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    Default The picking of the Bramah lock by A.C.Hobbs.

    This text is reproduced from George Price's book of 1856. It is here with the kind permission of Tom Gordon who undertook the mamoth task of typing up the whole book. My sincere thanks to him for allowing me to take advantage of his hard work here.


    Soon after the picking of Chubb’s lock, the friends of Mr. Hobbs were anxious he should try


    his skill on the Bramah lock referred to at the commencement of this chapter, which, as there stated, had been exhibited in the window of Messrs. Bramah’s shop for nearly half a century, and to which was appended a challenge, and a reward of two hundred guineas was offered to any person who should make an instrument that would pick or open it.
    We have received various papers both from Mr. Hobbs and Messrs. Bramah in connection with the picking of this lock, from which we shall endeavour

    to give an unbiassed narrative of the proceedings. We will first describe the lock operated upon.


    The lock was a padlock of the following outside measurement; width, 4 inches; thickness, 1 ¼ inch; 2 ¾ inches over the boss; barrel, length, 2 ¼ inches; diameter, 1 ½ inch. Figs. 251 and 252 represent the front exterior and back interior views of the

    lock, which appears to have been made in the year 1801, and had not been opened during thirty-four years, when, doubtless, the false notches introduced by Mr. Russell, in 1817, were made in the sliders and locking-plate.
    It would appear that it was on the 2nd of July that Mr. Hobbs first applied to Messrs. Bramah to


    be allowed to examine the lock, and to take wax impressions of the keyhole. This was complied with, and on the 9th Mr. Hobbs addressed to Messrs. Bramah the following letter: -

    “Gentlemen, - I will call at your place of business, 124, Piccadilly, on Thursday morning, at ten o’clock, and would be pleased to see you in relation to the offer you make on the sign in your window for picking your lock.
    “Yours respectfully,
    (Signed) “A.C.HOBBS.”

    Mr. Hobbs accordingly called, and on the 19th of July an agreement was drawn up reciting the terms of the challenge upon the painted board, and provided that thirty days should be the term within which the lock was to be opened; that the lock should be secured between two pieces of wood to a wall; and that the key should be in the possession of Messrs. Bramah, who were to retain the right of using it in the lock when Mr. Hobbs was not at work. Messrs. Bramah, in order to remove any grounds of suspicion, and to secure themselves against even the possibility of a charge of interfering with the operations of Mr. Hobbs, relinquished the exercise of this right so far as they were personally concerned, and in an agreement on the 23rd of July stipulated that the key should be sealed up, and that they would not use it until the operations were brought to a close. They also required that the keyhole should be covered by an


    iron band, sealed by Mr. Hobbs, when that gentleman was not engaged upon the lock.
    A committee was appointed consisting of Mr. G. Rennie, the late Professor Cowper, and Dr. Black, who were to manage all the arrangements, and who were also to act as arbitrators between Mr. Hobbs on the one side, and Messrs. Bramah on the other.
    The lock was in due course removed from the shop window to an upper room in Messrs. Bramah’s establishment, where Mr. Hobbs commenced operations o the 24th of July. After having worked at the lock for a week, during which period none of the arbitrators were present, Mr. Hobbs stated that he had made some progress in his labours, upon which Messrs. Bramah addressed the following letter to Mr. G. Rennie, and similar ones to the other arbitrators:-

    “124, Piccadilly, July 31st, 1851.
    “Dear SIR, - Mr. Hobbs states that he had made certain progress in his operation on the Bramah lock. We cannot say how this is; but as he has been at work one entire week without your inspection, we now beg your attendance before he proceeds further, and hope that you may be able to meet Professor Cowper and Dr. Black at this place to-morrow, at three o’clock.
    “We are, dear Sir, yours truly,
    (Signed) “BRAMAH AND CO.
    “To George Rennie, Esq.”

    “A reply was received from Mr. G. Rennie, who with his two other colleagues was then at Paris, to the effect that he would have liked to have seen


    the lock from time to time, but considered that any inspection upon his part would have had little or no effect. Messrs. Bramah, however, had forbidden Mr. Hobbs proceeding with his labours until the arbitrators had met. One the 8th of August Messrs. Bramah wrote to the arbitrators to the effect that they were disappointed in not having had an opportunity afforded them of inspecting the lock, and of having the key applied, as they entertained very strong suspicions that the lock was then so far deranged that the key would not have worked if applied. They stated that though they had voluntarily shut themselves out from the right of using the key themselves, still they never contemplated either an interference with the duties and discretion of the arbitrators of applying the key to the lock when they thought proper, or of being precluded from having the key used by the arbitrators upon their request. No notice, however, was taken of this application; and upon the 15th of August, at a meeting of the arbitrators, Messrs. Bramah renewed the request to have the key applied, and asked to have a person to attend during the remainder of the operations. Both requests were, however, refused, as the committee saw no reason why the key should be used till the close of the trial, or why any person should witness the further operations, as Mr. Hobbs had the right, within the thirty days allowed him, to repair any derangement of the lock which he might cause during his work. Accordingly,


    Mr. Hobbs resumed his operations as before on the next morning, the 16th of August. On the 19th of August Messrs. Bramah addressed a letter to the arbitrators, calling their attention to the fact that the reward of 200 guineas was offered to the artist who could make an instrument that would pick or open the lock, and that he was to be paid the money on its production, and stating that, unless some person were present, it was impossible that any one could know that the lock had been opened (should it be opened) by the instrument which might be produced. No reply was received to this communication; and on the 23rd of August, in the presence of two of the arbitrators, Mr. Hobbs exhibited the lock with the hasp raised, and shot the bolt backwards and forward. ON the 29th of August, and in the presence of all the arbitrators and Messrs. Bramah, the lock was again shewn with the hasp raised, having at the time a piece of curved iron attached to it, one end of which was screwed to the woodwork enclosing it, whilst the other, or bent end, was fitted with a thumb-screw, the pint of which was in and pressing upon a cylindrical rod inserted in the keyhole of the lock. Mr. Hobbs also produced a small bent lever of steel, with which, while the other instrument remained fixed, he turned the barrel of the lock, by which the bolt was turned back and allowed the hap to enter the socket. Two other instruments, one like a small stiletto, and the other like a lady’s crochet needle,


    were also produced. A trunk of other tools belonging to Mr. Hobbs, and a powerful reflector* were also in the room. Messrs. Bramah then applied to have the key used at one, but the arbitrators decided that Mr. Hobbs should have till the following day the opportunity of preparing the lock for the admission of the key. On the following day the key was applied, and the padlock was locked and unlocked.”
    We now inset the report of the arbitrators to whom the Bramah lock controversy was referred: -

    “Whereas for many years past a padlock has been exhibited in the window of the Messrs. Bramah’s shop in Piccadilly, to which was appended a label with these words, ‘The artist who can make an instrument that will pick or open this lock will receive 200 guineas the moment it is produced;’ and Mr. Hobbs, of American, having obtained permission from the Messrs. Bramah to make a trial of his skill in opening the said lock, Messrs. Bramah and Mr. Hobbs severally agreed that Mr. George Rennie, F.R.S., London, and Professor Cowper, of King’s College; London, and Dr. Black, of Kentucky, would be the arbitrators between the said parties; that the trial should be conducted according to the rules laid down by the arbitrators, and the award of 200 guineas decided by them; in fine, that they should see fair play between the parties. On the 23rd of July it was agreed that the lock should be inclosed in a block of wood and screwed to a door, and the screws sealed, the keyhole and hasp only being accessible to Mr. Hobbs, and when he was not operating, the keyhole to be covered with a band of iron and sealed by Mr. Hobbs: that no other person should have access to the keyhole.

    * “A two-penny locking-glass.”- Mr. Hobbs.
    +Messrs. Bramah’s pamphlet.
    ++“See Messrs. Bramah’s letter.” –Mr. Hobbs.


    The key was also sealed up, and not to be used till Mr. Hobbs had finished his operations. If Mr. Hobbs succeeded in picking or opening the lock, the key was to be tried, and if it locked and unlocked the padlock, it should be considered a proof that Mr. Hobbs had not infused the lock, but picked and opened it, and was entitled to the 200 guineas. On the same day, July 23, Messrs. Bramah gave noticed to Mr. Hobbs that the lock was ready for his operations. On July 24, Mr. Hobbs commenced his operations, and on August 23, Mr. Hobbs exhibited the lock open to Dr. Black and Professor Cowper then called in Mr. Edward Bramah and Mr. Bazalgette, and showed the lock open. They then withdrew, and Mr. Hobbs locked and unlocked the padlock in the presence of Dr. Black and Professor Cowper. Between July 24 and August 23, Mr. Hobbs’ operations were for a time suspended, so that the number of days occupied by him were sixteen, and the number of hours spent by him in the room with the lock was fifty-one, On Friday, August 29, Mr. Hobbs again locked and unlocked the padlock in the presence of Mr. George Rennie (and others). On Saturday, August 30, the key was tried, and the padlock was locked and unlocked with the key by Professor Cowper (and others), thus proving that Mr. Hobbs had fairly opened the lock without injuring it. Mr. Hobbs then formally produced the instruments with which he had opened the lock.*
    “We are, therefore, unanimously of opinion that Messrs. Bramah have given Mr. Hobbs a fair opportunity of trying his skill, and that Mr. Hobbs has fairly picked or opened the lock, and we award that Messrs. Bramah and Co. do pay to Mr. Hobbs the 200
    guineas.* *
    “GEORGE RENNIE, Chairman.
    “J. R. BLACK.
    “Holland Street, Blackfriars, September 2nd, 1851.”

    * “The instruments were removed every time I left the lock, and the keyhole was scaled up.” – Mr. Hobbs.
    * * “That which the report calls ‘locked and unlocked’ was merely in fact turning the bolt backwards and forwards; the fixed apparatus not having been once removed during the operation from the keyhole of the lock, or its internal structure restored to its normal state, and is so recorded in the minutes of the proceedings of the arbitrators.” _ Messrs. Bramah.


    On the 2nd of September a letter was addressed by Messrs. Bramah to the arbitrators in the following terms: -
    “124, Piccadilly, London, September 2.
    “To George Rennie, Esq., Chairman of the Bramah Lock Committee.
    “DEAR SIR, -We beg to hand you the minutes of the meetings of the committee, and also the board from our window, on which the challenge is written. The only point to which we wish again to call the attention of the committee is that which has reference to the reward. We fully admit that, under the circumstance detailed in you minutes, Mr. Hobbs did open our lock, and has so far gained for himself much credit for his rare skill and perseverance; but beg to repeat that he has not opened it in such a manner as to entitle him, according to the terms of the challenge, to the reward of 200 guineas.”
    After reciting the proceedings of the various days, and alluding to the letter of the 19th of August, already referred to, they state – “We had at this date learnt enough to know that, whatever might be the result of Mr. Hobb’s thirty days’ operations, the reward could not be claimed; and in order to remove all doubts as to the lock not being opened by an instrument, or anything like an instrument, we wished, if Mr. Hobbs had matured his instrument, that the lock should be re-adjusted by the use of the key, and that he should proceed to apply them, and open the lock if he could, for which operations nineteen days out of his thirty then remained to him – a feat which we did not then believe he could perform. A copy of this letter was sent on the morning it bears date to Mr. Hobbs, to Professor Cowper, and Dr. Black, but we did not receive any reply to it, nor was any meeting of the committee called till after the lock had been opened. Mr. Hobbs’


    operations went on after the receipt of this letter, as they had done from the day he commenced then, viz., without inspection and without the key being once applied to the lock. We willingly admit that Mr. Hobbs was at liberty to make any number of instruments, and thus exhaust his ingenuity in finding out one that would open the lock, but we never for a moment agreed that he was to be allowed to keep the spring fixed down as long as he pleased during his thirty days’ labour, and affix his apparatus to the woodwork in which the lock was enclosed, while he used at pleasure three other separate and distinct instruments to assist him in his operations. Under such circumstances we hope the committee will see fit to grant us a certificate of the whole facts, of which we take leave to enclose a sketch, mainly taken from the minutes of the committee.
    “We are, |Sir, your obedient Servants
    (Signed) “BRAMAH AND CO.”

    The following appeared in one of the daily newspapers: -
    “On Saturday last, being the day upon which the time allotted to Mr. Hobbs would have finally expired, Messrs. Bramah proceeded to remove the lock and take it to pieces, for the purpose of seeing whether the interior had been deranged or injured. We were surprised to find that the lock which has made so much noise in the world is a padlock of but 4 inches in width, the body of it 1 ¼ inch thick, and its thickness over the boss 2 ¾ inches. Upon opening the outer case of the lock, the actual barrel enclosing the machine was found to be 2 ¼ inches in length and 1 ½ inches in diameter.* The small

    * “Much larger than any lock Messrs. Bramah make for sale.” Mr. Hobbs.


    space in which the works were confined, and its snug, compact appearance, was matter of astonishment to all present. The lock and key were made fifty years since by the present head* of the eminent firm of Messrs. Maudslay and Co., Mr. Maudslay being at that time a workman in the employ of Mr. Bramah, and the character of the workmanship was highly praised by several of the best hands now in the employ of Messrs. Bramah. The mechanism of the lock consists of two small spiral springs**, each of four turns of wire of ordinary thickness, and which are required to be pressed down by the key before the lock can be opened. Radiating for the centre, and placed in “slits” in the barrels, are eighteen slides, each of which has a number of notches irregularly disposed, and some of which are false. A circular steel plate is placed horizontally upon the section of the barrel, and until all the notches in the sliders have been so adjusted as to fit into the correspond notches upon the inner edge of this circular steel plate, the resistance to opening the lock will not be removed. The chances of placing by any means, except by the true key, these notches in their proper places, amount to so enormous a number

    * The late Mr. Maudslay is intended to be here alluded to.
    ** The springs do not, as has been stated, afford a pressure of thirty or forty pounds, but only thirteen pounds.” Bramah and Co.
    * * “Much more than any lock ever had that was made for use, and quite enough for a test lock.” – Mr. Hobbs.


    that their notation can only be expressed by some eighteen or nineteen figures. It is, in point of fact, a permutation lock, similar in its principle to those which have been recently introduced to public notice in France, and upon which Mr. Newell’s lock, exhibited by Mr. Hobbs, is made. It was found, on examining the interior of the lock, that portions of the slides presented the appearance of having been considerably bent and straightened again,* and their surfaces showed marks of their having been filed a great deal; several of them, indeed, being nearly filed through. The slides, it appeared, were made of iron, which could easily be bent to any shape, and it was stated by one of the workmen that, had one of Messrs. Bramah’s present locks with steel slides been given to Mr. Hobbs, he could never have opened it. The old familiar board, with the same challenge, will, we were informed, occupy its old place in a few days, and one of the locks now manufactured by Messrs. Bramah,* * with such improvements as have been made in it up to the present time, will replace the original one made fifty years since. With the exception of the marks of the filing upon the slides, the lock did not appear to be in any way injured or deranged. * * *

    * “A thing quite impossible to be done in the lock.” – Mr. Hobbs.
    * * “The same lock is now being fitted up with the improvements which Bramah and Co. have adopted for some years past, and some trifling change suggested by the recent trial.” – Messrs. Bramah.
    * * * This does not accord with the previous statement “that portions of the sliders presented the appearance of having been bent and straightened again.


    “It may be doubted whether these experiments have been productive of any practical result. Mr. Hobbs has increased his fame and reputation as a clever and skilful manipulator, and Messsrs. Bramah will pay the £200. Beyond this, no practical end or purpose whatever has been obtained. Messrs. Bramah are not informed of the mode in which the lock was opened, neither have they been furnished with any instrument that opens the lock, which will enable them to make such alterations as the existence of any such instrument would require, in order to give additional security to their locks. Neither has it answered any scientific purpose, or added one iota to the stock of knowledge previously existing on so important a subject as that of the mechanism of locks, for neither the arbitrators nor Messrs. Bramah saw anything of the process by which the lock was opened. The result of the experiment as simply shown that, under a combination of the most favourable circumstances, and such as practically could never exist, Mr. Hobbs has opened the lock.
    “In the first place, no person was admitted into the room where the lock was* besides the operator for sixteen days; the key was never applied to the lock during that time, as would have been the case

    * “Mr. Smith was in the room several times, and on my second visit to the lock he introduced Lord -; and on my third visit I allowed Mr. Smith and the foreman of Messrs. Bramah’s lock manufactory to examine the lock.” – Mr. Hobbs.


    almost daily in any lock in ordinary use; and the application of the key at any time during the operations of Mr. Hobbs would either have placed all the slides in their correct position, and thus have obliged the operator to begin de novo after each application,* or would have shewn that the lock had been tampered with, and would in this case act as a “detector” lock. The padlock, instead of swinging loosely from the staple, as in ordinary cases, was securely fixed; and instead of being fastened in or upon iron, it was secured in wood, which afforded additional facilities for screwing and securing the apparatus.* * He had also the undisturbed use of his trunk of instruments.
    “In order to have tested the practical value of the lock, it should have been picked or opened under circumstances more in accordance with those which attend the ordinary employment and uses of lock, or similar to the plan adopted on the trial of Mr. Newell’s lock at Boston, an account of which is given in the pamphlet distributed by Mr. Hobbs at the Great Exhibition. From this account it appears that the lock to be operated upon was placed on an iron chest and locked by the committee, in whose hands the key remained during the trial, and was to be used at the discretion of the committee, in unlocking and locking the door,

    * This was in strict accordance with the agreement.
    * * “This was exactly what I did.” – Mr. Hobbs.


    without the knowledge of either of the other parties; but in doing so no alteration of the combination or form of the key was to be made during the process of trial. The operating party had to leave 200 dollars in the hands of the cashier, to be paid to Day and Newell’s agent for the lock, in case it should be injured in the process; and the lock, in such case, was to be given up to the party making the trial.* The time allowed to the operator was one week to operate, and two days to examined the lock previous to commencing operations. Failing these tests, we think that Messrs. Bramah have no reason to regret affording to Mr. Hobbs the
    fullest opportunity of making trial of his skill; and we cannot refrain from expressing our admiration of the great talents and abilities of the late Mr. Joseph Bramah, who, fifty years since, constructed a lock which, after undergoing sixteen days’ manipulation of, confessedly, one of the most skilful mechanics of dour day, yielded only to the combined action of a number of fixed and moveable instruments made and applied for that purpose.
    “We have no wish, in any remarks which we have made, to appear to detract in the least degree from the merit due to the perseverance and the great ability and skill of Mr. Hobbs; and the propriety and good feeling shown by him under

    * “ The price of the lock to which Mr. Hobbs’ certificate, contained in his pamphlet, refer, appears as before stated to be upwards of £50.”


    circumstances of an exceedingly trying character have been exceedingly creditable to him. We are bound, however, to state that, in our opinion, he has done nothing calculated in the least degree to affect the reputation of Messrs. Bramah’s lock; but his exertions have, on the contrary, greatly confirmed that opinion that, for all practical purposes, it is impregnable.”
    In an article in the Morning Chronicle newspaper of the 10th of September (1851) is the following announcement: -

    “The Messrs. Bramah having ascertained, by opening their lock, that it had not been materially injured by the operations of Mr. Hobbs, yesterday forwarded to Mr. G. Rennie, one of the arbitrators, a cheque for the 2000 guineas awarded by them to Mr. Hobbs. The cheque was accompanied by a letter, of which the following is a copy, and in it Messrs. Bramah state the grounds of their protest against the decision of the arbitrators: -*
    “124, Piccadilly, September 9, 1851.
    “Dear Sir, - We beg to acknowledge your letter of yesterday’s date and will not trouble you to attend here to-morrow, but beg to hand you the £210 awarded by the arbitrators to Mr. Hobbs. We need scarcely repeat that the decision at which the arbitrators have arrived has surprised us much. We owe it to ourselves and the public to protest against it, and we do so for the following reasons: -

    * “Compare this letter and objections with the terms and conditions agreed upon before commencing the trial.” – Mr. Hobbs.


    “1. Because the arbitrators having been appointed to see ‘fair play,’ and that the lock was fairly operated upon, did not, although repeatedly requested in writing to do so, once inspect* or allow any one to witness Mr. Hobbs’ operations during the sixteen days he had the sole custody of the lock and was engaged in the work.
    “2. Because that arbitrators did not once exercise their right of using the key, although repeatedly requested in writing to do so, till after Mr. Hobbs had completed his operations, and ten, instead of applying it at once, to prevent no damage had been done to the lock, allowed him twenty-four hours to repair any that might have occurred.
    “3. Because the lock being opened by means of a fixed apparatus screwed to the woodwork, in which the lock was enclosed for the purpose of the experiment (which it is obvious could not have been applied to any iron door without discovery), and the addition of three or four other instruments, the sprit of the challenge has evidently not been complied with.
    “4. Because, form the course adopted, and opportunity of some good scientific results has been taken from us, as neither arbitrators nor any one else saw the whole, or event the most important instruments by which it is said the lock s picked, actually applied in operation, either before or after the lock was presented open to the arbitrators.
    “5. Because, during the progress of Mr. Hobbs’ operations, and several days before their completion, we called the attention of the arbitrators to which we considered the interpretation of the challenge, begging at the same time that they would apply the key, and appoint some one to be present during the residue of the experiment, feeling that, whatever might be the result in a scientific point of view, the reward could not be awarded. We would add that we think that several points which appear on you minutes should have been eninted in you aard, more especially that

    * “Mr. Hobbs stated he preferred no one being present, as it made him nervous. If the operation was so delicate – what chance would a burglar have?” – Messrs. Bramah.


    Mr. Hobbs, on the end of June, took a wax impression* of the lock, and had made, as far as he could, instruments therefrom between that date and the commencement of his operations.
    “We are, dear Sir, your obedient Servants,
    (signed) “BRAMAH AND CO.
    “George Rennie, Esq., Chairman of the
    Bramah Lock Committee.”

    From “The Bankers’ Magazine,” October, 1851.
    “It will be seen from the notice of the proceedings which we now publish that Mr. Hobbs was engaged on the lock from July 25th to August 23rd, and that the number of days actually employed in working at the lock, independent of those occupied in making his instruments, was sixteen. We think a lock which could stand this test is perfectly safe for all practical purposes. Very few burglars have the scientific knowledge possessed by Mr. Hobbs, and none could have the same opportunities for opening a lock which secured anything of value. Although, therefore, we regret that Mr. Hobbs has been able to show that one of the best locks in the kingdom is not impregnable, we think he has shown at the same time its excellence, and that Bramah’s locks may be relied on with perfect confidence as able to defeat any attempt of the most expert thieves and burglars.
    “From what we now learn of the construction of Bramah’s lock, it seems that, had it been made within the last few years, and with steel slides as now employed, instead of iron slides, Mr. Hobbs would not have been able to open the lock; and without detracting from the ingenuity and industry he displayed, we think that his success was, in some degree, a matter of chance that might never happen again.”

    To the Editor of the “Morning Chronicle.”
    “124, Piccadilly, London, October 10, 1851.

    “SIR, - This controversy having excited an unusual degree of public attention for some time past, perhaps you will be good

    *‘This means as far as he could through the keyhole.” –Messrs. Bramah


    enough to allow us to state in your journal that the lock on which Mr. Hobbs operated had not been taken to pieces for many years, and it was only on examining it (after the award of the committee) that we discovered that startling fact, that in no less than three particulars it is inferior to those we have made for years past. The lock had so long remained in its resting place in our window, that the proposal of Mr. Hobbs somewhat surprised us; after his appearance, however, no alteration could of course be made without our incurring the risk of being charged with preparing a test lock for the occasion. We were, therefore, bound in honour to let the lock remain as Mr. Hobbs found it when he accepted the challenge. No one inspected his operations during the sixteen days he had the sole custody of the lock and was engaged in the work. We are compelled to adventure another 200 guineas in order that we may see the lock operated upon and opened, if it be possible, and thus gain such information as will enable us to use means that would defy even the acknowledged skill of our American friends. We believe the Bramah lock to be impregnable, and we cannot open it ourselves with the knowledge Mr. Hobbs has given us. We have fitted up the same lock with such improvements as we now use and some trifling change suggested by the recent trial, and restored it with its challenge to our window.* We have not done this in a vain boasting spirit – on the contrary, we feel it rather hard that from the way in which the former trial was conducted we are driven to adopt this course –had any one inspected Mr. Hobbs’ operations during that trial it would not have been necessary.
    “We are your obedient Servants,

    From “The Times” of September 4th, 1851.
    “The lock on which Mr. Hobbs operated was made fifty years ago, and had not been opened during thirty-four years –

    * “The lock remained in the window for four months expressly for Mr. Hobbs to make a second trial. He did not make the attempt: it was then only ‘removed to stop the idle applications of men and boys,’ which took up one person’s time to attend to.” – Messrs. Bramah.


    it does not contain the more recent improvements* in at least three particulars, and had remained so long in the window of Messrs. Bramah and Co., without an experiment having been attempted, that the proposal of Mr. Hobbs somewhat surprised them; after his appearance, however, no alteration could of course be made without incurring the risk of being charged with preparing a test lock for the occasion. Messrs. Bramah and Co. have fitted up ** the same lock with such improvements as they now use, which they feel sure will effectually frustrate the attacks of persons as skilful as the celebrated American, and have restored it with its challenge to the place of honour it has occupied in their window, 124, Piccadilly, for half a century. Mr. Hobbs has not made a second attempt, although invited to do so.
    “The public, while they admire the expertness with which this mechanical feat has been performed, will not attach more importance to it than it deserves, or undervalue the merit of our best locks, because an American operator, highly accomplished in such matters, has succeeded, after an arduous struggle, in opening them. The facilities given to him were such as no thief could ever possess, even if he had the necessary ability; and it is quite clear that the operation has not been one of ordinary picking.”
    The following is a description, so far as can be given in words, of the mode in which Mr. Hobbs operated on the Bramah lock: - “The first point to be attained was to free the sliders from the pressure of the spiral spring; the spring was very powerful, pressing with a force of between thirty and forty pounds; and until this was counteracted, the sliders could not be readily moved in

    * “The lock was the same in every particular as the locks made and sold by Messrs. Bramah at the present day.” – Mr. Hobbs.
    ** “The lock was fitted with a tap, so that anything but its true key, or the true key with the least dust in it, would so disarrange the lock that it could not be opened by any means applied through the keyhole.” –Mr. Hobbs.


    their grooves. A thin steel rod, drilled at one end, and having two long projecting teeth, was introduced into the keyhole and pressed against the circular disc (see b, fig. 122), between the heads of the sliders; the disc and spring were pressed as far as they would go. In order to retain them in this position, a curved stanchion as screwed into the side of the boards surrounding the lock, and the end brought to press upon the steel rod, a thumb-screw passing through the drilled portion of the instrument and keeping it in place. The sliders being thus freed from the action of the spring, operations commenced for ascertaining their proper relative positions. A plain steel needle, with a moderately fine point, was used for pushing in the sliders; while another, with a small hook at the end, something like a crochet-needle, was used for drawing them back when pushed too far. By gently feeling along the edge of the slider the notch was found and adjusted, and its exact position was then accurately measured by means of a thin and narrow plate of brass, the measurements being recorded on the brass for future reference. The operator was thus enabled by this record to commence each morning’s work at the point where he left off on the previous day. The lock having eighteen sliders, the process of finding the exact position of the notch in each was necessarily slow. Mr. Hobbs employed a small bent instrument to perform the part of the small lever or bit of the


    key; with this he kept constantly pressing on the cylinder which moved the bolt. He thus knew that if ever he got the slide-notches into the right place, the cylinder would rotate and the lock open. He could feel the varying resistance to which the sliders were subjected by this tendency of the cylinder to rotate; and he adjusted them one by one until the notch came opposite the steel plate. The false notches added, of course, much to his difficulty; for when he had partially rotated the cylinder by means of the false notches, he had to being again to find out the true ones.”*
    Mr. Hobbs, in answer to our enquiries relative to several statements in the foregoing extracts, has furnished us with the following particulars, in addition to the footnotes on previous pages :-


    “July 23.- In the room …….. 0 hours 12 minutes
    “July 25.- In the room……… 0 hours 35 minutes
    “July 27.- In the room……… 3 hours 25 minutes
    “July 29.- In the room……… 7 hours 15 minutes
    “July 30.- In the room……… 7 hours 15 minutes
    18 hours 42 minutes;

    being the whole time from commencing until the cylinder was turned round. After turning the cylinder, I was in the room putting up my tools, &c., 45 minutes. When the cylinder began to turn I found that my instrument was not strong enough,

    * Tomlinson’s Rudimentary Treatise on the Construction of Locks.


    and I then left the room and did not return till the next day, when upon calling at Messrs. Bramah'’ I was refused admission into the room, and was excluded until the return of the arbitrators, when I was permitted to commence my second operation, and began by first getting back, the cylinder to its original position. I was in the room on

    “August 19th…….. 7 hours 15 minutes
    “August 20th ……… 7 hours 20 minutes
    “August 21st ……… 1 hour 10 minutes
    “August 22nd ……… 7 hours 0 minutes
    22 hours 45 minutes;

    I then readjusted the cylinder, and on August 23rd I was in the room 1 hour and 55 minutes, and picked the lock. The time occupied in the actual operation of picking the lock was 20 hours 37 minutes. The time spent in re-adjusting the cylinder, an accident caused by the unusual strength of the spring, was 22 hours 45 minutes. I afterwards picked the lock three times within an hour, in the presence of the arbitrators.”
    We shall conclude this chapter with the following extract from Fraser’s Magazine for November, 1852, relative to the Jury’s Report on Locks: -
    “This jury seems to have consisted of the only persons in England who did not hear of the famous ‘lock controversy’ of last year; for one can hardly imagine that, if they had heard of a matter of so much consequence to the subject they were appointed to investigate, they would have altogether abstained


    from saying anything about it. They may be excused for not knowing, because very few people did know, fortunately for our safes and strong boxes, that the mode of picking Bramah’s and Chubb’s locks, by which the transatlantic Hobbs gained so much glory, was suggested and explained in the Encyclopaedia Britannica nearly twenty years ago. But it does seem very strange that they, or at least their reporter, should not have known, long before the report finally left his hands, that Hobbs had picked both of those locks, and taught every lock-picker in England how to do it, if he possesses the requisite tools and fingers. Of course, however, the reporter did not know it, as nobody could read any newspaper last autumn without knowing it. And this jury did exercise their judgement to the extent of declaring that Hobbs’ own lock (under the name of Day and Newell) ‘seems to be impregnable.’ Notwithstanding all which, they express their inability to ‘offer any opinion of the comparative security afforded by the various locks that have come before them.’ The only discrimination which they venture to make is that the keys of Bramah’s and Chubb’s locks are of convenient size, while Hobbs’ is ponderous and bulky,. And his lock complicated; and they might have added (without any very painful amount of investigation) enormously expensive, in consequence of its complication, and probably also more likely, on the same account, to get out of order and stick, fast, and so become rather inconveniently impregnable on the money-door of a bank, for instance – than the other two locks, especially Bramah’s.”

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2006


    For anyone wondering ive just looked at my book and the pictures refered to dont really show anything.

    Thats a good read and as such has given me the enthusiasm to read the full book, thanks for posting it.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    West Midlands, UK


    I concur, an excellent read. Thanks for putting it up.

    I'd figured out that jamming down the mainspring was the first step, but beyond that it would seem to be slow trial and error, or some kind of neat decoder.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    Country: Australia


    Quote Originally Posted by NKT
    I concur, an excellent read. Thanks for putting it up.

    I'd figured out that jamming down the mainspring was the first step, but beyond that it would seem to be slow trial and error, or some kind of neat decoder.
    I would not say trial & error, but true tentative picking ..

    It is interesting to note that the rebuilt version of the padlock has a spring under every slider ..

    The pictures do not add much to the text, but I can put them up if desired.


  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    West Midlands, UK


    Putting a spring under each slider is a fatal error, however. With a single mainspring, impressioning is impossible. With a number of springs, impressioning becomes rather easier. Just look at the tubular lock problems of last year!

    The perfect design would be to have (say) three sliders with one spring, and three more with one spring, etc. as then neither method would be effective.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    Country: Australia


    Quote Originally Posted by NKT
    Putting a spring under each slider is a fatal error, however. With a single mainspring, impressioning is impossible. With a number of springs, impressioning becomes rather easier. Just look at the tubular lock problems of last year!

    The perfect design would be to have (say) three sliders with one spring, and three more with one spring, etc. as then neither method would be effective.
    I disagree, impressioing the bramah mechanism with a spring under each slider would be far from easy, and comparing the design to RPT is not an accurate analogy.

    The problem basically would lie with the very small " friction " area of the slider that could interact with the end of a keyblank - also the part of the slider that you would be trying to get to mark the key would be very thin, quite hard and unsupported. The result being bent / broken slides and marks that would be so indistinct as to be useless.

    I will not go into a detailed analysis of the techniques of impressioning here, but I do know a fair bit & do a lot of impressioning and am quite sure that it would not work.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    May 2005
    Country: Germany

    Default impressioning a bramah lock

    Just to keep it right - there is no comparison between the bramah mechanism and a common tubular mechanism.
    Even with a spring under each slider impressioning is not possible in my opinion ( having false cuts makes it worse, if it is possible at all )
    Impressioning a modern tubular lock is only possible, as these modern locks have top and bottom pins - a bramah lock only has sliders.
    It is a fault in the construction.
    Tubular impressioning is possible, as all lower pins are of the same length.
    The tension of the springs, when the shereline is created, is in every spring the same. That is not the way it is in a bramah mechanism. All springs have different tension relating to the depth the slider has to be pressed down.
    We all know these tubular picks - when the sliders on the pick are set to the right tension and pressed into the tubular lock all sliders move back to the level until the pressure leverage is the same on all pin positions.
    In my opinion false notches and springs under each slider makes it more difficult to pick a bramah lock, but that is my personal opinion as I have not tried the difference.
    Picking a central spring bramah lock is not such a hard challenge when you have the right tools. I am not speaking from modern bramah locks, only from the older ones. - sorry for the bad quality of the pictures, but it gives an idea of the tool design.
    The one on my pictures is made from spokes.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails bramahpick1.jpg   bramahpick2.jpg  

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    West Midlands, UK


    That's a nice picture. Have you had much success with it?

    As regards impressioning, I spent a while with a Dutch locksmith, trying to impression a modern Bramah open, but, of course, to no avail. He was rather annoyed, but when I explained the internals, and then stripped the lock, he was suprised, because he hadn't seen one with a single spring before. He has impressioned many Bramah style locks with individual springs, and is a well respected lockie on the continent.

    I agree that the false notches would confuse the issue somewhat, but I think that it would still be possible.

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