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Lock and key

  • Place of origin:

    Birmingham (made)

  • Date:

    1680-1700 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Wilkes, John (made)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Steel, brass, forged and chiselled, blued

  • Museum number:

    1394-1888

  • Gallery location:

    Metalware, room 116, case DR5 []

The inticate lock has four turning bolts that can be set to various combinations. For added security, a sliding panel reveals two dials to record every turn of the lock.

This type of lock is a rim lock, with its mechanism entirely enclosed in a case to be mounted on a door. Unlike later mortise locks that were built into doors and might match the overall decorative scheme of a room, rim locks could be removed when the owner moved house, to be fixed to a door in the new house.

Locks and keys were symbols of ownership and authority. Lockplates and key escutcheons, made of highly reflective materials, provided the finishing touches to decorative schemes.

English locksmiths were based mainly in London and the Midlands and were renowned for their ingenuity. Wolverhampton produced, according to one writer in 1686, locks ‘curiously polisht and the keys so finely wrought, that ‘tis reasonable to think they were never exceeded’. The diarist John Evelyn recorded in 1654 that a lock with ‘rare contrivances’ could be viewed as a masterpiece, ‘esteem’d a curiositie even among foraine princes’.

Physical description

Lock with brass scroll openwork in steel and brass frame. It has 4 knobs for turning the bolts and a projecting box with a sliding panel enclosing two dials for recording the action of the lock. The hasp is also brass and the steel body is blued. The works of the lock are steel and the back of the lock is decorated with engraving. The brass openwork consists of twirling tendrils ending in flowers and dogs' heads.

Place of Origin

Birmingham (made)

Date

1680-1700 (made)

Artist/maker

Wilkes, John (made)

Materials and Techniques

Steel, brass, forged and chiselled, blued

Dimensions

Height: 12.5 cm, Depth: 5.5 cm, Length: 22.8 cm, Width: 7.7 cm dial plate

Object history note

This lock has open scrollwork in brass contrasting with a ‘blued’ steel base. The lock has four turning bolts. For added security, a sliding panel reveals two dials to record every turn of the lock.

This type of lock is a rim lock, with its mechanism entirely enclosed in a case to be mounted on a door. Unlike later mortise locks that were built into doors and might match the overall decorative scheme of a room, rim locks could be removed when the owner moved house, to be fixed to a door in the new house. The bold proportions and twirling ornament are unmistakeably Baroque and would complement contemporary decoration in the house without matching exactly. On this example, even the inner steel workings are finely engraved.

The Museum acquired the lock for £15.15 from the Londesborough Sale in 1888.

Historical significance: This is one of the finest examples of a rim lock in the Museum's collection.

Historical context note

Locks and keys were symbols of ownership and authority. Lockplates and key escutcheons, made of highly reflective materials, provided the finishing touches to decorative schemes.

English locksmiths were based mainly in London and the Midlands and were renowned for their ingenuity. Wolverhampton produced, according to one writer in 1686, locks ‘curiously polisht and the keys so finely wrought, that ‘tis reasonable to think they were never exceeded’.

The complicated mechanisms of locks made rooms secure while their intricate patterns in steel and brass turned their locks into works of art. The diarist John Evelyn recorded in 1654 that a lock with ‘rare contrivances’ could be viewed as a masterpiece, ‘esteem’d a curiositie even among foraine princes’.

Descriptive line

Rim lock of forged steel in pierced brass case with separate hasp, with sliding panel revealing two dials to record the action of the lock, English, ca. 1680, probably by John Wilkes of Birmingham

Labels and date

LOCK
Cast brass, with applied steel, pierced
England; about 1680

The diarist John Evelyn recorded in 1654 that a lock with 'rare contrivances' could be viewed as a masterpiece, 'esteem'd a curiositie even among foraine princes'. This example has open scrollwork in brass contrasting with a 'blued' steel base. The lock has four turning bolts. For added security, a sliding panel reveals two dials to record every turn of the lock.

Museum no. 1394&A-1888 [November 2004]

Production Note

Based on similarities with signed examples

Materials

Steel; Brass

Techniques

Forging; Piercing; Chiselling; Bluing

Subjects depicted

Dogs (animals); Flowers

Categories

Household objects; Interiors; Metalwork; Tools & Equipment

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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