Abstract: Security without disfiguring the furniture: The Chubb Lock and Safe Business and the Aesthetics of the Burglar-Proof Home in Britain, 1860-1939

Eloise Moss


Late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Britain was a country beset by twin concerns: the steadily increasing number of burglaries, and the need to evoke status through the appearance and possessions of one's home. As successive governments sponsored police campaigns for homeowners to do more to safeguard their property, the lock and safe industry responded with sophisticated designs for ornamental locks and enamelled safes that sought to fulfill consumers' desire for security within the context of a beautiful home. Examining the product development and advertising of the Chubb Lock and Safe Co., this paper argues that state-enforced representations of crime served as the motor for commercial enterprise and aesthetic appeal alike, uniting safety with ideals of artistic domesticity. As such, the home's interior reflected an interplay between boundaries and furnishings, the latter disguising the former to evoke carefree residential harmony. Scholarship on the history of domestic space has treated decoration and security separately, disregarding their combined effect on the appearance of homes—and ignoring the breadth of commercial imperatives at work in the design of security technologies. Juxtaposing Chubb's products against political discourse on crime and cultural preoccupations with aesthetics, this paper illustrates the intersection of media, state, and market in devising commercially lucrative preventative technologies.