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Antique Safes/Ely Norris Manganese Steel Safe


QUESTION: Our museum recently received a donation of a barrel safe - the inscription on the safe is York Safe & Lock Co. - Ely-Norris Patented Manard Manganese Steel Safe.  The safe door has written on it "Elys Patent July 31, 1906".  The serial number is 3386.  The safe was sold to the Bank of New Haven (Missouri) by the John Baumann Safe Co. of St. Louis.  I have several questions.  Since much of the exterior is rusted with the coating peeling off we would like to restore it to its former appearance. First, is the original coating (paint, etc.) lead based?  Do we need to be cautious when stripping the remaining coating?  Second, since we want to refurbish it to its original appearance are there any photos of this model which would show the detailing.  Some of the detailing is still visible but some designs have been lost due to the peeling. Since the unit appears to be locked could you describe the workings of the locking mechanism.  It has a double Yale combination lock with a square headed bolt mechanism on the left side of the door.  The Yale wheels spin freely.  Can you detail how this locking system works?  And finally, is there any hope of ever getting the unit open?  Thanks for any info which you might offer.  Sincerely,  David Menke

ANSWER: Hi David,

The safe is termed a "cannonball" type, not a barrel safe.

First off let me address the "lead Base paint fears".   Sorry but I'm not one of the environmentalist nut jobs, that fear every thing in the world.   While I would expect you to take obvious safety precautions when painting, sanding or stripping any type of material, I do not subscribe to the environmental fear mongering surrounding lead based paint, asbestos, and other similar items.   Basic safety precautions are more than adequate.

Next item - restoration.   My first recommendation would be to restore the paint job that was actually on your safe, if possible.   Depending on its condition and legibility.   Even if you completely strip the safe to bare metal and start over, I always like to see the original art work preserved.
While many safes were built in a specific style, the paint jobs were often very individual and unique.   If any of the original art work remains, photograph it and/or lay out a plastic or visquine type material to copy the lettering and stripping onto.
I do have a couple photos of some examples for you to use, but it isn't necessary to follow a "strict" adherence to a particular detail.

I would recommend having the safe opened for a complete restoration, PRIOR to any paint restoration efforts, as opening the safe might damage your work.

As far as "hope of getting it open",  Even with a rusted container, it can be opened, repaired and restored, though there are probably less than a dozen individuals in the country that I would recommend for this work.

As far as the locking mechanism on the safe, it has two.   The Yale 101-1/2, dual lock, combination lock and depending on the age of the safe, either a Consolidated / Dalton automatic time lock, a Yale & Towne T-movement automatic time lock, or a Yale & Towne Y-361 Automatic Time Lock.

If the container has the Yale 101-1/2 combination lock, I would expect it to also have the Yale & Towne Y-361 time lock.

As chances are the time lock is wound down (unlocked), unless for some reason it failed locked, the only lock "active" at this time would be the mechanical combination lock.    To my knowledge this lock could be set up both as a redundant lock and as a dual custody lock.   As a redundant lock, EITHER half of the lock could be unlocked to open the safe.   As a dual custody lock BOTH halves would need to be unlocked.
This lock came in both a 3 wheel version and a 4 wheel version.   I would expect it to have the four wheel version which if it is set as a dual custody lock, you could possibly have a total of two hundred million possible combinations to test.

The dialing sequence for the lock would be:
upper lock:
5 times right to the first number,
4 times left to the second number,
3 times right to the third number,
2 times left to the fourth number,
1 time right until the dial stops.
Lower lock
5 times left to the first number,
4 times right to the second number,
3 times left to the third number,
2 times right to the fourth number,
1 time left until the dial stops.

Note:  Left is counter clockwise, Right is clockwise.   Do not count the revolutions of the dial, count the individual number as it arrives at the 12 o'clock index mark.

The "square headed bolt", to the left of the dials is for the "operating handle".   This would be similar to the handle that you use in a socket wrench set.   In the morning, after the time locks have wound down and opened, the safe owner would dial their combinations to unlock the mechanical lock(s), and then install the operating handle.    Rotating the handle would rotate the door to the open position.   Then grasping the pull handle attached to the upper crane hinge, the door "plug" would be pulled out of the body of the safe, revealing the interior and allowing access to the contents.    Many of these safes also had an interior locking compartment which had its own combination lock, for extra security.
At the end of the day, the time locks would be wound for the next opening period, the door plug reinserted into the body of the safe, and the operating handle rotated to the locked position.    When the door arrives in the locked position, the automatic time lock would activate securing the door.   The mechanical combination locks would be spun off, locking the door.

Hope this gives you some basic info on its operation, however without the combinations, you will need the assistance of a trained professional safe technician, who also has knowledge of these locks and this safe, to open it correctly.   Using a locksmith or safe tech who is NOT familiar with this safe could easily cause unrepairable damage, and parts are NOT going to be available for repairs.

If you are interested in having the safe opened, I would need to know where you and/or the safe are located to recommend someone in your area.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Andy,  Thanks for your prompt reply.  The info is quite helpful.  I should add that we are not certain that the unit is locked.  We have not attempted to turn the bolt mechanism for fear of what damage we might do. If we use a pipe wrench and apply pressure, assuming counter-clockwise movement, what should happen?
Regarding condition, the rusting is quite severe.  Thus it will need a complete stripping. I have photgraphed all of the lettering.  Is it possible that one could have a stencil made from the photo which could then be placed on the refinished unit.  I realize that some of the original lettering was done by hand.
Could you recommend a technican?  We are located about sixty miles west of St. Louis in east central Missouri.  Thanks again.  David

Hi David,

I would recommend using a large crescent wrench or other suitable wrench.   Pipe wrenches have teeth which are designed to grab round items - like pipe.   The teeth could cause damage to the service of the lug.

If the door is not "rusted in place", you should get a teeny tiny bit of movement if it is locked.   If it is not locked it should rotate.

You may need to build a "dam" around the opening edge of the door, to flood it with a penetrating type oil, unfortunately with the crane hinge in place this may not be feasible.   Again a possible necessity for a safe technician.

As far as restoration work, I would bead or sand blast the surface of the safe to remove ALL traces of the old paint and rust.   The surface of the safe may be pitted so it will be necessary to lay down a coating of a rust preventative primer paint, then use a fairing compound to bring the surface to a smooth finish - THEN you can start laying down the layers of paint.   Pin striping, lettering and any art work would be done on top of the finished painted surface, and then a clear coat to seal and protect it.

Lettering can either be done by hand, stencil or by having decals made.   Decal's will probably be the most accurate representation, and if one gets screwed up, simply get another.   Most sign makers or graphics companies can help with these items, and the cost may be much cheaper than having the art work done by hand.    Decals do not take away from the accuracy of a restoration, and the use of decal's on safes dates back to at least the 1870's.

As far as safe technicians available in your area, my first recommendation would be:

Frank Zykam Safe & Vault, LLC
St. Charles, MO  63301          (next door to St. Louis, MO)

you can also try Ray Hearn, but my understand is that he may be retired now

Hearn Safe & Vault
607 North Grand Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63103

Frank also does some antique safe & vault restoration work, so he can be of assistance in that area as well.

Hope this helps,

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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

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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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