Old school lock and key
January 9, 2021 12:26 PM   Subscribe

The devilishly difficult locks of Dindigul, Tamil Nadu, India, where they have been handcrafted by artisans for 400 years. The popular kinds of locks created in Dindigul are the Mango lock, Door Lock, Trick Lock, Bell Lock, Drawer Lock, Partner lock, Master lock, Bullet lock and Temple lock with bells that ring at each of the 8 turns of the key.

Each lock has a story.

“Vichitra” mango locks are among the most fascinating in Dindigul’s history. These locks were built with the natural hierarchy of a family business in mind, at a time when such enterprises were the norm, and flourished in an age when cash registers were never mechanized.

Each Vichitra lock has three keys—one for the cashier, one for the supervisor, and the third for the owner of the company. If the supervisor suspected that the cashier was stealing from the store, he could put his key into the lock, twist it once to the right, then lock the cash register by twisting left. After that, the cashier’s key would no longer work. If the owner wanted to shut out both the cashier and the supervisor, he could do the same thing with his key.

Breaking a lock was rare when Dindigul locks were used. Thieves used to break the walls instead of locks to gain entry into a house.

An artisan's FaceBook page.
posted by nickyskye (9 comments total) 67 users marked this as a favorite
I have an entirely unnecessary urge to track down a vichitra mango lock and import it to Canada for no other reason that it's an impossibly clever device. "chmod 644" in a physical device.

Makes a change from the shitty keyed-alike lock that's used on almost every construction project here. It's laughable.
posted by scruss at 3:14 PM on January 9 [3 favorites]

(pg. 17, Journal of post ideas, June, 2020: Locks Asia, Europe. Renaissance boxes, Templar boxes, the bell lock, the water lock)

That was the last entry for post ideas I had, none the less this is fabulous. Red Rudensky, Safecracker, security consultant, author. He contributed to an inmate run magazine and in one article briefly mentions the trick lock. Not sure if it's original but I drew up some plans for a snow lock. A small shed surrounded by snow. The Iock is frozen and if opened, a harmless powder will mix on your snowy boots, like a dye marker. The real cheap part is one cannot get in without disturbing the snow.
posted by clavdivs at 8:19 PM on January 9 [3 favorites]

Very cool. Even regular locks are interesting, these are completely fascinating.

If a would-be killer used the wrong key or tried to pick the lock, a slim knife would pop out from a hidden slit and gouge out his eyes. These locks are now illegal, and haven’t been seen since the 1970s.

Woah. I can't believe that was ever anything more than a novelty item.
posted by lemonade at 8:30 PM on January 9 [3 favorites]

Cool to see cottage industry stuff like this. I bought a trick lock for my nephew in this summer. It was heartening to see him (from a social distance) interacting with an object that wasn’t a phone. There was some stiffness to the mechanism he needed to work through but he's a smart kid and in a few minutes was repeatedly opening and closing it, accompanied by a lot of very dramatic radio drama dialogue.

The post links reminded me of this blog post on back spring locks which gives a bit of an overview of warded cabinet lock construction and the cottage industry as it was in 17th to 19th century England.
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:54 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]

I can't believe that was ever anything more than a novelty item.

As an urban myth, though, it would be one hell of a deterrent to casual thieves. Try the lock once, blinded for life? Try another door instead. It's like alarm stickers and beware of the dog signs today: do you want to risk it?

I am struck, though, with how similar the Dindigul mango locks are to traditional “Old English” padlocks. With colonial history, once can never be sure who copied whom.
posted by scruss at 6:29 AM on January 10

Ganesh: Hey wait a second OH NOOOO!
posted by loquacious at 8:54 AM on January 10

It 's really fascinating stuff, to be sure, but I have to wonder how well most of these would hold up to a good set of modern bolt cutters.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:03 AM on January 10

Almost none of them would, but that's not the point of a padlock.
posted by scruss at 6:24 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]

Whoa! So my maternal family's ancestral farm was in Dindigul. I have many fond memories of picking mangoes there, drinking coconut water from a just cut down coconut and swimming in the giant water tank. Once there was great excitement when our barn's thatched roof was set on fire by lightning. There were also generally adorable lambs and chicks available for petting. Sadly my grandfather sold it some time ago, discovering that he could realize greater profits from the one transaction than all the years of trying to eke out a profit from the land.

I had no idea about the lock connection or at least I've forgotten. I'm sure my mom knows. The locks themselves are very very familiar - so many cupboards, gates and doors of my childhood were locked with something similar.
posted by peacheater at 5:27 PM on January 11 [4 favorites]

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