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Home Safes - History etc
For many years prior to the BMB's commencement, home safes had been used by the Post Office Savings Bank, some building societies, and some of the trustee savings banks. (See item at foot of page - a reproduction of an article from the 'Scotsman' newspaper.) A particular proponent of this simple method of saving at home was the Manchester and Salford Savings Bank, and that bank was visited when the BMB was considering issuing their own safes.

Impressed with the results achieved by Manchester, the Bank decided in May 1922 that they should be introduced in Birmingham. The Bank committee, however, had one reservation: Manchester's home safes were foreign made, although, before the First World War they had been manufactured in Birmingham - by Kynoch at Witton. Obviously, it was unacceptable that Birmingham should purchase an item made from metal, other than in the world's 'metal bashing' capital!
 
Although the safes proved to be very popular with adults, the initial publicity in relation to home safes emphasised their beneficial use in developing the saving habit in children, as the text of a contemporary newspaper report of a Bank Committee meeting stated:

 

The committee decided, at an early date, to introduce a system of savings by means of home safes. By this means the committee hope to develop thrift among children. The safe will be of steel, manufactured in Birmingham. The Manchester and Salford Savings Bank introduced a similar system some years ago, and over half a million pounds has been paid into the bank through safes.


The Bank therefore approached several local firms with a view to placing its initial order for these strongly-made steel receptacles. However, the costs of making tools and installing the necessary machinery, together with the risk of not receiving repeat orders, caused several engineering firms to decline an order to produce the safes.

Eventually, Wilkins & Wright of Kenyon Street agreed to make 2,500 safes. These safes were quickly taken up by depositors, and repeat orders followed. Later, safes were also manufactured for the Bank by Taylor, Law & Co of Adams Street.
 
Each Home Safe was individually numbered, commencing at 1. The images (right) show the base of one of the earliest Home Safes (Number 1913), produced by Wilkins & Wright Ltd
 
The first 50 safes were delivered to the Bank from the manufacturers on November 16th 1922. The Home Safes Received and Distributed Record Book shows that the first 1,650 safes were delivered over a period of about seven weeks:
 
               
 
Home Safe Images
 
The Home Safes Received and Distributed Record Book indicates that the Bank maintained a very detailed record that monitored the whereabouts of each individual home safe. For example, the note in red ink against the entry for Home Safe No 1 (above) is: This safe transferred to Hall Green  22 April 1928. AGMs instructions. Amazingly, maintenance of these records at this level of detail continued for many years - the record for Home Safe No 1648 is annotated: transferred to Sandwell, June 1937; transferred to Kingstanding February 1962.
 
To qualify for a Home Safe, a depositor signed a form agreeing to pay 1/- (5 pence) and to keep a balance of at least 6/- (30 pence) in their account -  this latter amount was increased to 8/- from December 8th 1952. The initial fee was dropped later, but the retention sums were the amounts to be charged to a depositor for a Home Safe that was lost or wilfully damaged.
 
(The maintenance of detailed records for Home Safes at branch level was abolished in May 1966 when Head Office informed branches that:
A new procedure for dealing with Home Safes is instituted by the re-drafting of Instruction number 9; it will be noted that all Record Book entries for returned, re-issued and transferred Home Safes now cease and that the compilation of the annual return MB 78 and the maintenance of Home Safe History Cards is no longer necessary; these latter can be removed from the file and should be set aside for destruction in due course. The use of the Home Safe cash book will also be discontinued.)
 
The issue of Home Safes was marked by the following verses appearing in the Birmingham Mail, and the insertion of an advertisment:
 
The Song of the Home Safe
        I am modest in proportion,
        Quite a miniature affair;
        But I show you how to treasure
        Ev'ry copper you can spare.
 
        From the smallest of beginnings
        You will find I quickly teach
        How to climb by gentle stages,
        How the topmost rung to reach.
 
        For, remember the old adage
        That a penny saved is earned,
        There can be but sad refelctions
        On the money that is burned.
 
        Take me, therefore, to your bosom,
        And wherever you may roam
        You will find a friend if need be
        In your little safe at home.
(Robin Goodfellow)
 
In the first four months (December 1922 to March 1923) following
their introduction 2,469 safes were issued.
The popularity of the safes is illustrated by the following table
of  Number of Safes in Issue at March 31st:
    - 1925 ...... 11,052
    - 1930 ...... 55,417
    - 1935 ...... 92,520
    - 1940 .... 108,830
    - 1945 .... 114,668
    - 1950 .... 116,607
    - 1955 .... 120,861
    - 1959 .... 128,030

(1959 was the last year that Home Safe statistics were detailed in the Annual Report. In prior years, comprehensive figures were published.)
 
The demand for safes must have exceeded demand on may occasions. In July 1955, a letter from Thrifty of Great Barr was published in the  Birmingham Mail:
We are constantly exhorted to save more, but many prospective savers are handicapped through the shortage of home safes.
For the past nine months I have regularly asked for one at my own bank, the Municipal, only to be told that there are none available, new or returned.
A home bank teaches children the value of thrift besides accumulating those odd threepenny pieces, coppers and small silver that soon amount to pounds.
What is the reason for the shortage?
[A Municipal Bank official comments:
"There has been a shortage of home safes, and some of our 67 branches may have had difficulty in supplying one. If your correspondent will apply direct to Head Office, stating his pass book number, we will see that one is provided for him immediately."]
 
The Bank's records show that, in May 1938, the purchase of 10,000 additional Home Safes was approved. These were to be purchased from Messrs Wilkins & Wright Ltd at a cost of 2s 11d (15 pence) each. Based on the above statistics, it would seem that these additional safes met demand until the mid-1950s when the above correspondence occured.
 
Periodically, Home Safes needed to be returned to the manufacturer for repair. A report to the General Manager in 1947 stated that 1,081 safes were with Messrs Wilkins and Wright Ltd for this purpose. But the process was not proceeding smoothly - the safes had been dismantled but repairs had been delayed due to a shortage of labour. Wilkins and Wright stated that the cost of repairing, reassembling, re-coppering and re-bronzing would be 5/- (25 pence) each. They would, however, be prepared to undertake the repair of a further 500 (at a cost of 2/6d (12 pence) each) if the finish was by cellulose spraying in black instead of re-bronzing. The cheaper cellulose spraying alternative seems to have subsequently been the standard method of repair, resulting in many safes having this finish.
 
The Bank's home safe incorporated a slot at the top of one end, through which the saver deposited coins; the safe's mechanism preventing the coins being extracted via the slot. Emptying the safe was only possible through a locked door on the bottom - the key being held by the Bank. Periodically, therefore, the depositor took the safe into the Bank for its contents to be credited to his or her account. Opening the safe would sometimes reveal non-monetary items: small objects pushed in by infants; or even earwigs.

In due course, a small hole was added to the home safe at the opposite end from the slot; this was used to deposit rolled-up bank notes. Later issues of home safes included a smaller, oval design in nickel, and a book-shaped version. These were manufactured by Automatic Recording Safe Co Ltd (of London), and Pearson-Page-Dewsbury Co Ltd (of Birmingham), respectively.

Each safe was stamped with the unique number recorded in the Home Safes Received and Distributed Record Book, which was recorded on the depositor's ledger sheet and passbook when the safe was issued, following completion of the appropriate form. When the home safe was presented at the Bank to be opened, the cashier marked the deposit slip (eg "H/S") to indicate the source of the cash. Each day, at each branch, the number and amount of deposits by home safe was required to be entered into a record book - this record forming the basis of the annually reported statistics. These statistics can only be regarded as a rough guide, given the propensity of bored junior clerks to make up the figures when the task had not been done for a few days!

It was the task of each branch to balance its stock of home safes each month. This almost universally loathed task was accomplished with the aid of the Home Safe Agreement Form (MB 76) - new forms representing issues, and cancelled forms denoting returns.

The humble home safe was a very popular facility that introduced and encouraged the savings habit to many depositors. It became outmoded as the Bank moved away from its savings roots. The issuing of free safes which could only be opened by the Bank was discontinued in 1974. A few years earlier, plastic 'thrifty boxes' (complete with a key) were introduced for sale at branches.
 
Following the discontinuation of issuing the original style of Home Safes, a stock of surrendered safes accumulated. Although, Britain's First Municipal Savings Bank had described the safes as being of steel construction (and an Annual report saying they were 'neat little steel receptacles'), it was generally understood by bank staff that they were made of bronze. An attempt was made to cash in on the redundant stock by selling them as scrap metal, but they were found to be made of a bronze alloy, and were thus worthless.
 November 16 
50
 November 18
50
 November 25
200
 November 29
200
 November 30
125
 December 1
100
 December 5
125
 December 13
200
 December 19
200
 January 2
200
 January 3
200
 
1,650
The 1,650 safes were then distributed to the following branches:
 Head Office
 400
 Aston
 100
 Aston Cross
 50
 Balsall Heath
 50
 Bearwood
 75
 Duddeston
 100
 Erdington
 50
 Handsworth
 125
 Kings Heath
 50
 Ladywood
 50
 Lozells
 50
 Rotton Park
 50
 Saltley
 100
 Small Heath
 200
 Sparkbrook
 150
 Springfield (*)
 50
 * Then known as Sparkhill
 1,650
Early illustration of the original design of Home Safe
The three types of safe issued to depositors, together with examples of the keys that were held by the Bank for when the safe was brought into a branch for crediting the contents to the customer's account, are shown here:
(left) the original design - introduced from 1922
(centre) a smaller safe with a polished metal finish
(right) a 'Book' safe
 
The manufacturers of these three examples (left to right) were:
     Wilkins & Wright Ltd, Birmingham;
     Automatic Recording Safe Co Ltd, London;
     Pearson-Page-Dewsbury Co Ltd, Birmingham
(photograph by Norman Worwood)
 
Also see: Home Safe Keys
 
Home Safe Statistics
 
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