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Old safe
Old safe  
Hi, I inherited an old safe and I'm trying to find out if it's worth anything.  I think I have the combination, but it won't open...I would appreciate if someone would tell me if I should put money into it to get it open. Please see attachment


Sorry but this is going to be a long answer to a short question - designed to give you information that you will need so that "YOU" can decide if the safe is worth saving.

This company was originally started in the 1850's as the Burke & Barnes Safe Manufacturers, of Pittsburgh, PA., by Thomas Barnes a blacksmith and his brother-in-law Edmund Burke.   In the early 1870's Mr. Burke retired from the company at which time Mr. Barnes changed the name to the Barnes Safe & Lock Company.   The Barnes Safe & Lock Company lasted until the 1920's.
This company basically had its beginning after the "Great Pittsburgh Fire of 1845", which destroyed almost half of down-town - or business Pittsburgh.   Burke & Barnes began experimenting with different methods for constructing safes which provided protection from fire.   As crude as their early safes were, they incorporated every principle, of the most advanced fire proof construction, known at that time.

Note:  The original spelling of the city "Pittsburgh" was officially adopted in April of 1794.  It was briefly referred to as "Pittsburg" (without the "H") from sometime after 1859 until the name "Pittsburgh" was officially restored in 1911, though examples of the spelling, without the "H" can be found in many newspapers printed through at least 1916, illustrating the resistance to change.

As Barnes Safe & Lock Company basically had its roots in this city with the spelling without the "H", we can assume that they were one of the companies resistant to changing the name, so their safes can probably be found through at least 1916 with the spelling without the "H", as your safe has.

So, bottom line, your safe is at minimum an antique safe, as far as "VALUE" it will depend on the overall condition of the safe.   I will need to see much better photos to evaluate or appraise it for you.

As far as the correct dialing sequence for the lock, this portion will be based on the standard lock found on most Barnes safes.   As you didn't provide the combination that you have, I can't help to "decode" it for you, to see if it is a reasonable combination.

Generally Barnes used Sargent & Greenleaf roller bolt type locks.   These came in both 3 and 4 wheel versions.   You may have a four wheel lock with a three number combination as well.

Dialing sequence for the four wheel version:

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 - turn handle to open.

Dialing sequence for the three wheel version:

4 times left to the first number,
3 times right to the second number,
2 times left to the third number,
1 time right until the dial stops - turn handle to open.

If you have three numbers but it doesn't open when dialing as above, you may have a four wheel lock set to three numbers, in this case simply change the first line of the sequence to:

5 times left to the first number.

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.   So in the first example, if your first number is 50, you will turn the dial clockwise (right), stopping the fifth time the number 50 arrives at the 12 o'clock index mark.

If it still won't open, you are either making a dialing error, or simply don't have the correct combination.    Time to call a local safe company - NOT a locksmith.

Cost to open and repair the safe should be in the $350 to $500 range.   If you don't have a local safe company, let me know where you are located (zip code) and I'll see who I know in your area.

NOTE:   I never recommend using locksmiths for safe work, as they generally don't have the training, knowledge or tools to work on safes without causing excessive damage or charging exhorbant fees.

As far as evaluating or appraising your safe, I would be more than happy to look at it after it is opened.   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 online, internet 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.  

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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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