A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from August 19, 2013
“Safe as houses”

The term “safe as houses” was popularized in England in the 1850s. “Safe” means a sure an secure investment; a person who buys a house is not speculating and has a solid investment for the money. John Camden Totten’s slang dictionary recorded that it was said “the phrase originated when the railway bubbles began to burst.”

“Safe as houses” is infrequently used in the United States, but has been applied (with some irony) to a potential housing bubble.

“You can’t go wrong with bricks and mortar” is a similar saying.


Wiktionary: safe as houses
Etymology
1874, John Camden Hotten, The Slang Dictionary: Etymological, Historical, and Anecdotal: an expression to satisfy a doubting person; “Oh! it’s as safe as Houses,” i.e., perfectly safe, apparently in allusion to the paying character of house property as an investment. It is said the phrase originated when the railway bubbles began to burst, and when people began to turn their attention to the more ancient forms of speculation, which though slow were sure.
Adjective
safe as houses
(not comparable)
1.(simile) Very secure.

(Oxford English Dictionary)
(as) safe as houses: completely safe and secure; (in early use also) certainly, undoubtedly.
1850 S. Brooks & J. Oxenford Timour the Tartar! ii. 21 Well then, I’ll give my word that Timour’s life Shall be safe as houses.
1859 K. Cornwallis Panorama New World I. 79 The owner of the weapon assured him that he was as safe as houses.
1860 J. H. Friswell Out & About xiii. 70 ‘You’re booked, safe as houses.’ ‘As houses!’ returned the professor. ‘A curious expression. Some houses are not safe.’

Google Books
February 1854, Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine, pg. 110:
THE WATER OF VAUXHALL.
AN EPIC POEM.
Twice ten directors, safe as houses, calm reflectors --

Google Books
Far from the Madding Crowd
By Thomas Hardy
New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company
1874
Pg. 470:
“The best clothes will floor us as safe as houses,” said Coggan.

Google Books
A Glossary of Words and Phrases Used in S. E. Worcestershire
By Jesse Salisbury
London: Published for the English Dialect Society
1894
Pg. 10:
As safe as houses. Usually spoken of an investment.

Google Books
The Second Jungle Book
By Rudyard Kipling
New York, NY: The Century Co.
1895
Pg. 152:
“It ‘s an odd shot — straight down almost — but as safe as houses.”

OCLC WorldCat record
Safe as houses.
Author: Helen Eastwood
Publisher: London, 1943.
Edition/Format: Book : English

OCLC WorldCat record
Safe as houses? : an examination of the need for a private rented sector in housing and the place of this within a bi-partisan policy
Author: Simon Randall; Ian Vaughan Oddy; Bow Group.
Publisher: London : Bow Publications [for] the Bow Group, 1976.
Edition/Format: Book : English

The Mavens’ Word of the Day
June 11, 2001
safe as houses
(...)
This expression means ‘perfectly safe’, but some of the variants refer to physical safety, whereas others are used in the context of ‘a sure bet’. As safe as houses, first recorded in 1859, has endured in both meanings to the present day. Partridge quotes Hotten’s A Slang Dictionary as an explanation of its origin, saying that the meaning may have arisen “when the railway bubbles began to burst and speculation again favoured houses.”

Twitter
Peter Mericka‏
@LawyersRealEst
The old saying ‘safe as houses’ no longer applies, with homes being stolen from underneath the noses of their… http://fb.me/1kHR106m7
5:14 PM - 19 Aug 13

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityBuildings/Housing/Parks • Monday, August 19, 2013 • Permalink