Before nineteenth century, when iron safes became common, people used hiding places to defend their valuables and papers. Were common secret drawers or compartments, frequently found in furniture such as chests, bureaux, writing-tables, cabinets, etc., of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Italians cabinet makers excelled in the art of producing secret compartments and hidden drawers.
In this video a secretaire with many little secret compartments and hidden small drawers.
Mobili e cassetti segreti. Furniture with secret drawers
Alla scoperta dei mobili con segreto. Nel video svelati i segreti di un mobile antico con cassetti nascosti.
Other info on carloclerici.com