Thursday, August 12, 2010

A 17th Century Treasure Chest

Thursday, August 12, 2010
Loretta reports:

Continuing the Illustrated Edition of Last Night’s Scandal

A reader asked about the “German chest” my heroine tackles in the course of the story.

The Victorians, who had a tendency to…um…make stuff up, called these devices Armada Chests, and claimed that they were “treasure chests” from the Spanish Armada.  They weren't.  They were not from the Tudor period, but later—17th-18th C, and were mostly German-made.

My explorations turned up lots of images of these chests, still called Armada chests, and most usually for sale by antique dealers.

Non-copyright illustrations are hard to find, but this Google search will show you many examples—along with some completely irrelevant pictures.

The Grove Encyclopedia of Materials and Techniques in Art describes chests and strongboxes “fashioned from iron.   Outstanding examples include the Armada Chest made in Nuremberg in the 17th century…a form of early safe."  You can read the full entry here.

I came upon the phenomenon by accident—or serendipity—when I was looking for a chest to use in my story.  A search for an "iron-bound chest" brought me to this this delightful inquiry at

I loved the complicated mechanism, the several keys, etc.  Until this point, I’d no idea such things had existed.  Those of you familiar with my characters will understand how perfect this was for my purposes.

The photograph above was taken at West Gate Towers and Museum, St Peter's Street, Canterbury, Kent by Linda Spashett (Storye book).   Clicking on the link will bring you to its page on Wikimedia Commons, where you can enlarge the photo for a closer look.


AnneH said...

Thank you, Loretta. Those chests are very interesting. I’m absolutely fascinated by the descriptions at and the sequence that has to be followed to open the chest. Having seen a sample of the chest and how complicated it is, I have to say that Olivia is pretty impressive when it comes to breaking locks. *g*

Finegan Antiques said...

I'm an antique dealer and at one time I had one of these chests for sale. Needless to say I found it fascinating and beautiful.


Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Great photograph, Loretta - exactly as I imagined it. And how like those cavalier Victorians to call these "Armada" chests!

Marilyn said...

Wouldn't it be lovely to own one of these? I would fill it with Baubles and some real jewelry and feel like I had some real treasure.

If I were prosaic I would keep the silver in it!

Unknown said...

My father received a similar box from the estate of his aunt. He had the box x rayed and there were contents inside. The key was missing long ago. After some time a key was manufactured, and we were able to open the box. Inside were my great-aunts love letters from the 1930s.

Anonymous said...

my god father had 2 of these chests, one larger like a ice chest and one smaller like a foot locker (one from an estate of a friend of the families, and one from a antiques dealer) very very very fun to play with growing up and imagining what all has been in it. i have been on the search for ones for sale for years... very cool. the keys are also very intricate and almost always very similar.... with the "heart" shaped ring and often "crosses" in the teeth of the key.

Anonymous said...

If anyone ia looking for one of these i have one from the 1500 century. i live in ontario canada you can email me for more info.

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