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Antique Safes/Vault Door


Painted door with hinge
Painted door with hing  
QUESTION: Mr. Andreasen:  We purchased an old tavern that was, in the late 1800s, a bank.  In the basement was a concrete vault with a white door.  It dawned on me that the door was painted over, so I scraped paint and found a beautiful door that we had brought upstairs (to my contractor's dismay) and will put on display.  Two questions... Any suggestions of how to best clean it without damaging the paint/lettering?  And what would be a proper looking wheel to install/where would I get one?  Wish I could attach more pics for you but looks like 2 is max

The barely legible sticker on the metal "door jam" said it had a 3 year warranty from last service or install of 1888 (sooo cool!).  Any other info about the door, company (Herring Hall Marvin Safe Co in Hamilton Ohio, abbreviated O.), etc would be greatly appreciated.  THANKS!!

ANSWER: Hi Fred,  

Great Find.

Obviously I will need a lot more photos to answer specific questions concerning the door, but I'll see what I can do.

As far as basic history:

Herring-Hall-Marvin Safe Company was the merger of four other companies, who were basically the "big names" at the time - they were;

Herring & Company, New York, NY
Farrel & Company, Philadelphia, PA   (partners with Herring),
Marvin Safe Company, New York, NY, and
Hall's Safe & Lock Company, Cincinnati, OH.

These companies merged in mid 1892, and as the Hall's safe company was the largest, and primary concern, the three Hall's brothers took major positions in the new company.   Manufacturing was continued at the four original factories.

In early 1896, the board of directors began taking a new direction, and decided to merge all the factories into a new modern facility in Hamilton, OH.   The Hall's brothers had a falling out over this, and the Board of Directors relieved them of their positions - Edward C. Hall, being the president of the company.   All three of the Hall's brothers finished out the terms of their contract leaving the company in September of 1896 to form a new company.    

Ground was broken for the new HHM facility in January of 1897 with the factory being in full production by July or August of that year.   It remained in Hamilton, until its demise in 1959.

Herring-Hall-Marvin Safe Company went through several bankruptcies and two world wars before they were finally acquired by Diebold Safe & Lock (Diebold, Inc.) during their final bankruptcy in 1959.   A federal anti-trust commission determined that Diebold was acquiring too many of the major safe companies in order to monopolize the market, and so order that they dispose of HHM and the York Safe company, which they had acquired in the late 1940's.   The HHM facility in Hamilton, OH was closed and all assets disposed of between 1962-64.

As for the paint removal, in general the older original paint will be the hardest, with subsequent layers softer and easier to remove.   There are several different types of paint remover on the market that you can use, HOWEVER, I would discuss the project with a local paint company to find a product that will work really well.    basically you ONLY want to remove the paint slowly and carefully, one layer at a time, until you reach the original paint and art work.    Work slowly and ONLY in small sections so that YOU can control the paint removal and NOT the chemicals.    Always have some type of neutralizer readily available so that you can immediately stop the chemical process, if it gets too far ahead of the work you are doing.

As far as the door itself, and answering specific questions concerning it, I will need to see much better, and detail photos.

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, unless they are very clear and of sufficient resolution.   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.

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

Grand Rapids National Bank  4th and Stocking
Grand Rapids National  
QUESTION: Thanks!!!  You are providing a great service to many of us out here.  I will take and send more pics to your email address.  
In the meantime, here is a cool old pic of where I think the Vault was originally installed in Grand Rapids, Michigan

Hi Fred,

Great photo.

Once I see the "detail" photos, I might be able to narrow down the time frame of the door manufacture for you a bit.

As there are no "aftermarket" supply houses available for older parts, you may have to have them fabricated - hope you are really friendly with a local machine shop.

If any parts are still around, they are most likely in someone's collection.    I'm not sure what might be harder - finding them, or getting the owners to sell the items.

good luck.

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Terry V. Andreasen (Andy)


Safe and Vault related Questions; Antique Safe Repair and Restoration; With over 40 years in the Safe & Vault industry, if I can't answer your question I know where to get the answer. Current Project: Restoration of two Tilton & McFarland Safes from the 1860'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.


40 years in the Safe & Vault Industry. 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. 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

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 - 2013 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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