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It's A Bramah

Updated: May 9, 2019

We have all heard the term “Bramah” which refers to something of quality. The term seems to have originated in South London in the early 19th century, probably due to the secure lock designed by Joseph Bramah in 1784. This was the first truly high-security lock.

It was renowned for being impossible to pick; so much so that from 1790 in the window of their London shop Bramah displayed the famous “Challenge Lock” with a card stating “The artist who can make an instrument that will pick or open this lock shall receive 200 guineas the moment it is produced”. Two hundred guineas are around £30, 500 today.

The lock had some 470 million possible permutations and worked using drop pins and sliding shims, a little like the night latch or “Yale” lock we now have on our front doors.

As with everything you get what you pay for and these locks are only found on the best pieces of furniture, boxes or rarer, as book locks. Bramah are still able to cut keys for their locks – the last time I enquired they were around £140.00 each.

A Bramah lock can be dated by its various stamped addresses, mostly in Piccadilly central London during the 19th century, and by which royal crest it carries.

The “Challenge lock” stayed a challenge until The Great Exhibition of 1851 when Alfred Hobbs from America managed to open it, although it did take him 51 hours over 16 days in a locked room. It was argued that this was not in the spirit of the challenge, but he was eventually awarded the prize. The Challenge Lock now resides in the Science Museum in London.

Bramah are still in business in London and Romford and are still producing very secure locks.


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