With some antique boxes not only holding their own expensive original fittings, but also other valuables and articles or documents of privacy, it was fundamentally necessary for locks to be fitted. These locks could be simple single lever locks all the way to complex multi-levered varieties or Bramah cylinder locks. With the assurance of greater security came an accompanying greater price tag, and the inclusion of a Bramah lock or similarly complex lock signified a worthy box. Bramah locks were by far regarded as the pinnacle in security and were favoured by the top box and cabinet makers throughout the 19th century. Indeed it took over 60 years for anyone to be able to successfully pick a Bramah lock.
The teeth, slots or ‘bits’ of a key would often indicate the complexity of the internal lock mechanism. However some lock makers were purposely deceptive, creating overly complicated key incisions thusly throwing off any knowledge of the lock’s internal workings.
As box designs got more inventive and elaborate, the demand for more bespoke lock designs grew. Asprey, for example, almost exclusively used Bramah locks for their boxes and dressing cases and had their own customised Bramah lock design patented, these locks being stamped ‘Asprey’s Patent’. See our section on the Asprey Patent Bramah lock.
Made significant by its usage on the magnificent 1787 and 1791 French ’Nécessaire de Voyage’ boxes commissioned by Marie Antoinette, the cloverleaf shaped drill pin is believed to symbolise the Christian holy trinity. This unusual shape makes the lock extremely hard to open without its characteristic key, and further serves to add complication for any lock picker or locksmith with the unenviable task of key duplication.