the mind is wholly directed to some one object, exclusive, in a manner, of others, there is the fairest prospect of eminence in that, whatever it may be. The rays must converge to a point in order to glow intensely".

This claim to superiority of knowledge may be a suggestion that he knew more about this matter than anyone else - including Milner.

In January 1863 a gang using skeleton keys entered the warehouse of a woollen mill in Batley, Yorkshire. They tried breaking into the mill safe, which contained a large amount of gold. They partially succeeded but then lost patience with their implement, described as "the largest burglar machine ever constructed", and began bashing the safe with a crowbar.

They left their machine behind when the millowner disturbed them. It was so massive that seven men had been needed to carry it in pieces, to be attached to the safe at the scene of the burglary.

Delighted with this find, the Dewsbury Constabulary put the machine together and displayed it in the police station. As soon as his agent told him of this, George Price contacted a Dewsbury company, who had one of his safes, and arranged for it to be tested in public with this great implement.

It survived the test without even a dent and George's order book swelled again.

A drawing, from the second treatise, showing "The burglars' drilling, boring and cutting machine".

A baby, safe and sound, after a fire. Presumably a fanciful notion - the baby would have suffocated and been steamed. He eventually published in 1866 a short, vindictive book entitled "Forty Burglaries of the years 1863-45", recording the regular cracking of Milner safes. But, he boasted, when burglars drilled a hole in the roof of a provision dealer in Kirkgate, Leeds, and saw a George Price safe, they left without bothering to touch it. He recorded with glee a spectacular jewellery robbery from a shop in Cornhill, London - from a Milner safe, of course. The safe was advertised as "Holdfast" and "Thiefproof" and the shop owner, Mr. Walker, sued Milners, his case being that it was neither.

A well-known cracksman, who George refers to as "Convict Caseley", gave evidence that he could open a similar safe in half an hour. "He is a man of keen wit, coarse in quality and inexhaustible in quantity, that bubbled up like bad petroleum". He showed "the instinct of an actor for effect; the craving of an orator for applause; the delight of an artist in flattery." Caseley described himself as "one of the dangerous classes who society had found out and locked up". The cleverest men at the bar, says George, were those most struck with the cleverness of the uneducated Caseley. Indeed, it was a pity he could not be employed in Scotland Yard - a thief set to catch thieves. But Mr. Walker lost his case, with the judge ruling that he should have employed a watchman to watch his shop. Presumably Convict Caseley's claim was not accepted, and the judge commented that it took twenty four hours for the thieves to break into the safe, proving it was "strong enough". The press took up the judge's comments to condemn companies who did not employ watchmen to watch the safes and called for an increase in the pay of policemen.