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Antique Safes/National Safe



Hello Doug,

My hometown has a National Safe & Lock Company safe from Cleveland, OH.  It is approximately 5' high by 3' deep and 4' wide.  It has two doors and two handles.  As you face the safe, the door on the right is a little larger than the one on the left.  No one knows the combination.  They think it is around a 1900 safe, maybe older.  The town is well over 200 years old.

My father is willing to give it a crack, but he doesn't know whether there are 3 or 4 numbers.  Whether he starts by going right of left.  Also, he doesn't know if he should hold up on the handle with the last number to have it "drop" in the final number or wait until he gets to the last number before lifting the handle.  

My father is an elderly man who is looking forward to the challenge of finding the combination for the town.  He just needs some guidance to where to start and any other suggestions you think would be valuable.

Thank you for any assistance you can provide.  I have more pictures if they will help you help us.

Is it Paua or Paula?  You guesstimate on age sounds right.  The shovel handle on the door, as far as I have seen, was only used on the heavy wall fire safe models.  These safes are quite thick and heavy.  It should have a 4 wheel Yale lock that will come to a stop on its own.  Pretty sure it will be a roller bolt model and the last turn going right.  So you would have 5R-4L-3R-2L-1R.  Often the first and second number are set on the same number which would give a 5L-3R-2L-1R sequence. My suggestion would be for him to take up watercolor painting. The odds on hitting a 4 wheel lock could wrap up an immense amount of time.  I have manipulated open hundreds of safes and I usually just drill those old 4 wheel Nationals. My suggestion is that he take up watercolor painting like my grandfather did.  It will be more enjoyable and less frustrating.  Doug  

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Doug MacQueen


This unusual and highly innovative safe from the later 1800's is a Corliss. William, the much younger brother of George Corliss of steam engine fame, spent several years perfecting this design and it was first displayed at the 1876 Philadelphia U.S. Centennial Exhibition. I do extensive patent research helping me in the study of antique U.S. safes and safe locks. Repairs and part making for antique U.S. safes of the early to mid 1800's, both key and combination. Also the study of early round door chest designs up to and including cannonball safes of the early 1900's.


40 years in the lock and safe trade with a stint in bank service work. Openings, repairs and moving of safes of all types.

Charter member Safe and Vault Technicians Association SAVTA, National Safemans Association NSO, National Antique Safe Association NASA. No longer current.

SAVTA monthly magazine

CMS (Certified Master Safecracker- NSO) and CPS (Certified Professional Safe Technician - SAVTA)

Awards and Honors
2nd place national combination manipulation contest 1986 and now in 2016 1st place

Past/Present Clients

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