Blake's Bank Lock Inspection Co.'s Columbian time lock, Worchester,
The World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago was one of the great fin de
siècle technical fairs that showcased the fruits of the industrial revolution.
Along with the Exposition Universelle de Paris of 1889, the Columbian Exposition
offered a stage for innovators in all technical areas to introduce their
products in a high-profile arena. One of these was Blake's Bank Lock
Inspection Co. of Worcester, Massachusetts. Originally, Fredrick H. Blake
intended to compete with the time lock manufacturers to provide time lock
maintenance services, but he secured a series of patents in the early 1890's
culminating in patent #526,555 awarded September 25, 1894, for what would be
named Blake's Columbian time lock after its original venue, (see patent illustrations
Constructed under contract by E. Howard, the Columbian time lock used three
seventy-two hour modular movements notable for both their broad faces and the
three-plate construction. This allowed a person to reverse the direction of the
time lock movement and was one of the distinguishing features of this lock.
However, this ability was costly, pushing the price to $33.33 for each movement, making them the most expensive modular movements made prior to World War I.
Despite the expense, Blake's Columbian was successful, offering the prestigious
large-format movements found on even more expensive four-movement time locks,
such as Yale's 1893 Quad N, in a three-movement design. Author's comments: Perhaps a more apt
comparison would be the Triple N
for automatic bolt motors, or
Triple M used to dog conventional bolt work as
these were closer in size; the Yale Quads that used their largest 'M-sized"
movements were considerably larger. I have not seen any modular movement made
after 1914 that was more expensive, if anyone has knowledge to the contrary
please let me know. The fact that E. Howard Company records show seventy seven
movements were ordered by Blake, between 1893 and 1897, a four year period;
enough for only twenty five time locks does not, in this author's
opinion qualify as a successful product.
The Columbian's nickel-plated bronze case set it apart from its contemporaries
in both appearance and function. The case is plain except for the door, which
featured an unusually elaborate art nouveau design applied via acid etching.
Blake also included a unique reversible bolt mechanism. As claimed in his 1894
patent, the boltwork connector, shown here installed to the right, could be
exchanged with the threaded case plug from the opposite side, allowing the one
design to engage the safe bolt work from either the left or the right. Blake's
reversible bolt would be adopted, altered, and independently patented by many
other makers, eventually to become the design standard. Unfortunately for Blake,
he would never receive neither royalties or recognition during his time. (1)
The case has an acid-etched
art nouveau design design. Note the special hinge design reminiscent
of a safe door hinge.
The 36-hole disk rotate a dial hand against a fixed outer dial. The only other
time locks employing this reversal was the
Yale Type D and Type E, and Beard & Bro.
Type 1 and
Another view of the decorative hinges. There is no other time lock case I have
seen where such attention to detail has been paid to the door hinge design.
The first photo shows the E. Howard signature around the winding square. The
central brass time-disk with 36 holes and a rotating armature is what turns with
the time movement, the dial is fixed to the front plate. The number of hours
wound up on the movement is read off the small dial pointer against the fixed
dial ring. The next two photos clearly show the triple plate design needed to
allow the separation of the time movement train from the components that drive
the time disk. This allows one to remove the front plate and do the necessary
wheel changes to make the time disk to reverse rotation (description below).
Notice the platform balance and escapement wheel cocks are in plain brass in
contrast to their usual gilt decorative components seen in their regular run
movements supplied to other time lock makers. The only other E. Howard movements
I have seen with this plain finish are the
Company's Dalton Dual Guard and in a the limited number of Type 2
time locks made for the Beard Bros.
company which was later folded into the
Mosler company and resulted in their Model 1
and Model 2 locks before moving on to off the shelf Illinois Watch Co. #18 size
Model 4 pocket watch movements. Even so, At $33.33 each, these were the second
most expensive time lock movements made for the time lock industry by the Howard
company, surpassed only by the Dalton Dual Guard at $55.00. It is an interesting
observation that the most costly movements put out by Howard had some of the
plainest decoration in the platform assembly components.
Patent illustration Sheet 1. Note how the patent illustration is virtually
identical in every respect, even in all the internal components, the spring and
style and position of screws, to the final production run. This is rare. Usually
changes are made as the product proceeds from patent prototype to the production
run stages and is an indication that Blake had made this lock before he applied
for the patent, and is backed up by the fact it was displayed a year before the
the patent was granted at the Columbian Exposition. An alternative possibility
is that this is the patent model.
Patent illustration Sheet 2 and Sheet 3.
Blake claims several innovations in his patent but the significant ones relate
to his assertion that his lock was reversible. Meaning that it could be
applied to bolt work on either right or left-hand hinged safe doors as the
boltwork would be mirrored requiring the opening through which the bolt either
slides into the time lock case or a retracting device coming from the time lock
connecting to the bolt work would need to be located either on the right or left
hand side of the case. To accomplish this there must be three conditions.
The second condition is the most difficult. Up to this
point time lock makers simply made their time locks in a left and right
handed version. All makers with the exception of Diebold dealt with the
mirror issue by altering the snubber and dog assemblies, as well as drilling
the hole on the appropriate side of the case, leaving all of the movements
to to operate unchanged in one direction. Diebold issued movements that
rotated in both directions making clear warnings necessary to technicians
replacing movements to be sure the correct directional movement was being
used. It's hard to understand why Diebold took this route since one still
must alter the hole position in the case and the boltwork still had a
mirrored design. While it would be possible to simplify the bolt dogging
mechanism with a reversible time lock movement, Diebold still chose to make
custom mirrored dog and snubber bar assemblies.
It appears that Blake was trying to create a lock that
could be made reversible in the field. I have reversed the bolt dogging
mechanism in the lock and while not easy, it is straight forward, every step
of reassembly must be in the exact order. The lock came with a decorative
plug for the unused case hole.
The reversal of the time lock movement is quite ingenious,
but again is not something anyone can do, and here is where the unique and
expensive triple plate construction comes in. Referring to diagram Sheet 2
of the patent Blake explains "Thus when the time lock is for right hand
the gear is placed on the (square, winding) arbor with its toothed
portion to the front, (see Fig.10) and its teeth engage direct with the
time-disk gear; but when the time lock is for left-hand action the gear E is
slipped off the arbor and and replaced with its hub at the front, (it is
offsetting its toothed portion from the plane of the time lock disk-gear,
(see Fig. 11) and the change-gear 7 is moved into mesh with the said gears
by placing its stud into the hole 8, to act as an intermediate. Then the
time-disk is caused to have an opposite direction of rotation as that
indicated in Fig. 1" (on Sheet 1). Of course to do this one must first remove the front
plate to access the time disk, winding arbor gear and change gear, but this
can be done safely because the rest of the time lock movement is located
between the two lower plates and so remains intact. There is no need to let
down the mainspring or do any other special steps as far as the time
movement is concerned. However, this is not a simple procedure. One must
remove both the small dial indicator, and the central rotating hub
mechanism. The dial ring must also be removed by unscrewing three very tiny
watch screws and reversed, did I forget to say that this enamel ring is
quite fragile? To this author's knowledge no other maker tried to make an
"in the field" fully reversible time lock.
Another interesting innovation claimed by Blake is seen again on Sheet
2, Fig. 4 and Fig. 4a. Here there are notches 32 and 33 seen in Fig. 4a.
When the lock is on guard the bolt dog detent number 31 drops into notch 32
preventing backward forcing of the dog and thus the snubber bar to defeat the
lock. As the timers wind down to zero to bring the lock off guard, a
contoured section of the snubber bar comes in contact with the roller
attached to each timer movement armature attached to the rotating disk and
raises the detent out of the notch allowing the snubber to be pushed to the
left by the timers and put the lock off guard.
Notch 33 is used when the operator wants to set the time lock but
still wants it off guard for some period of time. He simply moves the
snubber bar to the left until the dog detent 31 drops into notch 33, thus
holding the snubber in the off guard position. The design of this feature is
of rather dubious use, if the operator forgets to release the snubber bar to
spring back to the on guard position he will be able to close the door and
the lock will remain off guard unbeknownst to him. Contrast this to the
device where one could set the time lock, put the lock temporarily off guard
and dial in a set amount of time until the owner wanted the lock to go on
guard and this would occur automatically without any further intervention
A visually distinguishing feature of this time lock other than the case and
the movement's triple-plate construction is the rotating disk with
thirty-six holes each covering a two hour period each. A rotating armature
which pivots on the disk's central axis and has attached to its end a
spring-loaded pin which can be raised to allow the armature to turn and then
drop into a hole to lock the armature in place. To use this the operator
winds the movement fully to where the small indicator hand attached to the
disk aligns to the line marked "wound up". The operator then simply rotates
the the armature to the number of hours he wants the lock on guard. The
advantage of this system is that as long as the operator winds the movement
to the mark "wound up" the opening time will always be the same until the
operator changes this with the rotating armature. There are several
disadvantages, the first being that the holes cover a two hour period, so
the operator really cannot just wind the movement to the "wound up" mark if
he needs to add or subtract an hour to the correct time. He must interpolate
the time. Worse this requires one to wind the movements at the same time
each day, otherwise if the armature is not moved, and one closes a couple of
hours late, the lock will go off guard two hours later in the morning. The
ease of use, accuracy and practicality is in all respects inferior to that
of a rotating dial that one would simply set to the number of hours one
wants the lock to remain on guard at the time the lock is wound.
The last innovation claimed is a snubber bar that swings
outward to allow the movements to be removed without having to remove any of
the dogging work including the snubber bar. However, to take advantage of
this feature one must still remove the four screws which holds the upper
plate covering the snubber assembly so this is not mush of an advantage to
the designs of Yale or S&G where a few screws will remove the snubber bar
Blake ordered at least seventy-seven movements from E. Howard between 1893
and 1897, enough for twenty-five time locks. It is not known just how many
of these were assembled, but the example shown here is the only known to
1893. This example is the same as illustrated in
American Genius is is probably the patent model for this time lock, pp.
284-285. 7 1/4"w x 5 1/4"h x 3 1/4"d.
Case #103, Movement #27, #28, #29.