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Lock Lore

by Clare Coppa

It’s summertime—time for standards developers to drop their test data and kick off their shoes. While they’re on vacation, ASTM members might scan bridges for corrosion as they pass in their fishing boats, or ponder how seaweed on the beach might factor into biodegradable fuel.

So it follows that ASTM security committee members Robert Loughlin and Ed Saladin might while away some vacation time on their hobby, which is, er, lock collecting.

Loughlin has a rare lock that only opens with five unique keys. Saladin has a spare-tire lock from the roaring ’20s, no doubt owned by a well-heeled driver in a raccoon coat.

Saladin is a locksmith and product engineer for American Lock Co., Crete, Ill., involved with lock design and quality control. Loughlin is an entrepreneur from Stanton, N.J., who holds 10 lock patents and previously co-owned Waterbury Lock and Specialty Company. As well as designing and collecting, the third part of their lock trifecta is developing ASTM lock standards.

Some locks in their separate collections are handmade in near-identical design. Since oceans and continents separated primitive locksmiths without the connectivity of air travel or Internet, Saladin and Loughlin theorize that sea-faring conquerors and traders spread lock patterns all over the world.

Loughlin (pronounced “lock” lin) has been collecting locks for 27 years. One would think Egyptian kings employed eunuchs with clubs to protect their goods, but Loughlin says noblemen in 1,000 B.C. used locking devices with keys. He says his best wooden lock was made in Bolivia from the burl of a very hard wood, a pin-tumbler door lock perhaps 300-500 years old. “It’s made on a pattern that the Spaniards brought to the western hemisphere in 1520,” he says. “The Spaniards learned about it from the Romans when they occupied Spain in 300 A.D. and the Romans learned the concept from the Egyptians.”

He likes to search for locks while traveling with his wife Ginny. In January 2001, an Indian airport official called a guard with a machine gun when Loughlin’s carry-on luggage set off an alarm passing thru X-ray. They laughed when they saw 40 pounds of iron locks in Loughlin’s bag.

A mechanical engineer, Loughlin’s patents include improvements to locks on Tomahawk Cruise-Missile launchers used by the Navy.

Saladin began collecting locks about 12 years ago because he likes to study old mechanisms. He owns many smokehouse locks once used in Appalachia to secure food. “I have locks from North America, Asia, and Africa,” he says, “a variety of different types, even some that are made out of wood, which is what the original Egyptian locks were made out of. It’s hard to date them. Linus Yale, who supposedly invented the pin-tumbler lock, probably got his ideas from Roman and Egyptian locks.”

A certified locksmith and trainer with the Associated Locksmiths of America, Saladin describes new commercial and residential locks. “Probably the wave of the future is electronic locks,” he says. “Electronic locks have come out in the last 10 years that are part mechanical, part electrical. The more sophisticated ones leave an audit trail and cross over into access control. So you know who was in the building and when they left.”

Whether they’re locked in or locked out, these collectors have found the key to a unique personal interest.

Copyright 2002, ASTM