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How much for a lockpicking kit in 1920s? (Speculation included.)


Greggers

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Hey there folks, brand new keeper here.  Sorry if this question is a bit granular.

As anyone who has ever tried to pick a lock knows, it's hard business.  I wouldn't expect any Investigator to be able to pick a lock without tools, unless they try to use hairpin, and depending on the lock -- good luck with that. (Or "extreme roll with that.")  Strangely, the Keeper Guide does not include lock-picking tools as part of the 1920s Equipment list, but does for Modern Day.

Does anyone know of any pricings for lock-picking kits from the 1920s, either from previous editions or just from general consensus? 

The Modern lock-picking tool kit costs $90, and if we simply deflate that price back to 1922 levels, that's $6.  

Is there a better guess out there for it, or is that as good as I'm going to get?  And why would it be listed for Modern Equipment, and not 1920s?

Hopefully someone can weigh in.  Thanks for your attention.

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Thanks a million for steering me in that direction.  Going forward, I'll be using the 1922 Sears and Roebuck catalog as a resource.

In addition for searching for the Sears catalog, I also tried locksmith catalogs from the era as well, but the only featured unfinished keys, and even then without prices.  I think lock picks are so specialized of an item, its going to be nearly impossible to find a rock solid reference. 

That said, in the Sears catalog, in the watchmakers tools section I found a set of Needle files for 70 cents.  (I tried to attach the image to this post.)  Something in this neighborhood sounds a bit more reasonable than the $6 I quoted above.  

I figure since this wouldn't be the sort of item that a hardware store would be likely to keep in stock, it would have to be specially ordered.  I'd figure that in the context of the game, it would either need to be part of the starting gear for an investigator (especially if it's already a skill), or an investigator would have to go into town and buy a kit off a locksmith from the locksmith's own tools.  The locksmith would probably charge a markup, especially if the locksmith has to order a new set for themselves.

I'd put the price at about 90 cents; maybe a dollar if the locksmith is a jerk.

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People would be more likely to make the lock picks themselves, from spring steel or tool steel. Those days you made stuff.

Anyone with locksmith training would know how to shape a few picks, you would start by cutting blanks, trim to shape, sand or grind it, use simple hand tools to finish it, then heat treat it to the required hardness. Probably only a day or two work for an experienced metalworker. The lock picks would have to be kept well oiled to prevent corrosion, but everyone from that era was aware of the need to keep tools covered in machine oil or grease - although stainless steel was invented in 1913, it wasn't in wide circulation, and familiar steels like tool steel or spring steel would have been far easier to obtain. Early stainless steels also tended to be grainy, difficult to cut to precision.

Edited by EricW
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On 10/23/2020 at 5:34 AM, Stormkhan Cogg of Pavis said:

It's a matter of interest that in the Dorothy L. Sayers book "The Nine Tailors" (published/set in 1934), a crook-housebreaker claims his job was made easier by having access to the local smithy/mechanic in order to make his own 'new' set of picks.

When I was a young man while staying with my grandpa for a few weeks, I watched my grandpa whittle a new firing action for a gun, using a piece of steel plate, a sharp cold chisel and lots of patience. While he worked he looked just like someone whittling wood, except each "shaving" was so fine that you couldn't even see it. But over a few weeks of whittling while he watched TV, he produced a piece of precision engineering.

You don't need sophisticated tools to do some remarkable things, just skill and patience. Making a set of lock picks would be child's play compared to what I saw my grandpa do.

Edited by EricW
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Thing is, picking locks is directly related to the mechanics of the locks at that time.

Back in 1920's, you just needed one or more 'levers', two or three 'rakes' and perhaps a 'bar'. When Chubb and Brahma brought in cylinder locks, you could use the same tools but it took you longer. Bear in mind that picking a lock required your knowledge of how that lock works mechanically. Hence in RPG's, especially CoC, those who are craftsmen as locksmiths automatically know how to pick 'em! :)

 

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Actually for many locks, picking them is very easy.

 

I'm not good at picking locks and there are many common ones that I would have no chance at picking but there are also a surprising number that take only a few seconds.

For example, we have a cupboard locked with a cheap padlock in which we keep alcohol and other things we don't want our kids getting into.  If I need to get into it and the key is upstairs, it is faster for me to grab the lockpicks and open the lock than to go get the key.

I struggle to do the front door lock (though I have several friends who are very good at it), but bike locks, many padlocks, and other low end ones are usually easy.  Good locks are hard to pick but a lot of people go cheap and buy padlocks that are easy to pick.

Freezing temperatures can make a huge difference.  If I attempt to pick the lock on the bag holding vodka which is in our freezer, I need to hold the padlock in my hand for a bit so it warms up. 

 

 

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1 hour ago, Mechashef said:

Freezing temperatures can make a huge difference.  If I attempt to pick the lock on the bag holding vodka which is in our freezer, I need to hold the padlock in my hand for a bit so it warms up. 

 

 

That's probably down to the lubricant in the lock being more viscous when it is cold, preventing the levers from moving freely. As an alternative to warming, you could probably also fix this by squirting a little methylated spirits or gasoline into the lock before trying to pick it. I suggest you don't do this to a lock you care about, alcohol or gasoline would to an extent wash away the oil or graphite, and might even draw in some moisture before it evaporates, leaving internal surfaces in the lock exposed to corrosion.

Edited by EricW
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This thread definitely provided a more considered perspective on early 20th century lockpicking than I could have expected!  Thanks guys!  I like the idea of personally tooled picks either created by the investigator or handed down to them by a mentor, and part of their beginning equipment.  This will figure into things.  Thanks again.

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