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Rockwell's Patent Vault Light

Side view of Rockwell's Patent Vault Lights

Rockwell's Patent Vault Light
(Missing glass replaced with iron)

Location: New York:

  • 192 Broadway "near John street" (1815-1839)
  • 9 Astor House "Entrance in Barclay street" (1840-1845)
  • 413 Broadway (1846-1847)


  • E. & S. S. Rockwell (1815-1847)
  • Edward Rockwell (1744-1828)
    • b.10/4/1744, Middletown CT
    • =Lucy Strong (b.6/13/1747 in Middletown), 3/25/1773 in Middletown;
    • d.2/9/1828
  • Samuel Strong Rockwell (1787-?), Silversmith
    • b.5/19/1787, Middletown
    • "He was a partner from 1815 to 1847 with Edward Rockwell in New York City NY as E. & S. S. ROCKWELL. Located at 192 Broadway, 1815-1839; at 9 Astor House, 1840-1845; and at 413 Broadway, 1846-1847." —American Silversmiths


  • Edward Rockwell's Patent Vault Light of 1834 is the earliest in the United States. It has the curious designation 8058X and only the drawing remains (the description is lost). The patent is for a round iron cover with a single huge glass eye in the center, fully half the diameter of the whole cover. It must have looked fantastic, but been fragile.
  • In 1834, two were installed in front of "the Exchange" in New-York, and others in front of the Gazette.
  • Two frames (sans glass) are presently in the Cohill collection, and another (also sans glass) still on the street in Brooklyn.
  • "Rockwell's patent vault lights. 192 Broadway. The great usefulness of the above lights, not only for vaults intended for safety of goods in case of fire, and for the deposit of coal, &c., but by giving so much light, and at the same time excluding all wet, dust and frost, they make an underground apartment (when judiciously constructed and made white) a valuable place for business. Persons wishing to introduce them in other cities would do well to apply as above." —New-York as it is: containing a general description of the City of New-York; list of officers, public institutions, and other useful information: including the public officers, &c. of the City of Brooklyn: with additions and corrections: accompanied by a correct map
  • "E. & S. S. Rockwell, patent vault light—A silver medal." —Niles' weekly register, September 1834 to March 1835, Volume 47 (Hezekiah Niles, William Ogden Niles)
  • "For Metallic Rims for Vault Lights; Edward Rockwell, city of New York, March 8. This patent, it appears, is taken for preparing a frame of cast iron to receive the lights of plano-convex, or other formed glass. ''The invention claimed is the use of ornamental or plain cast metal frames, or chases, to protect semi-plano lights for vessels' decks, vaults under pavements, and other subterranean apartments; the glass being perfectly well protected, and the cast iron frame highly ornamental, and made of any size, shape, and of any metal, and to be used for all purposes.'' Perhaps a patent of this kind may deprive all but the patentee of a right to put a glass light into a metal rim, but we do not, at present, believe that it will. The kind of glass mentioned, semi-plano, is a form with which we are not acquainted." —Journal of the Franklin Institute (LIST OF AMERICAN PATENTS WHICH ISSUED IN MARCH, 1834)
  • "We are decidedly in favor of having a fire proof vault in front of each store, to be deep, and extend half across the street, with an iron door— An entire stock of goods can be safely thrown into a vault properly built, and having Rockwell's patent lights from above, and would be found undamaged after a fire; strong arches from above, stone foundation and floor, a deep flight of steps and an iron door, would effectually shut out all damage from above. We hope to see it tried." —The Biblical Recorder, January 6, 1836
  • "BOLD AND SUCCESSFUL BURGLARY. The watch and jewelry store of Messrs. E. & S. S. Rockwell, No. 9 Astor House, Broadway, was burglariously entered on Sunday night and robbed of valuable gold and silver watches, diamond rings, gold chains, plate of various kinds, such as silver forks, spoons, &c., the whole estimated to be worth from $15,000 to $20,000, which the burglars carried away. They entered by first getting into the adjoining untenanted store, formerly occupied by Mr. Simpson as a crockery store, whence they bored and broke through the partition wall, 18 inches thick. Mr. Rockwell was in his store about 7 o'clock on Sunday morning, and heard an unusual noise in the wall; but observing every thing apparently right, thought little more of the matter until the burglary and robbery was discovered. Entrance was effected by picking the lock of the adjoining store. This was apparently done on Saturday night. On reaching the inside it was found that the door could not be locked, and a hole was accordingly bored near the lock with a gimlet, and the door fastened with a spike. The keyhole was also plugged up so that no one could look in. The robbers were probably at work all day Sunday. In the morning, as above stated, Mr. Rockwell heard a strange noise in the wall, and in the afternoon at about 4 o'clock the occupants of the store on the other side heard a similar noise, but attributed it to rats in the wall. The robbers only took about half of what was within their reach, and made their exit by passing out at the door in Barclay-street just below the drug store of Rushton & Aspinwall. No trace has yet been obtained of the robbers, though we understand that one of the Police officers some days since warned the Messrs. Rockwell against such an attempt upon their premises. The offer of a handsome reward would probably lead to speedy detection." —New York Tribune, Sep 5, 1843
  • "$1000 REWARD — The store of the subscribers was burglariously entered during Sunday and Sunday night, the 3d inst., and a large amount of Watches, Diamonds, Jewelry and Silver Ware taken, for the recovery of which the above reward will be given, or a proportionate amount for any part of it. E. & S. S. ROCKWELL, No. 9 Astor House"—New York Tribune, Date?


These Rockwell covers are part of the Cohill's collection of 50, once destined for the landfill (in the 1960s) but rescued instead, now displayed in a custom brick patio at their Amityville, Long Island home, where they are safe forever! Tom and Toni graciously allowed photographer Julia Bedriy access to shoot them. Sadly, both are lacking the original glass lens.

Rockwell vault light Rockwell vault light Rockwell vault light Rockwell vault light

Rockwell vault light Rockwell vault light Rockwell vault light Rockwell vault light
Photos: Julia Bedriy

This light, still installed in the wild in Brooklyn Heights, NYC, is also missing its jewel.

Rockwell illuminated vault light Rockwell illuminated vault light Rockwell illuminated vault light
Photos: Julia Bedriy


Newspaper Ads:

Rockwell's Patent Vault Light ad in The Evening Post, Jan 16, 1834
ROCKWELL'S PATENT VAULT LIGHTS— For the purpose of giving light to Rooms or Vaults under the side walks—to make rooms light, tight and dry—suitable for work shops or offices, kitchens or reading rooms, or any other purposes that may be required—to make the side walks (as it regards Vaults) safe for passengers, and all other purposes.
To be seen at the Merchants Exchange (Sales Room) at the Hall of Records; at the Lackawana Coal Office, 256 Broadway; at Abisha Smith & Co.'s stone yard, 430 Washington st.; and at E. & S. S. ROCKWELL, 192 Broadway, where orders will be received for any quantity.
The Evening Post, Jan 16, 1834

Rockwell's Patent Vault Light ad in The Long Island Star, Oct 22, 1835
Patent Vault Lights.
The undersigned, Mechanics and Builders of the city of New-York, having examined Mr. Rockwell's PATENT VAULT LIGHTS, have no hesitation in pronouncing them a very great improvement, and far superior to any other Vault Covering now in use in this city, being not only durable and ornamental, but safe, and answering a very valuable purpose in giving light to Vaults, and keeping them free from rain and dirt.
Saml. Thomson & Sons,
Joseph Depew,
Henry W. Titus
Wm. Tucker,
George Ireland,
Thomas T. Woodruff,
Wm. W. Berwick,
M. E. Thompson,
Richard F. Carman,
A. Lockwood,
John Heath,
Seth Geer,
Gideon Tucker,
Geo. B. Smith, St. Com.
For sale by E. & S. S. ROCKWELL, No. 192 Broadway, New-York, Oct. 15, 1835.
The Long Island Star, Oct 22, 1835

Rockwell's Patent Vault Light ad in The Evening Post, Jan 13, 1841
ROCKWELL'S PATENT VAULT LIGHTS—This being the season when they are found particularly useful, we have taken care to be provided with a good supply, and having made great improvement in the manner of securing the glass in the iron, so as to entirely remove all danger of becoming loose or getting broken, and also had great improvement in the quality of the glass itself, and having paid great personal attention to the manufacturing of them we are enabled to recommend them as being very substantial and more durable than any other kind of vault cover in use
E & S F [sic] ROCKWELL, No 9 Astor House, entrance in Barclay st
The Evening Post, Jan 13, 1841

Rockwell's Patent Vault Light ad in the New York Tribune, Dec 2, 1842
ROCKWELL'S PATENT VAULT LIGHTS—so useful to exclude wet, dust and frost, and at the same time admit light, greatly improved for strength and durability—for sale at No. 9 Astor House, entrance in Barclay-st.
New York Tribune, Dec 2, 1842