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Antique Safes/Antique Ship Safe Restoration Followup


QUESTION: I have an antique ship's safe, it says "Bolt Lock" and "Made in Austria" on the front and "Best Austrian Iron Safe" on a decal inside the door. It is fireproof. It is designed to be opened with three keys. At present it can be opened with one key. I would like to know if anyone can restore the safe to better condition (it is a little worse for wear) and so it requires three keys to open. Can you provide any help or referrals?
Bob Stewart

ANSWER: Robert,

I'm not sure where you got the idea that this is an "Antique Ship's Safe"???   Unless you have documentation that it was actually used on one, then it wasn't.   If you acquired the container and that was the story that came with it, again unless you have documentation I would probably drop it.   These safes were generally used as "personal" safes by upper class types.   They were not used in business or anything similar.   I'm fairly familiar with this type of safe and have worked on quite a number of them, however I have a friend in Singapore who is an expert on these safes.

The first thing that you should do is to familiarize yourself with how this safe would have looked originally.   Unless you didn't include it in the photo, your safe would have also had a stand or pedestal that it sat on, which may have had several drawers and/or a door.

As for it being "fire proof", it is not!   At best, 100 years ago it was "fire resistant".   However manufacturer's rarely had warranties on their products, and I doubt many people ever went after the manufacturer when their building burned to the ground and the safe with it.

First thing I would recommend is for you to check out the following web page:    They also have a facebook page.    You can also check out the following web page to see what YOUR safe should look like restored:

I'm sorry but other than sending your safe to Singapore for restoration, I don't know of anyone in the US who can restore these safes the way that David and Desmond Siah can.

While I do have the names of about 1/2 dozen companies across the US that do restoration work, none near you.   After you familiarize yourself a bit more with this type of safe, you might check with the local college art department to see if they might be interested in taking it on as a project.

One of the "wood" staining companies, actually makes a gel stain to do this type of a restoration as a DIY project, but it would take a lot of practice before I would try it as a finished product.

Hopefully this has been of some help to you.

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

Thanks so much. Here is more information. My safe is very similar to the Singapore safe you directed me to. I bought the safe from an antique dealer in Austin in 1995, and my invoice states it is a ship's safe, so that is how I described it. Plus, the steel is corroded and painted over, as I would expect if it had been exposed to salt air on a ship. Inside the door is a decal that states "Fire Proof & Thief Resistant" thus my description of it being fireproof. The locking mechanism seen inside the door seems to differ from the Singapore safe.

Can you refer me to anyone who might be able to clean up the safe's mechanisms and make new keys? It appears that the door can be removed for shipping to an expert.

I don't like the wood-look restoration. I prefer the gloss black enamel of my safe. As far as I can tell, from scratches to the finish, it did not have a wood-look original finish, so perhaps I can strip the finish, remove rust causing the finish to blister, and repaint.


Just because someone wrote something on an invoice doesn't mean that's what it is, they may have included that info to try to make the safe seem "more" than it was.   Kind of like if you go into a fast food place and ordered a hamburger, but got a hot dog instead - but the receipt says hamburger, so it must be a hamburger!

Antique dealers are notorious crooks.   I caught a big name company advertising a safe on the internet as something that it wasn't, and asking over $14K for it.   When I called them up to challenge them on the safe and the appraised value, their answer was that one of their buyers, had screwed up, and they were simply trying to recoup THEIR loss, at an "unsuspecting buyers" expenses!

Antiques is an area that if YOU don't know what you are buying, then you shouldn't be buying them!   Knowledge is power, and if you don't have the knowledge then you are simply a sucker with a pocket full of cash.   (sorry, I kind of para-phrased PT Barnum on that last sentence).

As far as the MANUFACTURER's description from a safe made OVER 100 years ago, and in Europe, as I mentioned before - there were no guarantees.   Manufacturers could claim what ever they wanted and there were no penalties for "false advertising" as there are today.    The ONLY repercussions that existed were advertising.    If you were a manufacturer, and YOUR safe survived a catastrophic fire, and your competitor's did not - YOUR next advertisement would exclaim that YOUR fire proof safe was better than his, and HERE was the proof.    Back in the 1800's when a fire happened, generally they were only interested in keeping the whole town from burning, and really not worried about any individual's property.   So if YOU had several safes which survived a massive conflagration, this would be an even better advertisement.

In the US, manufacturers would call each other out, and provide examples of their safes to be publicly burned as a comparison to see whose safe was better.    Obviously the loser lost sales, while the winner got some great advertising.

Again though, there were very few (if any) legal recourses for you as a consumer to content that the safe had not performed as expected or advertised.

As far as the corrosion of the material.   Generally, safes made during the 1800's used types of steel that corroded fairly easily,    For every safe that actually sailed on a vessel, I can show you over a thousand that never did, and have rusted or corroded much worse.    Having rust or corrosion is no indication that it was every on a ship, or even exposed to salt air.

Sorry, I'm not trying to burst your bubble (so to speak) about the safe, and chances are that, as it WAS made in Austria, it MAY have been shipped to the US on a ship at some time.   The question is whether it was shipped in the 1800's as a new safe, or simply purchased in 1985 and brought to the US as an antique.

As far as a referral, probably the nearest company would be:

Matt's Antique Safe Restorations
Ashland, OH
419-606-3168          Matt Lamborn

Matt does some really nice work.   You would have to discuss what you have in mind with him to come up with some pricing.

As the paint that is currently on your safe is NOT original, it would not hurt it to bead blast it, though I would definitely use something like walnut shell to avoid damaging the metal any further - all you want is to strip off the old paint.   Once the paint is removed you can use a fairing compound to get a nice smooth finish, before painting.

Discuss it with Matt, he might have some other ideas.

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

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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