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marvin safe
marvin safe  

Just bought a house that was built in 1911 an this safe was in basement. The dial doesn't turn and I don't have the combo. Can you please give me the history on this safe and any tips on how to get in with out destroying the safe?

Is this Antique safe worth restoring? Sides are showing a lot of rust. I can provide more photos if you need them.

Thanks for you time.


ANSWER: Hi Mike,

I'm not sure what "History" you are looking for??? If you are looking for "THIS" particular safes individual history, then sorry - that information doesn't exist.    If you don't know who the previous owners were, and any particular, significant historical events that may have surrounded this safe, then no one else will either.   There are simply no records of ownership or such events.

If you are looking for "basic" history of the manufacturer, I can provide that for you.

Age of your safe would probably between 1885 to 1892.

Next item opening the safe.    Sorry but we do not give out ANY opening instructions other than what I would expect the correct dialing sequence for the lock should be.   We don't give out any information to open safes for obvious security and liability reasons.    I have no way of verifying who you are, and/or your relationship or authority to work on the safe.

That being said - if the dial doesn't turn, my first two thoughts are that the lock MAY be unlocked already, and/or secondly that you have a major mechanical issue.   

In the correctly locked position, the handle should be vertical, pointing between 12 & 6 o'clock.    In your photo your is pointing to between 1 to 1:30 (approximately), which should be almost full bolt retraction.

Assuming that the lock is unlocked and the bolt work partially retracted, you may have an issue of rust jamming the door, or something similar.    If the bolt work is NOT partially retracted and the lock is jammed - you have a major lock problem.

Mechanical issues require hands on service by a trained safe technician.   This isn't something I can diagnose over an email / website.

As far as the question about the safe being "worth restoring" - sorry but you are asking the wrong guy - my answer would ALWAYS be yes, however as you haven't trusted me with your checking account yet - "YOU" will have to determine whether or not it is worth restoring to you.    As this safe, which is about 122-130 years old "IS" an antique, I think it is worth the effort.

Unfortunately, in its current condition - locked with an unknown lock or bolt work problem, rusted, etc., the safe basically has a negative value - that being the cost to have it opened and repaired.    Once the safe is opened, so we can get a full evaluation of its actual condition, then I can throw some numbers at you.

You will need a safe technician who is trained and familiar with antique safes - NOT a locksmith.   If you don't have a local safe company then let me know where you are located (zipcode) and I'll see who I might know in your area, that I might recommend.

Hope this helps, or at least points you in the right direction.

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

open safe
open safe  

safe door
safe door  

Thanks for the info. You were correct the safe was unlocked and it just had some rust holding the door back from opening. I now have it open. I have attached a couple of pictures. Please let me know if you need additional pictures.

What is a ball park figure to restore this safe?  

What does is safe like this worth fully restored?

My zip code 07016.

Much appreciated.



Hi Mike,

Sorry but I don't do "ball park" restoration figures for a number of reasons - the main one being "WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS".
I also don't speculate on what a fully restored safe might be worth.    If you would like me to look at it AFTER you have finished your restoration work, I would be happy to, however I have no way of knowing what or how much work that you are going to put into it, and so I can't even hazard a guess on how much it might be worth.     It will all depend on the work that you do.

Ultimately, the "VALUE" of ANY safe is the price agreed upon by a seller and buyer, regardless of an appraised value.    For instance if I appraise your safe at $1000 and it actually sells for $1500 how much is it actually worth - fair market value/appraised value - or the value agreed upon by the buyer and seller.    On the other hand, just be cause a safe appraises at $1000, doesn't mean that it will sell for that.   If there are several other similar safes on the market at the same time, it becomes a buyers market, and prices may be substantially lower than appraised.

Generally I tell both buyers and sellers - "YOU" need to have three prices in mind - high, medium and low.    As a seller, you will have your asking price (high value), the price you would actually LIKE to get (medium), AND the lowest amount that you would COMFORTABLY let the safe go for, and still be happy.
The buyer should also have their Offering price (low value), the price they are looking to pay for a safe (medium) and the HIGHEST price that THEY would comfortably pay for the safe, and still be happy.
Somewhere between the seller's HIGH asking price, and the buyers "LOW" offering price, there is usually a value that can be agreed upon - sometimes not.

The problem with major restoration work, is that unless the safe has a historical value, or is unique enough to command a higher value, you can easily spend more for the restoration work than you will get back.

This doesn't mean that YOU don't have options to keep the restoration price down, you just have to be realistic with what YOU goals are.   If you have the DIY skills to do all of the work yourself including cabinet work, painting, metal work and possible machining, then pretty much all you have into it is YOUR time.
On the other hand, if you don't have all the skills you may need to hire a professional to complete some of the tasks.
There are also other options like getting the art department at a local college to take the safe on as a restoration project.    This may take several semesters and classes, as this isn't going to be their priority or focal point, but prices are going to be fairly cheap.   If you don't have the time, then perhaps there are some really talented artists/painters at the school that would be willing to work on it for some cash.   Students are always looking for money!

A full blown restoration could easily be in the $4000 to $8000 range, depending on how much work is actually done.    I've got one in my store now, and we are ONLY doing the face of the safe and the door.   With the work being done, we are in the $3000 to $4000 range.   But we are using a professional painter for the art work.

Without the amount of rust on this container, my first action would be to DRY the thing completely out.    This means that you may have to bake it in a large oven for several days to a week.   Low heat temperature is all that is necessary, however ALL the moisture in the walls needs to be removed.
Any moisture that is left WILL cause problems later regardless of the restoration work.

Next I would strip all of the bolt work, cabinetry, etc. off the safe, and have it bead blasted back to bare metal.    Immediately after removing all of the surface paint, you will need to paint a base coat of a rust preventive paint.    If there are any rusted section which have damaged the integrity of the skin, these areas will need to be removed and patched.

After the base coat has dried, you can use a surface fairing compound to remove all of the pin holes and rough surfaces.    Sand this down smooth and then another base coat.

After several coats of paint to give the surface a nice texture, you can paint any art work, pin stripping or lettering.    Clear coat over this to protect the paint.    Originally it possibly had varnish.    While you can use varnish, it tends to yellow as it gets old, which gives the safe an older appearance, however to keep the paint below looking crisp, you need to replace the varnish every couple of years.

After the surface of the interior has been repaired, primered, fairing compound applied and base coats of paint finished, you can build a new interior.    Woods that were used by original manufacturers varied from Oak to Pine including some Cedars.    If you use a good wood and finish it off nicely, you will never want to close the door it will look so nice.

I do have a couple companies near you that you can discuss the project with, in fact one of them was in California visiting me last week.

Precision Lock & Safe Inc.
240 Jericho Turnpike,
Floral Park, NY   11001
516-616-0854          Dov & Elaad Israeli

Accu-Safes Inc.
112 Newtown Road,
Plainview,  NY   11803
516-752-3893          Neal Krazalowski

Both companies are fairly close to you - about 1 hour to 1-1/2 hour drive, and they are very close to each other.

You will have to discuss the options and costs with them to see what prices you are looking at, depending on how much work you want done.

Glad you got the safe opened, that DEFINITLY saved you a bunch of money, not having to have it worked on.

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

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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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