You are here:

Antique Safes/Stearns and Marvin safe



Hi Terry, could you tell me a little about this safe? It has no tumblers- just a key lock. Sending you pictures. Thank you, Jim


We will start with some basic history of the safe making trade which leads up to your safe and "Stearns & Marvin".

  Beginning in 1830, Daniel Fitzgerald of New York, figured out how to design a reliable fire proof safe using only plaster of Paris as an insulating material.  Fitzgerald’s 1836 patent application was denied because personnel of  the Patent Office were protecting an inventor of an earlier technology.  In 1837 Benjamin Sherwood obtained a patent for a revolving interior safe, filling the spaces with plaster of Paris and charcoal. (One hundred years’ of Progress, pp396-397).  Finally, with the assistance of Enos wilder, Fitzgerald was granted US Patent No. 3117, on June 1, 1843.  Fitzgerald assigned the patent to Enos Wilder, who left to his heir, Benjamin G. Wilder, and it became known as the “Wilder Patent”.  Safes, made using the technology in the Wilder patent proved effective against fie, and earlier technologies were made obsolete.
  Commercial production of safes using the technology in the Wilder Patent, began in 1840 or shortly before.  According to one account, “a citizen of New York” named Crandall Rich, associated with himself two others named Roff and Stearns, and commenced the manufacture of these safes, making an arrangement with Wilder, that if he obtained the patent, they were to pay him for the use of it, which was afterwards done.  These parties, Rich & Co., soon discovered that the composition as invented by Fitzgerald damped the books and papers; therefore an improvement was made and patent by Rich & Co., the result of which has been that in the great fire of New York in 1845 property to the amount of thousands of dollars was preserved in these safes, while safes of every other description were totally destroyed.
  About 1841, Silas C. Herring became interested in Wilder’s safes, first as an agent and afterwards as a manufacture.  In 1844 the safes under this patent were made by Mr. Herring.  Herring agreed to pay Wilder a royalty of one cent per pound for the right to be the exclusive seller of Wilder’s Salamander safes in New York City.  In 1841, these safes were $40 to $250, and they were produced at the rate of about three per week.
  About this time, Enos Wilder filed a patent infringement suit against Charles Gaylor and another against Crandall Rich, Almon Roff, John Stearns and Azor Marvin.  In the second of these actions, after a protracted lawsuit, a compromise was effected by which both parties continued to manufacture.  Also, in 1847 the owners of the Wilders patent sued Edwards & Holman for producing safes from 1843-1847 that infringed that patent.

John G. Sterns & Almon Roff were both employed in the iron safe manufactory of Enos Wilder, Sterns as the foreman of the establishment and Roff as a Locksmith.   They were both intimately and thouroughly acquainted with the material used and the manner in which the safes of the Wilder Patent were made.  Azor S. Marvin was a General Sales Agent (distributor) for Wilder Safes in New York.
Both Sterns and Roff left the employment of Wilder to go to work for "Robertson & Rich" (around 1843) who were now manufacturing safes built based on the Wilder Design.  In several "tests" they both certified that safes built by Robertson & Rich were in all respects equal to Wilders, though by utilizing Rich's Patent, the documents and books remained dry and did not mildew.
Sterns & Marvin eventually combined assets to manufacture these safes as well.   During the above listed lawsuits, Stearns & Marvin eventually made a deal to continue to manufacture safes built under the Wilder Patent, paying a penny per pound royalty to Wilder.   Sterns additionally had license to manufacture safes which utilized the Patent owned by Rich, so the firm of Stearns & Marvin was the only company to manufacture safes which utilized both patents in their construction.
On the 1st of November, 1860, Stearns sold out to Marvin.  In a separate court case at that time it was determined that Marvin did NOT have the rights to the Rich Patent, and that the firm was only protected by the license issued to Stearns.  Marvin had to redesign his product to continue to manufacture safes.

Basically your safe was made prior to the 1860 date and probably between 1850-1860, so it would definityl be an antique safe.

Most safes built prior to 1860 utilized key locks.  Combination locks were still relatively new and not accepted by most manufacturers and/or customers.

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.   Also, please don’t use on line photo drops as most of these also don’t allow me to easily access the photos for examination.   Send the pics directly to me, while this may be more work for you, it will make my job easier.

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

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Terry V. Andreasen (Andy)


Safe and Vault related Questions; Antique Safe Repair and Restoration; With over 40 years in the Safe & Vault industry, if I can't answer your question I know where to get the answer. Current Project: Restoration of two Tilton & McFarland Safes from the 1860'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.


40 years in the Safe & Vault Industry. 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. 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

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 - 2013 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

©2016 All rights reserved.