Unlike his later work on his Benin objects, Pitt-Rivers did not write an introduction to his paper on 'Primitive Locks and Keys'. However, there is a pre-amble and this is transcribed below for the benefit of readers. Please note that the portions of text which relate to objects / specific entries in the second collection are transcribed into the database which can be seen (when available) by clicking on 'Databases' on the right hand menu:

'On the Development and Distribution of Primitive Locks and Keys by Lieut.-General Pitt-Rivers, F.R.S. Illustrated by specimens in the Pitt-Rivers Collection' London: Chatto and Windus, 1883 pp. 3-5

Etymology of words for Locks and Keys:—"Klu," the Greco-Italian base, to lock (Fick), from the Sanskrit "Klu," to move (Benfey and Monier Williams) ; "Klavi," key (Fick); [Greek] Greek, a key; [Greek] Greek, a bolt or bar; "Claustrum," Latin, a lock, bar, or bolt ; "Claudo," Latin, to close or shut "Clausum," Latin, an enclosed space; "Clausura," Latin, a castle;  "Clavis," Latin, a key; "Clavus," Latin, a nail; "Clef," French, a key; "Clou," French, a nail; "Clo," Gaelic, a nail, pin, or peg;  "Clo," Irish, a nail or pin ; "Glas," Irish, a lock " Clo," Welsh, a lock ; " Clar," Bourguignon, a key; "Clau," French provincial, a key ; "Clav," old Spanish, a key; "Chiave," Italian, a key; "Chave," Portuguese, a key; "Close," English, to shut.From the same root, "Klu," to move, comes also "Sklu" (Skeat), from which is derived the Teutonic "Slut," to shut, and from thence the Dutch "Slot," a lock, and also a castle, from "Sluiten," to shut ;old Friesic "Slot," from "Sluta," to shut;Low German "Slot."Thus also the English provincial word "Slot," a bolt ;"Schlos," German, a lock, and also a castle;"Schlussel," German, a key.From the Latin "Sero," to put, comes "Sera," Latin, a movable bar or bolt "Serrure," French, a lock ;"Serratura," Italian, a lock.The French word "Verrou," a bolt; Wallon "Verou" or "Ferou;" Bourguignon "Varullo; "Provincial "Yerroth," "Berroth,"and"Ferroth; "Portuguese "Ferrolho." The forms in "f" appear to indicate a derivation from the Latin "ferrum," iron.The English word "Lock " is derived from the Teutonic base, "Luck," to lock (Fick);"Loc," Anglo-Saxon, a lock;"Lock," Friesic, a lock;"Lukke," Danish, a lock;"Loca," Icelandic, a lock or latch, or the lid of a chest;"Lock," Swedish, a lid;"Loke," Wallon; "Luycke," Flemish "Loquet," French, a catch.In Early English it was pronounced "loke" (Skeat). The English word "Latch" is probably the same as the Danish "Laas," a lock ;"Las," Swedish, a lock; "Luchetto," Italian, a latch. Skeat derives it from the Anglo-Saxon word "loeccan," to seize ; in Early English it was pronounced "Lacche," and he suggests the probability of its being derived from the Latin word "Laqueus," a snare, but this is doubtful. "Hasp," English, is derived from the Teutonic base, "Hapsa;" "Hsepsa," Anglo-Saxon; "Hespa," Icelandic; "Haspe," Danish; "Haspe," Swedish; "Haspe," German. "Moraillon," the French word for "hasp," is of uncertain origin, but Littre supposes it to be derived from the provincial "Mor, "a muzzle, probably the French word "Mors," a bit; "Morsum," Latin, a bit or a little piece; "Morsus," Latin, a bite, as well as the English "Muzzle" and "Nozzle," are all derived from the same root. "Clef benarde," a key that is not piped (foree) (Hamilton and Legros) or furnished with grooves, and which can be opened from both sides, is from "Bernard," which in old French signifies a fool, hence a "clef bernarde " or "benarde" is an inferior kind of key (Littre). The English word "Key" was derived from the Anglo-Saxon "Cseg" by the change of "g" into "y;" old Friesic "Kai" and "Kei." The English word "Bolt," which is now applied to the most primitive form of the mechanism, and probably the one from which the others took their origin, appears to have been obtained from the Anglo-Saxon word "Bolt," a catapult. Thus we have the Danish "Bolt," an iron pin; "Bout," Dutch, a bolt or pin; "Bolz," German, and it appears to have been adopted from its resemblance to the bolt or arrow used with the catapult. Crabb ('Technical Dictionary of Arts and Sciences') thinks it comes from the Latin "Pello," to drive, and the Greek "Ballo," to cast, and that it has thus been applied to anything shooting, as a bolt of a door, or a bird bolt, whilst Skeat supposes it to have been named like "bolster" from its roundness.

The word "Padlock" is important in relation to our subject. This kind of lock is especially suitable as a fastening for baskets and saddle bags; being a hanging lock, less liable to injury from knocks than a fixed lock, it is used in preference to this day for travelling purposes. The word "Pad" is a provincial Norfolk word used for "Pannier" (Halliwell and Skeat). It hangs about all words relating to early modes of travelling, thus we have, "Pad," a stuffed saddle for carrying a pannier on horse- back; "Pad-nag," a road horse; "Pad," a thief on the high road;"Pad," Dutch, a path, "Pseth," Anglo-Saxon, a path;"Pfad," German, a path, which latter English word is also itself cognate with pad; "Pod," a bag carried on horseback;"Pedlar," a travelling hawker. The word "Padlock" therefore means "Koadlock," and it is significant in relation to the way in which padlocks of like form may have become distributed over wide areas in early times. The French word "Cadenas," a padlock, comes from the Latin "Catena," a chain, and the connection is obvious;"Catenaccio," Italian "Candado" and "Cadeua," Spanish;"Cadenat," French provincial;Berry "Chadaine," a cord; Picard "Cagne" and "Caine;" hence also the French word "Chaine," and the English "Chain."

We see from this, that, as is usual in like cases, the words have followed lines of their own, and afford but little evidence of the forms of the objects to which they have been applied, excepting in so far that the common word "Klu" or "Clo" for lock and pin, and its connection with the base "Klu," to move, implies that the earliest form consisted of a movable bolt. But, in any case, whether we take the Latin word "Sero" to put, or the Sanskrit "Klu," to move, as independent origins of words for locks, we are carried back to a time when it consisted of a simple bar or bolt put up or slipped through staples to close a door. The passage in the 'Odyssey,' so often quoted in relation to the construction of Greek door locks, does not in reality throw much light upon the subject so long as it is unassisted by archaeological discoveries. It has been variously translated,* and we are left very much to conjecture for the forms of the most primitive kinds of locks which preceded those of which the relics are to be found in our collections of antiquities. It is noteworthy, however, that the earliest vestiges of apparatus connected with door fastenings in metal, that are discovered, consist of keys, which leads to the inference that the locks themselves may have been made of wood, and have therefore perished.But we have survivals of primitive wooden locks in use at the present time in different countries, which show us, with great probability, the uses to which the keys were put, and it is to these that we must turn in any attempt to trace back the history of the mechanism from the commencement. The process is one, the merits and demerits of which have been too often discussed to need comment here.In the absence of direct archaeological evidence we have no alternative but to avail ourselves of survivals as far as possible. The materials, however, in the case of locks are so abundant that it will not be necessary to tax our imagination unduly in order to fill in the links that are found wanting. ...

* 'Odyssey,' xxi., 46-50. See translations by Pope, and by Butcher and Lang. I put aside all mention of knots and strings which as Mr. Stee Cuming has observed ('Journal of the British Archseo- logical Association,' vol. xii., p. 117) must have formed the fastenings employed by dwellers in tents, and of which the Gordian knot was a complicated example. In early times seals must often have served as substitutes for locks, as we know was frequently the case in ancient Egypt and Assyria. The wooden door must have given rise to a totally different contrivance. It is possible, however, that something analogous to the Japanese book fastening, represented in fig. 1, Plate I., may have been employed under both systems.

[Transcribed by AP as part of the Rethinking Pitt-Rivers project June 2010]

Note: In the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum's Pitt-Rivers paper are 2 relevant letters and an enclosure given below and also several drafts of the introduction to the Primitive Locks and Keys:


Chubb & Sons
Lock and Safe Compy Ltd
Patent Safe and Detector Lock Warehouse
128 Queen Victoria Street
London EC

March 21st 1883

Major General Pitt Rivers
4 Grosvenor Gardens

Dear Sir,

I am unable to find out where those wooden locks came from today but may perhaps be able to do so in the course of a week or so. I hope to be able to go up & see your collection next week I will then see if we could spare any of our locks, so as to complete your collection, but I have so much pressing work on just now that I am afraid I cannot look into the matter before then.

I enclose an old pamphlet * that may be of some use to you.

I am, Dear Sir,
Yours faithfully
John C: Chubb

* Copy of yellow paper-bound pamphlet 'On the Construction of Locks and Keys' by John Chubb, Assoc. Inst. C.E. Institute of Civil Engineering vol IX


Nash Mills. Hemel Hempstead

June 8 1883

My dear Pitt Rivers

I have glanced over your Essay on Locks and Keys which is very interesting You will find a few verbal suggestions and corrections in pencil. ... As to the subject itself you have paid much more attention to it than I have - I am not however sure that the Saxon T ended articles are really keys. They generally occur in pairs and have often their an iron loop connecting them. Was there not some connection between Rome and China for steel? I have an impression that Pliny mentions it - See my Bronze book p. 10 If stell, why not locks. Your Greek words want the accents to be added - I am sorry I have not more time to go into the matter - I called the other morning in the hopes of seeing you but found in were off to Oxford.

[Illegible salutation]

John Evans


124 Buckingham Palace Road
London SW
July 28/ 83

I write to acknowledge the receipt of your admirable monograph on Locks, for which I hope you will accept my very best thanks. It contains an immense amount of valuable information on the subject and being treated from the "development" point of view all the facts fall into their places [insert] so [end insert] naturally and complicated problems assume a simplicity, which must carry conviction, even to such back-sliders as the British Museum authorities, that this is the only rational method to employ. As no doubt you intend to describe other portions of your anthropological collection in a similar way it will help greatly to revolutionise the antiquated systems of arrangement adopted at most museums and make the public take a more intelligent interest in such matters than they do at present.

I am glad to find that you have considered the few notes I sent you of sufficient importance to be commented on and utilised in your book. I venture to enclose one or two remarks on the plates, which illustrate your work, in case the facts I mention may be new to you. When I wrote my paper on wooden locks for the Soc. Ant. Scot. I had not had the advantage of studying your collection, and was only working on the surface so to speak.

I remain
Yrs very truly
J. Romilly Allen

Transcribed by AP, May 2011

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