Italian locksmith Francesco de Francisci brought a lethal knowledge of engineering to his craft. His lock, which is mounted on a metal plate, is designed to be opened by two keys: One opens the lock itself, and the other disables its security system. Francisci designed the system—in 1848 in Naples, Italy—so that the first time someone failed to unlock it correctly, a bell would ring. A second unsuccessful attempt would prompt the bell to peal again. Francisci guaranteed that the third failure would be the last, because it would trigger two pistols to fire—one skyward and the other into the chest of whoever was standing at the door.
Francisci’s lock shows signs of wear, indicating that it may have been installed and used. But Alessandro Cesati, a Milanese antiques dealer who specializes in items made from iron, notes that it is unusual that any such fanciful locks have survived. “They made very few, and unfortunately iron was thrown away,” he says, explaining that countless objects were melted down for weaponry during war time and for other needs. “The idea of collecting iron started in the 19th century. It would be quite impossible to put together this collection today.”
Cesati says he and his father, Fiorenzo (who founded the gallery in 1982 and named it after his son), have been assembling this 25-piece collection of antique locks and strongboxes for two decades and intend to sell it as a whole. He declines to state its exact price but says that it is worth more than $1 million.
One of the standout pieces in the collection is a 220-pound strongbox that a craftsman in Strasbourg, France, fashioned in the middle of the 18th century. The interior of the strongbox’s lid features 23 shooting bolts, a type of bolt that springs out or retracts when the key is turned. The locking mechanism can be concealed by an elaborate iron screen.
Most of the items in the collection are made primarily of iron. “I’m fascinated with iron because it is a rough material from which you can create a beautiful jewel,” Cesati says. “With silver and gold, you are starting with rich materials. It is less obvious to understand how to make quality pieces by starting with rough material.”
Alessandro Cesati, +39.02.86.46.09.28