Antique Safes/Safe


antique safe
antique safe  

My spouse and I have an old safe (Wilders Patent June 1843 inscribed in the bottom) with an identification tablet on top that reads : Stearns and Marvin / 40 Murray Street New York. It is 40 1/2 inches wide, 24 11/16 inches deep and  43 1/2 inches tall. Although the inside as been preserved authentically , the outside as been tempered with and recovered with grayish paint. Before restoring it, we wonder if it is worth the investment. Does restoring the outside add any value to it and if so, what is the best way to restore it authentically ?

Thank you in advance for your time and knowledge.



You have a really unique antique safe.  As far as whether it is a worthwhile investment for you is a decision YOU will have to make.   All I can do is try to educate you somewhat, so that hopefully you can make an informed decision.

Obviously restoring the safe WILL add value to the safe - though how much WILL depend on the restoration work done.   In many cases the cost of restoration can exceed the potential value of the safe.  But you do have alternatives.  Some of them include:
1.  DIY Projects
2.  Professional restoration artists
3.  semi professional help.

The Pro's are few and far between, meaning you would have to transport the container to them for restoration.  In general most don't do work for others, they would rather sell what they have already worked on.   Working for someone else has pit falls that can ruin a restoration.   Your goals for the container, and those of the artist may be completely different.

Semi Pros, would include art departments at local colleges.   you might get one to take the safe on as a restoration project.   You could possibly wind up with a professional job at half the cost, though it may take much longer as it will simply be a project to them, NOT a job.

The DIY approach really depends on what skills that you possess.  Stripping the old paint off to reveal any original art work underneath, repairing damaged metal work, locks or bolt work, and repainting it so that it doesn't look like a kid with crayons worked on it are all critical.   Actually a mix of the DIY approach and using artists from the local college art department can be a great way of accomplishing the restoration.  

Unless your safe is a museum piece WITH a documented historical significance, don't worry so much about "authentically" restoring it - I'm not really sure what that even means!   I've seen more historic pieces simply rotting (rusting) away in museums, simply because some moron historian some how believes that this is "preserving" history.   Just because they work at a museum or have some type of "history degree" doesn't mean that they have any common sense.  A good example is the old Herring Safe, which belonged to Jefferson Davis, the President of the confederacy.  When this safe was moved from Richmond, VA to Dallas, TX - it was in extremely bad condition - all at the hands of trained "historians"!

If your safe DOES HAVE a documented History and/or historical value, THEN it should be done by a professional.

Basic History of this company.
Stearns & Marvin were in business together from around 1853 until around 1860.   They were the only makers of safes to combine both the "Wilders" and "Rich & Company" patents.

Originally Roberts and Rich had the patent rights to manufacture the Wilder's safes.  These patent rights were passed through their successors - Rich & Roff, Roff & Stearns and to Stearns & Marvin.  Before the expiration of the orignal patent, Roff assigned it to Stearns.   The patent was renewed for seven years.   After the renewal, the safes were manufactured by Stearns & Marvin.  On the 1st of November, 1860, Stearns sold out to Marvin, and delivered possession of the stock of safe on hand.   It was determined in a court case that as Marvin did not have rights to the patent, (he was only a partner to Stearns), when the manufacture of safes passed from the authority and control of Stearns, the license was at an end, and the rights of the patentee terminated.

By the way, during the time these two men were partners, Marvin also had his own safe company, manufacturing safes under the "Marvin Safe Company" name.

In order to answer specific questions, identify, evaluate or appraise your safe, I'm going to need photos.  They should include full exterior and interior.  Detail photos should include pictures of the dial, handles, hinges, artwork, locks, bolt work, castors, cabinetry and any special details or damage.  Note:  You may have to remove the back panel on the door to gain access to the lock & bolt work – I will need these pics.
If you have a particular detail that you have a question about, I will need a photo of it along with your question.

I will also need to see any documentation that you have in regards to your safe.  If your safe has a unique historical perspective, you should be able to document this with letters, newspaper articles or photos, if not it is simply a story and will have no bearing on the value of your safe.

Please use as high a resolution as possible so that I can examine details of your safe.  Pictures which are low resolution, out of focus, or from a distance don’t help when we try to evaluate the container.  Note:  with higher resolution, you may only be able to send 2-4 pictures per email, depending on the size of the file, I have a 10mb limit per email.  If photos are larger than 2mb each, you may only be able to send 2 or 3 photos per email, requiring several emails.  Please don’t send me “cell phone” photos.

Please send all of the requested photos to:

Note:  As I am in the field several days each week, covering a huge service area, I may not get back to your photos immediately, but I will respond as soon as I get an opportunity.  Due to field work, emails may tend to get backed up which means I may not answer them immediately.

Our informal evaluation is at no charge, however if you feel you need a formal evaluation or appraisal for insurance, estate sales, donations for tax write offs, or to establish it as an antique, there is an administrative fee for this service.  

Antique Safes

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Terry V. Andreasen (Andy)


Safe and Vault related Questions; Antique Safe Repair and Restoration; With over 44 years in the Safe & Vault industry, if I can't answer your question I know where to get the answer. Current Project: Restoration of an Ely Norris Cannonball Safe from the early 1900's. Will answer Safe & Vault related questions concerning age, value, restoration, moving, opening & repairing, parts, operation and history. Note: It is not my intention to teach you to open safes or to provide information which may aid in the unlawful opening of a safe. I will not give out drill points or information which I deem inappropriate.


44 years in the Safe & Vault Industry. Owner and Service Manager for one of the largest Safe & Vault companies on the West Coast. Graduate of Lockmasters Safe Lock Servicing, Safe lock Manipulation and Safe Deposit Lock Courses. Graduate of Locksmith Institute. Author of "The Coffee Table Guide to Antique Safes". Certified Instructor for the California Locksmith Association teaching Basic and Advanced Lock Servicing, Basic Safe opening and Repairing. Factory Trained by AMSEC, LORD Safes, LeFebure, Mosler, KabaMas, LaGard and Sargent & Greenleaf

Safecrackers International and the National Antique Safe Association Safe & Vault Technicians Association

The Coffee Table Guide to Antique Safes

Graduate of Locksmith Institute 1972 Graduate Lockmasters Safe Lock Servicing 1974 Graduate Lockmasters Safe Lock Manipulation 1975 Graduate Lockmasters Safe Deposit Lock Servicing 1985 Instructor Certified - California Locksmith Association - 1985 Factory trained by AMSEC, MAJOR, STAR, Johnson-Pacific, Kaba-MAS, Allied-Gary, ISM, Lord, Brown Safe, EXL, Mosler, Diebold.

Awards and Honors
2009 - 2015 Listed in AllExperts top 50 Experts. All Experts Categories - Safes & Security Containers, Locksmithing, Antique Safes. Retired US Army Chief Warrant Officer (CW4), with 39 years of total service. With numerous awards from Vietnam, Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. US Navy - 1971-1981 US Army Reserve 1984-2013 US Army Retired

Past/Present Clients
US Secret Service, FBI, BATF, Local Law enforcment agencies, Diebold, Hamilton Pacific, Red Hawk Int., Chubb International, Bank of America, Wells Fargo Bank, Mechanics Bank, El Dorado Savings Bank, many Credit unions and smaller banks. McDonalds, Togos, BurgerKing, TacoBell, Carls Jr. FoodMaxx, SaveMart, Lucky's, Albertson's, Raley's, Safeway, NobHill, Bell Markets, PW Markets. Great America, Century Theatres, Cinemark Theatres, UA Cinemas, and many homeowners and small businesses. Provide warranty service for lock and safe manufactures. Service area is Northern California - Fresno to Oregon, including western Nevada

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