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Antique Safes/Antique ,Safe restoration


Russo Safe
Russo Safe  

Russo safe
Russo safe  
Just picked up an old safe manufactured by the York Safe and Lock Company, York, PA, that I would like to restore to as close to original as possible for myself. I was told that the safe dates back to 1893. I also would like to gather historical information about the safe, the original owner and the path it took.

The questions I have are as follows:

1- Would a strip down to bear metal restoration be appropriate? Or, will it destroy any historical value it may have?

2- I am capable of reprinting the safe the base color but would need someone to paint the pin-striping, lettering and pictures. Could you recommend someone in the Mount Kisco, NY area?

3- What type of paint would you recommend ?

3- The person that sold me the safe never locked the inside safe and is not certain of the combination. The inside safe is currently open and unlocked.  In an attempt to remove the brass tumbler cover, I removed the one flat head screw and the cover slides about 1/8 inch to the right, But it does not come off. How do I remove the brass cover over the tumbler for the inside safe?

4- Is there anyway in obtain original sales details on the safe. (i.e. weight , original cost)

5- Since this is my first safe restoration, I would greatly appreciate any comments, advise or words of wisdom that will help me restore this 120 year safe.

I think your willingness  to share your knowledge is a truly a great thing for which I am grateful. Thank You!



Hi Ron,

I'll try to answer your questions in order, but first lets address the "historical" issue.   Unless you have documentation of a historical person, place or incident associated with your safe, then it has no historical significance.   For some reason everyone thinks that "old stuff" is historical, simply because it is old.   The key is documentation, documentation, documentation.    Without it you simply have an old collectible, possibly an antique safe.

Second issue is the age.   You mentioned that you were "told" that the safe dates back to 1893.   Again where did this info come from and what documentation do you have???

While the York Safe & Lock Company was in business from 1882 until about 1959, there are no records from the manufacturer which gives us any references as to when a particular safe was made, original combinations, who might have purchased the safe or where it has possibly been.   Manufacturers NEVER published this type of info for obvious security and liability reasons, and since they have been out of business for around 54 years, contacting them is going to be difficult.

1.  Stripping down the safe to bare metal.   Depending on the condition of the safe, this is often the best way to restore it, however as your safe has some beautiful art work and oil paintings, I would be very cautious about this.   My first recommendation would be to strip ONLY the old varnish off of the safe.   The varnish is what is giving it the yellow tint.  You might be surprised at how the art work comes to life.
I would also discuss the project with whomever you are going to use as your restoration artist.   If they are not going to be able to restore the paintings, pin stripping, logos, etc. then I would be careful.   A bad restoration can severely diminish the value.

The name "Paul Russo" on the safe, is probably the original owner (or at least an owner at some point).  You might start your "history tracking" with this name.   Again though, don't make assumptions, if you don't have documentation tying the safe to an individual, then that connection does not exist.   It is simply YOUR best guess.

2.  I don't recommend paints - I'm not a painter.   I recommend that you discuss options with your restoration artist.   If you plan on doing this as a DIY project, then your first step would be to learn everything you can about art, painting and paint.   The original paint was usually an oil or lead base paint.   Contrary to what the ECO-Nazis would have you believe, there is nothing wrong with lead based paint - just don't eat it.    Protecting the paint with either a clear coat of varnish or other suitable clear coat, compatible with your paint.

3.  As far as the locking mechanisms go, I never recommend this as a DIY project for the same reason that I never recommend using locksmiths for safe work.   Again, lack of training, knowledge and tools can easily result in a locked up container.   It is much less expensive to have a safe technician come in to service the locks and bolt work, recover the combinations, ensure its operation and instruct you in how it works.   If you are totally restoring the safe, then many of the pieces of bolt work or parts of the lock might need to be polished or replated.   This will require complete disassembly.   Again this would be a great place for your safe tech to save you a lot of head aches.

4.  As I mentioned, manufacturers NEVER published any records concerning their safes.   If you don't have the original records with the safe, then they don't exist.   Sorry.

5.  Remember the words of Clint Eastwood in the Dirty Harry movies - "A man's got to know his limitations".   The areas of restoration that you are not expert in, would indicate having outside help.   While I realize that this costs money, the results will be worth it.   If you can't afford a restoration artist, or one of the few companies in the country that do restore safes, then possibly contact a local college art department to see if they would be interested in taking the safe on as a restoration project.   If they aren't interested, they might have some talented students that would be interested for some $$'s.

again, as far as the age of this safe, and or historical significance, if you don't have documentation then it doesn't exist.   This basic style of York safe was in use from the 1880's until the late 1940's, so there is no guarantee that your safe is as old as you would like to think it is.    I have several York safes and I'm very familiar with this particular company.

If you would like me to look at your safe in more detail, I would be happy to.  

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 12mb 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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