Holmes Electric Time Lock Company, New York, NY,
Model 1 and Model 2
In the late 1870's the Holms Electric Time Lock Company debuted its first of
four models, of the Holms Electric time lock. Charles Chinnok, a Holms
employee, first applied for the patent underlying the design in 1876, but
was not granted until April 1, 1879, and though the Holms model may have
been made prior to the patent date, no examples from the pre-patent period
are known. Interestingly, engraving on the Holms Electric also claims
an 1872 patent assigned to Holms by Isaac and Abraham Hertzberg for an
"apparatus automatically regulating flame of gas burners." The relevance for
a patent for an automatically regulated gas burner is not entirely clear,
although this may have been an attempt at patent priority. Throughout the
time lock -related litigation, a number of diverse patents were relied on
for priority with little success. The first movement movement production
order was from E. Howard in July 1879 for 105 time locks. The two E. Howard
movements are of the same dimensions that E. Howard used for Yale's Double
Pin dial and some of the components were interchangeable. A small "disabling
latch" on the lower right of the front plate, which keeps the time lock from
closing, avoiding accidental time-locking of a safe during the business day.
Such a latch would not appear on a Yale design until after 1900 or on a
Sargent design until after 1920. The two movements turn a single twenty-four
hour central that sets an opening period during each day, allowing the user
to set the daily lock and unlock times once and simply wind the time lock
The major innovation in the Holms Electric was its backup system, a two
pendulum electromagnetic mechanism visible across the top of the case.
During installation a wire was connected to the contact visible on the top
of the case (see example below) and run to a contact on the exterior of the
vault door. In the event that both timers failed, the external contact was
connected to an independent pendulum that was manually moved back and forth,
sending pulses to two solenoid coils in the time lock that advanced the
movements until the lock released ( see photo of that unit below).
(1) Other time lock makers during this
early period had other schemes to override the time lock should it fail, but
only Holms used an electromechanical design. Consolidated's
and Lewis Lillie
had employed mechanical means.
Patent drawings in connection with the first version of the Holms Electric
Time Lock applied for in 1876 but not granted until April 1, 1879, #213,809.
A. (Edwin) Holms Electric, Model 1, c. 1879. This is an example of a rare
subset of time locks. So called 'transitional' time locks. These were produced for a brief
period of time during the early development of the time lock when the reliability of the
mechanical watch movements were not fully trusted. So a secondary way of unlocking the
vault door was devised in case of their failure. This lock had an electrical system fed by
low voltage batteries which would, in case of failure of both time lock movements, unlock
the mechanism. Soon it was realized that this was not necessary as the movements rarely
failed and with the fact that they were devised with at least one or two (later sometimes
three) additional redundant movements the chances of complete failure becomes very remote.
The very fact that a way to override the time lock existed in these transitional models,
violated the basic purpose of the time lock concept - that the door could not be opened
under any circumstances before the appointed time. For another example of such a
transitional lock see the Consolidated time lock combined with an emergency secret
combination lock here. The lock could be set for day or
night operation. This lock is a very early example as there are no patent dates found on
the movement (see below). The diamond machined pattern on the case and the
camel back window design as well as the door hinge configuration closely
match those of the Edward Stewart
time lock made at about the same time. 7 7/8"w x 5"h x 3 1/4"d. Case #150, movement
#199. file 142
Model 2 incorporated a seventy-two hour movement allowing for the skipping
of days for weekends. That device is the small circular copper colored disk
near the 4 o'clock position of the main center dial, second photo.
The first photo shows the patent plate that appeared in the Holm second
iteration of their second model. These show Henry F. Newbury's patents. In
1882, Newbury, a Holms employee, found that Yale and Sargent time locks were
vulnerable to a small charge of dynamite detonated against the safe door.
Such an explosion could either release or disable these time locks. Soon
after, Newbury was granted a series of nine anti-concussion patents. The two
1882 patents and the January 1883 patents match any patent on record with
the Patent and trademark Office, but they may refer to the anti-concussion
patents. There is some speculation that Holms intentionally misdated the
plaque. While Newbury did have patent protection, this was useful only if
Holms could identify infringing time locks - a difficult task, since
Newbury's anti-dynamite designs were subtle changes in the internal
construction of the time lock. Hence, Holms may have included these dates to
advertise that the technology was patented while trying to keep the
published details obscured. The fourth patent date of April 29, 1884 and is
#297,623 is for the New Electric design itself.
The second photo shows a pair of pendulums located in recess areas within
the back of the lock. These pendulums are connected to coil paddles in the
photo below and prevent those paddles from being pushed too fast. The
inertia provided by the pendulums prevent someone from trying to override
the time lock too quickly. This provision was necessary since the
Holmes gear ratio between the paddle ratchets and the final override
connected to the main dial was relatively low. No one wanted the override to
be used to by pass the time lock unless the lock failed and so the idea was
that anyone trying to override the the time lock would need to take so much
time as to either be authorized or if otherwise, would be discovered in due
course before successfully bypassing the the time lock. The
made by the Consolidated Company was another example of a time lock override
system but used a very high gear ratio to get around this problem. In that
case the operator could not override the lock quickly because of the very
high number of turns one needed on the input verses the output gear that
actuated the override mechanism.
The upper section of the first photo shows the mechanical paddles. The pair
of rods near the bottom are what insert into the pair of pendulums shown in
the photo of the rear of the time lock above. The lower photo section are
the pair of coils that electically actuate each paddle sequentially thus
advancing the center gear seen in the same photo. The second photo shows the
device used to electrically actuate the paddles. It has a pendulum which
connects to contacts which, in turn, actuate the coils within the time lock,
activating the paddles, slowed by the pendulums located behind the time lock
and driving the center gear to override the time lock. One can see how
without the moderating pendulums within the time lock itself, someone could
simply grasp the pendulum on the external pendulum unit and try to quickly
override the lock. Similarly one could simply take two wires from the system
and quickly tap them together.
Patent drawings in connection with the second version named
the New Holms Electric Time Lock, April 29, 1884, #297,623.
B. Holms New Electric, a.k.a. version #2, c. 1884. The Holms
company made three styles of the second version. This example being the third. In 1882,
Henry F. Newbury, a Holms employee, found that the Yale and Sargent locks were vulnerable
to a small charge of dynamite detonated against the door. Such an explosion could release
or disable those time locks. Soon after Newbury was granted a series of nine
anti-concussion patents. This version included those technologies, see spring loaded bolts
around case, and the decorative flange (photo #1 and clasp #4) illustrate these patent
dates. (2) The movement also has patent dates for Holms on the front
movement plate in addition to the maker's logo - E. Howard & Co.; making this one of
the more engraved locks. Case #21, movement #350. file 63
This was such a highly regarded time lock that both E. Howard, the
company that made the movements for most of the time lock industry, and the U.S. Treasury
Department used it. Unfortunately for Holms this corporate snub brought down the ire of
the much more powerful Yale company, resulting in a patent infringement lawsuit and the
end of the Holms Electric Time Lock Company. Of the 350 or so Holms time locks produced
only ten are known today. (1) Of those three are of the
first version, with the remaining of the second version. Below a Holms
mounted in a Herring Hall double dial vault door.
Below is a photo of a Holms Model 1 mounted to a safe door.
(1) American Genius Nineteenth
Century Bank Locks and Time Locks, David Erroll & John Erroll, pp 210.
(2) American Genius Nineteenth
Century Bank Locks and Time Locks, David Erroll & John Erroll, pp 209.