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Antique Safes/Herring/Hall/Marvin Fire safe or security safe


I am looking to buy a gun safe and the ones I can afford, around $1500, all seem like tin cans to me, so I have been looking for used/older safes.

I recently came across a Herring/Hall/Marvin just sitting out in front of a pawn shop and stopped to look at it.  It is old and would need paint etc.  But it also does not seem like a tin can.Very heavy and very solid.  The owner says it weighs between 3000 and 3500 lbs and in fact keeps telling me it is a vault and not a safe.  I was told they had it listed for $1500 but would let it go for $1000.  I am thinking I could get it for maybe $800-900 cash.

After reading this forum I have a few questions.  I know you typically ask for several pictures and I have a few exterior and interior pictures to send if necessary.  However I doubt the owner will allow me to pull the door apart to get those that you request.  I will have to go back and look at the handles for a serial number which I do not have.

Now for my questions:

I understand that this company made fire safes and security type safes.  Is there anyway to tell which this safe would be by looking at it?  Pictures of the door edges or something?  

Also it has an old Yale lock on it and supposedly it functions fine.  Though I would have to work it before paying for it.  I was wondering if all locks are some standard size and could swap it out, if necessary, with a new production lock from Sargent and Greenleaf or some other manufacturer?

Lastly I have read that these old safes, even if a security model, may not be up to par for that purpose.  As in modern thieves could get into it real quickly, by beating the lock in or something like that.  Is this true?

Would I be better off buying a new Cannon or Winchester etc.?

I really appreciate any advise you could give on this and if you need more information let me know.

Thanks,  Robert

ANSWER: Robert,

Ok, while I agree with you concerning most gun safes we need to put some things in perspective, so that you can make an informed decision about what you need as opposed to what you can afford.

First lets look at what the purpose of a safe is actually for - keeping your stuff safe from burglary or fire.   Doesn't matter, the point being when you return from being gone for a long weekend to find you've been burglarized or your house burned down, what ever you have placed in the safe should still be there and more importantly unharmed.   Anything that doesn't provide this type of protection shouldn't be considered.   As far as burglary resistance, safes are rated in their abilities to keep people out AND in dollar protection.   This is very similar to any insurance policy that you own.   For instance if your house is worth $500,000 having a policy which only protections for up to $50,000 doesn't make much sense.   Similarly with safes if you plan on protecting $50,000 worth of your stuff, you don't want a safe which is only rated for up to $5000.

Take a look at items that you plan on putting into your safe.   For instance I've got a couple firearms which are each worth over $5000.   Putting either one in the majority of gun safes available today, maxes out the protection value of the safe, which means that if I store any other valuables I'm well over my limit.   So at a minimum, you FIRST need to take a look at what you plan on storing inside the safe, assigning each item a "REPLACEMENT" value.   When you have your total, then double or triple that amount, and you are now ready to start looking for safes.

safes are rated not only in their ability to keep people out, but also in dollar values that they are rated at.   For instance:

Most gun safes     max storage value:    $5000
better quality B rated safes:          $10,000   These safes would have at least 1/2" of plate steel in the door, and at least 1/4" of steel in the walls.
TL-15 rated burglary safes:          $40,000 max storage value
TL-30 rated burglary safes:          $100,000 max storage value

Fire resistance ratings.
1 hour fire resistance     This should be considered a MINIMUM rating.    while there are a lot of safes which offer 1/2 hour or 45 minutes of fire resistance, I would consider all of these as "sub-standard" ratings.   While they are better than leaving your items on the kitchen table, they are still substandard or "CHEAP" quality.
90 minutes of fire resistance   better fire resistance
2 hours of fire resistance      much better fire resistance
4 hours of fire resistance      Best fire resistance

If you can get a gun safe that meets the burglary resistance AND has at least 90 minutes, you are probably in pretty good shape.   While fire protection isn't a mandatory item, I think if you have the opportunity it should be on your list of necessary options.

NOTE:  Safes which are over 50 years old DO NOT MEET current standards for either fire or burglar resistance.   While they may look substantial, with very thick heavy walls, they were built before the "American Tool Revolution".   During the 1950's (after WWII), the normal homeowner was into fixing and repairing everything themselves.   Tool makers were (similar to the computer revolution) making newer and faster and better hand tools at a tremendous rate.   Just look at the battery powered battles in the last decade - as soon as one manufacturer came out with a 12vdc system the next manufacturer came out with a 15vdc system, then another came out with an 18vdc system, then a 24 vdc system, etc. etc. etc.   Today, you can find almost every tool known to man in a battery operated, easy to carry tool.

What does this "tool" info mean to you???  Safes which were built over 50 years ago were NOT designed to protect against these types of tools.   Simple hand tools can easily defeat most of the old safes with a little bit of knowledge.   As for the owners "DESCRIPTION" of the safe - sellers are NOT a buyers friend - PERIOD!  They are in the business of getting rid of something, so the truth isn't necessarily something that they are going to be forthcoming with.   Making something SEEM better than it is AND lowering a price is an easy way to get a sucker (sorry I mean buyer) to open their wallet to make the purchase.   Regardless of whether you are buying a house, a boat, a car or a safe, ANYTHING that is NOT new should be appraised or evaluated by someone who knows what they are looking at to give you an unbiased opinion of what it actually is, so that YOU can make an informed decision on whether or not to buy it.

As far as "standardization" of the locks - forget it.   Many of the manufacturers prior to the 1960's either made their own locks or had locks specifically made for them.   If you are considering an upgrade, get that information BEFORE wasting money buying a safe that isn't compatible.

As far as buying a "Winchester" or "Cannon" safe, both of them have some good safes and both of them have some crap - just like every other manufacturer.   At this point you aren't ready to buy a safe, you have some home work you need to do.

#1.   Look at all of the stuff that you need or plan on putting inside the safe to get an idea of the cubic inches (or cubic feet) of storage space.
#2.   Assign a REPLACEMENT value to each item.

With the info provided above, and with these last two items you are now ready to start comparing apples to apples and oranges to oranges.   If you NEED something with at least 1" of steel or equivalent protection in the door, then anything less should not even be considered, REGARDLESS of the price!!!!!

now for the best kept secret - YOU don't have to have only ONE safe.   If your budget will ONLY let you buy a $1500 safe at this point, then get the best QUALITY safe that you can get for that amount.  You can always buy a second and third safe later as your budget allows, but don't put all of your eggs, guns or other valuables in a CHEAP quality safe, simply because your budget is the problem.

Remember when you come home after a long week end to find your cheap safe ripped apart, and your $10,000 worth of guns, or your bag of gold all missing, that originally the cheap safe seemed like a good deal at the time.    The safe like insurance is ONLY meant to be used ONCE.   The ONE time it protects you from a fire or burglary is what it was designed to do.

As far as helping you pick a safe - sorry that's not my job, its yours.   What my job is, is to give you all of the info that I can, and to answer your questions so that YOU can decide if its a good safe.

Hope this helps.

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

QUESTION: Thank you for your response.  It was very helpful.  I understand what you are saying and those are all points I had not considered.  Thank you for bringing them up.  And you were right I had not researched and thought about it enough.

In doing more research it seems that if most gun safes are not actually real security safes at all and are instead fire safes and most of the less expensive brands, IE Cannon Winchester etc., not even very good at that.  Even most of the more expensive guns safes  seem to be leaning toward fire safes vs. security safes, I.E. Ft Knox and the like. Am I correct in that assumption?

I was wondering what you would think the fire rating of this Herring/Hall/Marvin would be?  It is one of their big double door models. After thinking about your previous remarks and my thought of most gun safes not really being anything other than fire safe, combined with the fact that my house has a monitored alarm.  And that I would probably would have 10-15 thousand replacement value and with my homeowners insurance etc. I Could probably be good with a nice sturdy fire safe.


You are exactly correct.   The majority of "gun safes" are little more than cheap security containers - though costing a bunch of money.    If the manufacturers would put as much into the security of the containers as they do into HOW they look, they might be better.   Unfortunately the reality of our times is that there are a lot of "big box stores" that are offering "stuff" cheaply, which means if ANYONE wants to be in the game, they also have to offer "cheap stuff"!!!!

My basic purpose is to educate you so that YOU can be an informed consumer.

As the majority of gun safes (or home safes) are installed in a residence, and as the Majority of losses are going to be Fire related (water, smoke and heat damage), most safe manufacturers are going to provide pretty good containers which will protect what ever is stored inside, during a home fire.   As break-ins are a smaller number of incidences, and the fact that most of these are crimes of opportunity, with the bad guys being ill prepared with tools, even most of the cheaper gun safes WILL provide a minimum level of protection.    HOWEVER - "IF" the criminal breaking in, as any knowledge that you have a safe, and "IF" they prepare by bring even some basic hand tools, the majority of the gun safes on the market can be ripped open.

As far as the Herring-Hall-Marvin you are considering, it does NOT meet any current standard for fire resistance.   
As for your alarm system, most alarm systems can easily be bypassed, and many of the so called monitoring companies are extremely substandard.   In our area, we have a company, whose name and phone number are close enough to ours, that we receive phone call complaints from their customers on a daily basis.   Obviously I redirect them to the correct phone number as I can't help them, but as this is a state licensed and regulated company, it seems highly suspicious that they could possibly be receiving the shear number of complaints that I'm seeing and still be in business.
Routinely in many of the cities that I do business in, the average response time for monitored alarms from the police - "IF" they even answer, is around an hour.    I've known a number of customers who have called the police AFTER they have arrived, and found the bad guys still in side, and the police still don't respond - so having a monitored alarm is little more than a deterrent.

You need to change the way you think of your security.   EVERYTHING is simply a "slice of time"!!!!!

The amount of protection your doors, windows and the locks on them, and the time it takes a thief to break-in or bypass them is a slice of time.   The amount of time it takes to bypass or shut down your "monitored alarm", is a slice of time.   The amount of time it takes to break into your safe, or through any other security items - is a slice of time.

Time is the thief's worst enemy, and the LONGER it takes for them to accomplish their tasks, the more in your favor are the items.   You can choose to go with a fire safe which is NOT designed to thwart break-in attempts, as you believe that the locks on your doors and your alarm system is adequate to prevent a theft, but I choose to look at my security as insurance against loss.   You get one chance to do it right, if you don't have the right protection then you are gambling with your items.

As far as your supposed "replacement value" provided by your insurance company - you may want to reevaluate this, and don't assume - check with your insurance company to see what is actually covered - be specific not vague.    I've seen too many people that have suffered a fire or theft, that can't prove WHAT they actually lost.   Doesn't matter how good the insurance company, they are NOT in business to make payouts.    If YOU don't have specific coverage for items, or YOU can't prove what was lost in the fire or theft, then chances are YOU are not going to be receiving any checks from the insurance company!    DON'T GUESS, MAKE SURE!!!

Hopefully you don't see this as being preachy, my job is to give you the info, your job is to make the decision.   Just remember that after a fire or theft, any complaints are simply crying over spilt milk.   Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start over from scratch and just don't make the same mistakes twice.    Either that or do it right the first time.

Good luck with your choices.  

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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

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