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This Gallery:-
 Ancient Style Padlocks 

Other Galleries include:-
Railway Padlocks
Seal Padlocks

Ancient Style Padlocks
Sliding Key Padlocks
Padlocks whereby the barbs are compresed by a sliding action.

external ward padlock iron barb padlock
Small brass spring-barb padlock with external wards, decorated.

Padlock: Brass body with steel barbs and shackle, 37mm wide x 43mm high x 16.5mm thick. Key: Cast brass, 71mm x 23mm wide.
Small iron spring-barb padlock with fretted and decorated brass panels.

Padlock: Iron body, barbs and shackle, 89mm wide x 41mm high x 10.5mm thick. Key: Iron,63mm x 10mm wide.

external ward padlock
External ward iron padlock, decorated.

Padlock: 78mm wide x 86mm high x 30mm thick. Key: 114mm x 43mm wide.

iron barb padlock iron barb padlock
Iron spring-barb padlock with fixed shackle, its the shackle eye that removes.

Padlock: Iron body, barbs and shackle, 263mm wide x 80mm high x 44mm thick. Key: Iron, 194mm.
Iron spring-barb padlock with external wards.

Padlock: Iron body, barbs and shackle, 211mm wide x 110mm high x 30mm thick. Key: Iron,157mm x 32mm wide.

Screw Key Padlocks
Padlocks whereby the barbs are compresed by a winding action.

Screw key padlock, key with internal thread Screw Key padlock, key with external thread
Iron screw key padlock with decorated brass panels. Key with internal screw thread.

Padlock: Iron body and shackle, 56mm wide x 66mm high x 27mm thick. Key: Iron, 51mm x 21mm wide.
Iron screw key padlock with external thread key.

Padlock: Iron body and shackle, 59mm wide x 73mm high x 32mm thick. Key: Iron, 50mm x 12mm wide.

Puzzle or Secret Padlocks
Padlocks whereby the barbs are compresed by a sliding, turning or winding action, but there is no obvious place to insert the key.

secret padlock from Napal
Large padlock with key, but no apparent keyhole!

Padlock: Iron body, barbs and shackle, 278mm wide x 70mm high x 48mm thick. Key: Iron, 156mm x 29mm wide.

Animal Shaped Padlocks
Padlocks whereby the barbs are compresed by a sliding, turning or winding action, but are formed in the shape of an animal.

Fish padlock with rotating key to compress the barbs.
Fish Shaped Padlock with Turning Key, decorated.

Padlock: Brass body with 2 barbs compressed by a turning action key, 175mm wide x 88mm high x 28mm thick.


Sub-catogories include:-
Sliding Key Padlocks
Screw Key Padlocks
Puzzle or Secret Padlocks
Animal Shape Padlocks

Spring Barb Padlocks

The spring barb padlock is a very ancient form of locking mechanism and is capable of an amazing variety of variations. No one knows who or where it was invented but is widespread in the Old World and seems to have its roots in the Middle and Far East regions. It first appears around the 1st or 2nd century BC and spreads to most parts of the Old World. It’s also likely that it’s one of those inventions that was transmitted via the activities of merchants and trade routes. The question is unlikely to be definitively answered.

The key, whether sliding or turning compresses a number of spring barbs which when locked block the shackle from being withdrawn. As the name suggests the barb, which is made from spring material and attached to the shackle, can be pushed forward through apertures, compressing the spring barbs as it goes and springing apart once locked, thereby preventing withdrawal. The correct key whether sliding or turning style compresses the barbs so that the shackle can be withdrawn back through the apertures and removed. Many locks also contain fixed ward elements as well.

Locks have been found in a variety of metals including cast brass, bronze and iron. Some are assembled by soldering or braising the various parts together whilst others are totally assembled by riveting. Embellishments in the form of decorated brass panels, or symbols add another dimension to the security of the lock

Each region or culture imbedded into their everyday products a certain amount of their own culture or belief system, padlocks by their very nature of keeping possessions safe were subject to design and embellishment features to increase its effectiveness. For example the Chinese Foo Dog, Fu Dog or Lion Dogs is a well-known symbol representing the Chinese guardian lions which in turn had its roots in the Buddhist tradition symbolising majesty and loyalty. They are depicted in pairs and are placed at the entrances to Temples, public buildings and even the home for protection and to ward of negative energies. One, a female with a cub, guarding or looking after the building owner’s family and interests, and the other, a male with a ball symbolising the globe and looks after the interests of man and civil order. When used in padlock form, particularly in pairs, they would have also been a powerful psychological deterrent.

Many other animal-shaped padlocks can be found which would convey a subliminal or subconscious message. The fish padlock for instance, popular in China at a very early date. The fish sleeps with its eyes open and therefore the inference is its always watching and on guard, or the elephant indicating strength. Its possible that a prospective purchaser of a padlock would base his decision primarily on his affinity with the deity, or spirit animal that was represented.

Another method adopted was the puzzle or secret padlock. Some with sliding keys others with turning keys and even some with both! However on first inspection no place can be found to insert the key. A secret shutter, panel or flap had first to be moved in such a way as to reveal the key hole. In 1889 a certain Sun Kam Shing patented his puzzle padlock (dated April 1st 1889 number 5556) which featured a secret or concealed keyhole, a feature which had been adopted for centuries!

Not all padlocks were intended to physically protect property. There were in many cultures other purposes for employing a padlock. In the Islamic world for instance, when visiting a shrine a pilgrim would tear of a strip of his clothing and attach it to the shrine grillwork with a padlock thus locking an affirmation, a practice which still continues today. Locksmiths would set up at the entrance making and selling padlocks for this purpose.

Another tradition, relating to women during confinement was the ceremonial application of a special knotted cord with a loop at each end and secured with a padlock. A cleric would chant and at the appropriate moment during the proceedings lock the tiny padlock around the waist of the mother to be. This would not be removed until the ninth month again with ceremony. The females of the family treasured these cords and padlocks, which were handed down from generation to generation.

In China a miniature padlock was traditionally given, particularly to the new-born, as an token of protection and well-being. These miniature padlocks were often made of gold or silver in wealthy families, and were also inscribed with symbols such as a five petal heart shaped blossom of the Prunus fruit trees. Five, being a sacred number, is also known as the Five Blessings or Happiness Blessings. Another motif popular for newly weds was a pair of birds which represent happiness. When used on a padlock the symbolic intention in either case is a wish locked to the individual or couple.

In fact the lock or the key has been used symbolically throughout the ages as a material expression of binding the intangible, providing insight or enlightenment. Take for instance the Papal cross keys to the gates of heaven or keys used in rituals and ceremonies – an aspect of the locksmiths craft that crops up again and again.

In modern times some padlocks carry on the symbolic or sub-conscious aspect such as Squirrel brand with the logo of two squirrels, implying “keeping goods safe until required”. Or Chubb’s fish logo suggesting it’s constantly on guard – could these also have been chosen as a psychological deterrent reinforcing the physical deterrent.

The spring barb padlock is still made today using the age old skills and techniques of a charcoal fire and a boulder as an anvil. As such it is almost impossible to date an example taken out of context and without provenance. Since the Industrial revolution discarded metal was recycled into all sorts of items including locks. One can imagine the Bedouin camped alongside a discarded steam engine gradually reducing the metal parts into a new lease of life. When travelling in the Middle and Far East very often these locks can be found in the more out of the way bazaars and flea markets and are even found without to much difficulty here in the UK, they were originally brought back as souvenirs. Most collectors accept that locks bought today at Bazaars whilst travelling or on holiday abroad may only be a few years old but what is important is that they are made in the traditional style and in the traditional way as generations of locksmiths did before. And in some small way this helps to keep the traditional craft of the locksmith alive.


 Page 1 of 1 Page for Spring-Barb Padlocks

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We are always looking for artefacts to add to this collection. Please contact the Curator if you can help us in our mission in any way.
We especially would like to hear from you if you, or your ancesters, were involved with locks and keys.

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This page was last updated May 2010