You are here:

Antique Safes/Denio & Roberts 1880 safe combination


1880 Safe
1880 Safe  

1880 safe knob
1880 safe knob  
Hi Andy,
 Hope you can help us out. My late father left the combination to his ~1880 Denio & Roberts safe for my mother but we're unable to open it. We're wondering if this sequence looks correct.

6 turns left to 20
3 times right to 40
2 times left to 60
right to 10

Does this type of safe use 4 numbers in this type of order? That sort of thing. Pics attached. Any ideas appreciated.

Hi John,

Ok, lets start with all of the problems with this safe, and your premise concerning it.

First off, you do NOT have an 1880 safe.   This was one of the PATENT Issue dates for the lock.  What this date does tell us is that the "LOCK" could NOT have been made prior to Nov. 2, 1880, as that was when the patent was issued.   Patent dates would be used to refer back to a specific patent, and could have been used for up to 20 years after the issue date, if the item still referred to that particular patent.    So this lock could have been made from 1881 to at least 1901.

Second problem - While the firm of Denio & Roberts was still in business, I have no records of them continuing to make safes after about 1870, and the bigger problem is that they NEVER used these locks on any of their safes.   In general, their safes used key locks and NOT combination locks.
Beginning about 1864, their advertisements indicated, that they were making "Improved Fire Proof Safes", using "Kershaw's Powder Proof Locks" (key operated).

So while your safe "IS" probably from the 1864-1870ish time frame, this lock was NOT original, nor was it installed by this factory.   Chances are it was installed much later by someone who was "upgrading" the security of the safe.    Unfortunately, now that it is an antique, it definitely takes away from the value, somewhat.

Ok, so onto the lock.    Chances are this "IS" a four wheel lock, with the first two wheels set on the same number, so that they can be dialed at the same time.   Many people simply didn't want to make all the extra required turns, and would request that it be made simpler.

The dialing sequence for the lock which I would expect to find should be:

5 times Left to the first number,
4 times Right to the second number,
3 times Left to the third number,
2 times Right to the fourth number,
1 time Left until the dial stops (possibly around 10) - Turn handle to open safe.

If the first two wheels are set to work on the same number, then the dialing sequence would be:

5 times Right to the first number, 20
3 times Left to the second number, 40
2 times Right to the third number, 60
1 time left until the dial stops (possibly around 10) - turn the handle to open the safe.

One of the problems with having combinations "passed on" is that they tend to be written or described in the manner that, THAT person understands the combination, and NOT necessarily in the manner the lock works.    (note the "6 turns" listed - this is simply an extra turn for the benefit of the operator and NOT the lock.   while it doesn't hurt to turn this extra revolution, it also doesn't help, and is NOT part of the dialing sequence).

For instance easily 1/3 of the people that I meet daily do NOT understand turning the dials left (counter clockwise and right (clockwise).

That being said, there were a few versions of Yale locks that do dial RLRLR instead of LRLRL, so until you actually know what lock model is installed on this safe, I would try both directions.

If you still can't get it open, then it may be time to have it checked out by a safe technician (not a locksmith) from a local safe company.   If you don't have any nearby, let me know where you are located (zipcode), and I'll see if I know any one nearby that I might recommend.

Hope this helps,  

Antique Safes

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


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

©2017 All rights reserved.