The J & J Taylor Safe Company

Recently while on the internet I came across an advertisement for a J & J Taylor safe for sale.  I immediately felt a rush of excitement, not only because it was a beautiful old safe in onto itself, but because it connected to my avid interest in this particular safe company and its history.

My interest in the J & J Taylor Safe Company began a few years back when I was commissioned to write the history of a beautiful Victorian home in Cabbagetown.  After vetting the history of the house I discovered that it was the home of John Taylor, a prosperous safe manufacturer, the first in Canada. 

John Taylor and his brother James arrived from Scotland as young boys in 1838.  In 1855, they established their safe manufacturing business J & J Taylor Safe Company, on Palace Street (198 and 200 Palace).

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J & J Taylor Safe Ad

J & J Taylor Safe Ad

 

Goads Map 1893

Goads Map 1893

 

Although James Taylor returned to the British Isles shortly thereafter, reportedly because of ill health, the business thrived.  Eventually it became known as the Taylor Safe Company, most likely coinciding with the return of James to Great Britain, and subsequently the Toronto Safe Company.   The Taylor Safe Works was one of the most successful manufacturers of its kind in North America during the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th.  Their safes were distributed extensively throughout Canada and the U.S.  John Taylor ran the company for most of this period.  He died in 1913.

 

John Taylor obit 1913

John Taylor obituary 1913

 

In 1871 the Taylor Safe Company moved to what is now 139-145 Front St, located at Front and Frederick St.  The factory expanded  in 1877 to occupy most of the east end of the block.  Another  addition was made in 1883.

 

J & J Taylor Manufacturing Factilities Late 1800's

J & J Taylor Manufacturing Factilities Late 1800’s

139FrontStE

139 Front St E. 2011

 

It is  interesting to note that during its tenure of the warehouse on Front St., the company used Taylor’s Wharf to ship their safes.  Although there is some question as to whether the wharf was named after the safe-making Taylors or Captain Archibald Taylor who had a coal and wood business at the wharf, it is certain that the Taylors were substantial users of the wharf. 

 

Goads Map 1893

Goads Map 1893

 

In recognition of the Taylor’s, either Captain Archibald or John Taylor’s activities in the area, the laneway which runs behind 135 George St. is named Taylor’s Wharf Laneway.  In addition, if you look on the wall of the building at 145 Front St. E., you can see a sign which reads Taylor Safe Company.

 

20130319_115654

J & J Taylor Safe Workers. Date Unknown

J & J Taylor Safe Workers.  Date unknown.

J & J Taylor Safe Workers. Date Unknown

20130319_132201

J & J Taylor Safes Pulled From Fire of 1904

 

In 1959, the Taylor Safe Company was acquired by the safe manufacturing company Chubb- Mosler and became part of manufacturing operations in Brampton under the name Chubb-Mosler and Taylor Safes.  This company currently remains in operation.

Having done all of this research I became quite the Taylor safe aficionado and am always on the lookout for them whilst on my travels.  One of the first times that I stumbled upon a Taylor safe was when I went to the St. Veronus Restaurant in Peterborough.  There in the hallway as I went to the washroom was a big beautiful specimen of  the J & J Taylor safeworks.  I subsequently learned that the venue used to be the site of an old bank, and that they in fact did not use it to lock up their unruly customers.  Later when following the reconstruction of Maple Leaf Gardens and the removal of the time capsule etc., I saw a picture of a J & J Taylor safe that had been found there highlighted on the front page of the Toronto Sun.  I have even phoned the Canadian Mint in order to try to verify reports that many of the safes used by the mint are in fact Taylor safes.  Though I was disappointed to hear from their public relations spokesman that unfortunately this was, for obvious reasons, information that was not passed on to the general public.   Sometimes I go online in order to  look for any Taylor safes that may have emerged from the woodwork so to speak.  And so it was that this week that I eventually was in contact with Viraf of Toronto’s Transition Squad.  The company helps people deal with downsizing, or clearing up of estates.  They had taken on a client who had a Taylor Safe on their property.  Apparently the one time owner of the house had a store and when retiring from the business brought the old safe home with him.  Now the family is moving on and are in a bit of a conundrum as to what to do with it.  In reflection, I can say that I truly hope this lovely bit of Toronto and Canadian history finds its way to a place where it can be looked after.

 

The Safe of which I write.

The Safe of which I write.

 

Comments

  1. Brian Mayhew says:

    An interesting article, at least to some of us like myself who worked in the field. A couple of minor corrections:-

    1) I worked for Chubb for many years and when I first joined them in 1958 the J. J. Taylor Co. was still an independent manufacturer on Front Street in Toronto. In addition to their manufacture of locks, safes and bank vault doors and equipment; they were also involved in the construction of many of the institutions of the Canadian Penitentiary Service. Many of the head offices and major branches of all Canadian banks, including the Bank of Canada, used massive vault doors supplied by the company and many of them are still in use today. In 1959 the company was taken over by the Mosler Safe Company of Hamilton Ohio who also purchased the Dominion Safe Company of Niagara Falls and formed the Mosler-Taylor Safe company. In 1960 a controlling interest in the Mosler-Taylor company was purchased by Chubb Safe Company who were the Canadian Branch of Chubb Lock and Safe Company of Wolverhampton, England and who renamed the combined companies as Chubb Mosler and Taylor Safes.

    2) While it is true that the J. J. Taylor operation theoretically still exists today, it is now buried so deep in multiple layers of company buyouts that it would be essentially impossible to untangle it all. In the early eighties Chubb, which had in the meantime bought out the Mosler interest and eliminated Mosler and Taylor from the name took over and combined the Canadian operations of the Diebold Safe Company of Canton, Ohio (which had already acquired earlier operations of the Goldie McCulloch of Galt, Ontario and the Herring-Hall-Marvin Safe companies) into Chubb Lock and Safe Company. By this time the company had expanded into the fire protection and alarm business and also the burglar and security alarm business in addition to its original safe, vault and prison equipment manufacturing. In turn Chubb itself worldwide was taken over first by Racal Electronics and later by Williams which were essentially conglomerates based in the UK and who between them broke up the Chubb operation into separate pieces with the electronics and alarms being sold to a US company, the lock manufacturing being sold to the Swedish company Assa-Abloy and the safe and vault manufacturing to Gunnebo another Swedish company.

    When I retired from Chubb in 2000 the only trace remaining of the J. J. Taylor operation was microfilm copies of many of their Engineering Drawings and of course many of their safe and vault products which are still in use throughout Canada.

    • House Stories says:

      Interesting. Thanks for your input. Interesting. I wonder if there is any way to get access to those drawings.

      • Thank you so much for the history. We purchased an “old general store” built in 1936 which has a JJ Taylor vault. I have just removed the plaque to clean which has prompted me to investigate the best way to clean the door without disturbing the beautiful hand painting. I have come across this article and found it very interesting, and it has provided us with a lot of information we were curious about.

  2. Nathan Ng says:

    Hello. It is my suspicion that Taylor’s Wharf was named for Archibald Taylor. (rather than the Taylors of the safe company). In 1885 there was litigation involving this wharf and the adjoining one where one of the witnesses — Archibald Taylor — describes how he constructed the wharf.

    http://books.google.ca/books?id=CyYwAAAAIAAJ&lpg=PA712&ots=-d7GeXgvXc&dq=archibald%20taylor%20wharf&pg=PA712#v=onepage&q=archibald%20taylor%20wharf&f=false

    [p712 is where Taylor describes how he built the Wharf; p707 describes the location of said wharf, matching the 1889 Goad Insurance plan plate depicted in this post.]

  3. Allan Cunningham says:

    My family have a Dominion Save and Vault of Niagara Falls Ltd safe. Is there somewhere to look for a model number the safe is open but we don’t have the combination and we would like to get it so we can lock it. It’s a floor model about 4x3x3 with one door and the dial is in the middle and the handle on the left hand side If anyone can help it would be deeply appreciated Thank you

  4. Allan Cunningham says:

    we have a Dominion Safe and Vault Ltd Niagara Fall safe that we don’t have the combination for. It is Open but would like to be able to lock it and of course open it. Is there a Model number some where that we could find the combination from that. The safe is a floor model about 4x3x3 with the dial in the middle of a single door safe and the handle to it’s left. If anyone can give me some advise it would be appreciated. Thank YOu

    • Hello Allan,

      First of I would like to thank the author for this great article and add that the reason I found this article is because I serviced a beautiful Taylor today (I am a part time locksmith) . It was a beautiful floor safe with hand painted wilderness murals.. Spectacular…
      In any case, in keeping with the spirit of maintaining and reviving old vaults, I would suggest that you call a reputable locksmith. The locksmith to either tell you the combination or re code the lock itself — the latter being preferable. This is a very straightforward task and should cost you a relatively small amount

      Hope this helps!

    • Frank Watts says:

      how have you done with your safe I have 1 my grandfather bought in 1951 and have everything with it including the shipping from documents from the New York Central Railroad and I am trying to find out more history on it. I also have the actual key to renumber the safe.

  5. david kennedy says:

    I have a old very big jj taylor safe I’d like more info on I’m looking to sell and need more info is there a website to find model?

  6. I have one in my work I want to open it real bad any suggestions ?

  7. I recently had a j and j taylor safe given to me and I was wondering if u could help me figure out the year an email reply would be greatly appreciated I can send pictures to help.

  8. I have an account in a renowned bank in Toronto.
    Recently, i lost the key of the locker. And what a bad luck, i
    don’t have the duplicate key with me. Can any Locksmith company in Toronto make a duplicate key of that lock without the original key?
    Please answer soon..

    • House Stories says:

      Hi there

      Unfortunately I am a historian and know nothing of the workings of these safes or how to deal with these sorts of problems. Sorry, wish I could help.

  9. Enjoyed your writing. I own a J&J Taylor safe which was used in the family business, now sold. To me it’s an antique… To the people who broke in and bashed the knobs off with a sledge hammer, well, I guess they thought there was something of value inside. After almost three years, I finally got it open again with the help of a machinist who helped reattach the broken off dial shafts. I am now hunting for some new dials and shafts and found your story in the process.

    As for the contents of the safe… Some steal wool, WD40, BBQ paint and some sheet metal. Just stuff for working on a fun project with my brother. One of the guys who broke in is enjoying a stay at a free resort, with steel bars. They stole a bunch of stuff, but it’s the damage and pointless vandalism that really hurts.

  10. Paul Gagnon says:

    My sister’s mother in law just passed away, in the basement of her house is a J&J Taylor Safe. It looks to be over a 100 years old. The family do not want anything to do with it. I wonder if it’s worth removing from the house. It’s in very good shape, have pictures of it.

  11. ed kowalski says:

    I have an old j j taylor and sons safe for sale. Bought it off car when they were closing rr station in chilliwack bc.any idea of value? Original printing etc on safe.

  12. Terry Palmay says:

    My father worked at Chubb Mosler and Taylor until his death in 1970. He shared some patents with Brian Mayhew and I would love to connect with him.

  13. Hello, was looking through the net to find out more about a 1928 j and j taylor safe and it’s cost. I have a client who is interested in iquiring this safe and my good friend has one sitting in his store which was never moved in 80 years… If you can be so kind and send me any information I would love to learn more…Great article.

    Mark from Montreal

    • House Stories says:

      I am so sorry. I actually have information about the company but not about the safes themselves. If you want to find out more I would perhaps check online to see what the going rate for the equivalent safe is. You can also give Chubb Mosler a call and see if they can help you clarify more about the safe for you. Sorry about that.
      Robin

  14. Gordon West says:

    The Taylors only owned the company for a few years. By the mid 1870’s J&J Taylor had been acquired by my great-grandfather, Thomas West. The company remained in the West family until the majority sale in ’59 to Mosler who then split their holdings with Chubb (thus Chubb Mosler and Taylor). The West family holdings were fully sold off in the late 70’s. A side note – J&J Taylor acquired Dominion in the mid ’50s.

    My grandfather, Howard West ran the company for many years and my father, William began his career in ’48 working in the factory. He was eventually responsible for the Detention Equipment division but left and formed his own company in ’73. Dad passed away a few months ago. He shared many stories and much of the company history over the years. One of these days I will put time aside to write them down and share them with whoever might find them interesting.

  15. Darren Kelly says:

    Hi, Helped my girl friend move into her new apartment yesterday and she has an intact J&J Taylor safe in what is now her living room…It is the same as you see when you google J&J Taylor safes “images” where someone was selling just the the same model door for 800.00 ..Black about 2.5 feet wide by about 7 feet tall with 2 white piping lines ..This safe is complete with inner door about 1 foot after the outside door it has 2 retractable folding doors that meet when close and shut..then a storage room about 5 feet by 5 foot..Really neat !..Darren Kelly

  16. Hi! I could have sworn I’ve been to this blog before but after reading through some
    of the post I realized it’s new to me. Anyways, I’m definitely
    glad I found it and I’ll be book-marking and checking back frequently!

  17. The wharf is definitely named after Captain Taylor – it was shown on maps as “Taylor’s Wharf before the safe company was founded.

  18. Alfred Walker worked for Taylor Safe Co. in Regina, Saskatchewan in 1910. In 1910 Mr. Walker built a 2 1/2 story brick house with a stone foundation at 2900 Victoria Avenue in Regina. We are currently renovating this house and we are wondering if anyone as any additional information about Mr. Walker, and any details regarding his work with Taylor Safe during that period. The house made it through the 1912 Regina Tornado, while many others did not.

  19. A fantastic safe from Taylor was found in Quebec small village, Grenville. I’ll try to send you a photo, if it’s not possible just send me a Email at wilsonevaluateur@hotmail.com Will be a pleasure to send you this photo. Thanks for all these infos.
    Mario Wilson

  20. My husband and I recently purchased a 1915 home and with it built in the basement wall is an old J & J Taylor safe. We are curious to know what is in it as well as the worth. How do we go about researching this?

    • House Stories says:

      Hi there

      If you want to figure out what is it worth you can do is go on to the internet and find what others are asking. Other than that I don’t know much about the safe business other than information about this one particular company and its operations. If you want to know more about your house and potentially who installed the safe, I would be happy to do some research for you if you are in Toronto. Go to my website http://www.housestories.ca or you can contact me at 647 435 5076. Cheers Robin

Trackbacks

  1. […] south side of Front Street, on the west side of Frederick is another industrial building. This is J&J Taylor Safeworks. As a Toronto Historical Board plaque on the building tells us, the structure was built in 1867 as a […]

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