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HISTORY OF LOCKS Introduction to Hobbs and


the Parautoptic Lock By Brian Morland


The ‘Parautoptic’ lock (from Greek


and meaning – hidden from view), or ‘Transmutable Change Key Lock’ to give its contemporary name, is not the rarest of the Victorian locks by any means. However it is the one that symbolises that pivotal moment, the 1851 Great Lock Controversy, when English lock making was rocked to its foundations by an American, A C Hobbs, and is therefore iconic for several reasons.


But to set the scene


Locksmiths and keysmiths today can very often read and memorise a key just from sight and so it was back in the early 19th century particularly as most locks were of the simpler warded and or tumbler design. And if the key was not available an inspection of the keyhole achieved the same result.


The idea of a lock that had the ability to re-adjust its combination at will was first conceived in America during the early 19th century. Soloman Andrews patented in 1836 a lock whereby the individual key steps and spacers could be assembled on to the key in any order. All that was necessary was to re-adjust the key steps and spacers and corresponding parts in the lock in a different order to change the combination. The key could be carried unassembled so that no clues would be given to the lock combination. All that was required to open the lock was to reassemble the key steps and spacers in the correct order. Once the lock was in the unlocked position the key steps rearranged and operated effectively changed the combination. This rendered any visual memorising or wax impression totally ineffective and obsolete.


Robert Newall further developed the idea in 1838 and again in 1844. He was a partner in the New York firm of Day and Newall. Although previous ideas solved the problems of visually memorising or taking an impression of a key it didn’t address the problem of exploring the lock via the keyhole.


Additional patents and


improvements meant that by 1844 the locks was a formidable device being the most secure as well as the most complicated at the time.


A young and enthusiastic salesman, Alfred Charles Hobbs,


travelled America on


behalf of his employer, Day and Newall demonstrating and installing their bank locks. His sales pitch was simple. He demonstrated to his potential customers, the bankers,


the vulnerability of their


existing locks, sometimes in moments. Once he had opened what their owners believed to be secure locks and more than adequate, the sale and installation of his own lock, the Parautoptic, was eagerly perused.


With his successes in America and his growing reputation Day & Newall felt confident enough to send Hobbs to represent them and to exhibit the lock at the Crystal Palace Great Exhibition of 1851. Hobbs must have been a little apprehensive as to what locks he would encounter and be


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4. WWW.KEYZINE.CO.UK


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