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Antique Safes/Restoration of Vault Door


Recorder\'s Vault
Recorder's Vault  
See attached photo. This Hall's Safe and Lock Vault was installed when our building was built. (1882). The messy paint job was probably done in the 40's or 50's.
Is there someone with top expertise whom we can hire to properly restore this important historic item as part of our display? If so, please provide contact information.
The Courthouse is located in Tombstone, Arizona. It is not feasible to remove the door so our expert will need to ravel here.
Thank you
Hollis Cook
Special Projects Manager
Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park


I'm very familiar with the safes at your location, as I visited Tombstone two years ago, and took multiple photos of most of the photos of the safes and vault doors in town.

The biggest problem that I noted with the staff on hand at the time, was a total lack of knowledge of some of the displays, and some really incredible ideas on what maintaining a historical item entailed, which included ideas that letting an item rust, rather than maintaining it (performing regular maintenance) was justified for "historical reasons".   The "inside" of this door is terribly rusted which will take more than simple restoration to bring back to life.
Some of the "ideas" like keeping the "day doors" of this vault closed and locked to maintain an "air tight environment" to protect what ever is stored inside, shows a total ignorance of these doors or what they are capable of.   It wouldn't surprise me in the least to find most of the items damaged with moisture and mildew.    The rust on the back of this door is a good indication of the amount of moisture probably/possibly present inside the vault.

Unfortunately this door exhibits someone's idea of what "restoration" looks like.   While some safes did have "Picasso" style paint jobs, this was NOT the norm for these doors.   It would have had some simple pin striping, probably the name of the court house or county, and an oil painting.

Also unfortunately, there are only around a dozen professional safe restorer's throughout the US, and none of them are interested in traveling or spending any amount of time at a remote location to perform the necessary maintenance, and painting that would be required.

So this brings us down to a "what the heck can you do" under these circumstances.   There are several possibilities available to you.   As far as "it is not feasible, to remove the door" - actually yes it is totally feasible.   With the door open at a 90 degree angle, and with the correct equipment, this door can easily be removed, to go to where it can be taken care of.  Removal of the door will also allow for servicing (cleaning & lubing) of the hinges, so that they don't continue to rust as well.

Your other options include possibly contacting a local college art department, to have them take on the door as a restoration project.   Unfortunately, THIS option will NOT account for any of the maintenance that is also necessary.   The paint that is currently on this door is NOT original to this safe, and is NOT indicative of what it would have looked like.   Removing all of this paint will NOT damage the historical nature of this door, and/or its history.

If you have any photos of what the door originally looked like, these can be used as a starting point.   I've got plenty of photos to work from to complete any missing art work.

To restore this door correctly, it will need to be sand or bead blasted to remove the rust and all the paint.   All of the bolt work needs to be cleaned of all the rust, and replated.   The door would then have a rust preventative primer coat, prior to the art work being done, and lastly a protective clear coat applied to protect the paint.   Originally Varnish would have been used, but as varnish tends to yellow and/or discolor over the years, needing to be replaced, it may be better to use a newer product.    If done correctly, this door and the restoration project will accurately represent what the door was like when it was originally installed, AND more importantly, this shouldn't ever have to be done again.
Completion of this project - with the doors removed - might take a month, with all of the necessary entities involved.
Trying to do it onsite, would not work, and the end product might not be any better than what you currently have.   Some of the items would still have to be removed to perform the necessary cleaning and replating.

I'm more than happy to discuss the project further, if you are actually interested in saving this door, and or several of the other vault doors and/or safes that you have on display - especially the Corliss Cannonball safe outside of this building.

While obviously transporting the doors and/or safes back to my shop, or to one of the other restoration companies, may be cost prohibitive, and as I understand that much of your budget is through donations, unless you have a benefactor interested in helping you repair the vault doors in this building, I'm not sure what the answer is.    While I do have some ideas they aren't going to be simple or cheap either.

Bottom line, while I do not agree with some of the "historical ideas" that most historians have with display items and/or "preservation", I want you to know that bottom line the restoration of these doors, and the preservation of the history is as important to me as it is to you.

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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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