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Antique Safes/Opening my antique Hall's Safe Co. safe

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QUESTION: About 12 years ago I purchased a safe manufactured by The Hall's Safe Co. It has been an incredible conversation piece due to its good condition and location in my home, but curiosity has now gotten the best of me! My purchase was made with an UNKNOWN COMBINATION, so it was very cost effective!

I understand from previous posts and answers that my safe was manufactured between 1902 and 1904 or 05 as it does not have the disclaimer below the eagle, and has the name "The Hall's Safe Company" on the door front. The serial number on the handle is 55781.

When I made my purchase I did contact the only known local company (at that time) that would open the safe without damaging it. That, was not cost effective for my pocket book. I would now like to open my safe un-invasively. This is everything I know, can you help me?

ANSWER: Hi Eric,

I'm not sure what you mean by "un-invasively"?    If you have a heart attack, you don't get to tell the surgeon how to repair your heart, and similarly a trained safe technician should know the best way to open your safe.

If you are indicating that you ONLY want the safe manipulated open, then I also assume that your "pocket book" is once again flush with extra cash and you can now afford the cost.

While manipulation can be used to open the lock, the reality is that manipulation doesn't always work and/or you may not have a safe technician in your area who is competent in this skill.    In general, with manipulation you are paying for the "SERVICE" and NOT the results.   You could wind up paying double the cost of what drilling and repairing the safe, when done correctly, might cost.   And the big difference, drilling is a guaranteed method, where manipulation is not.

Let me explain my reasoning behind this, and how I approach similar safes, so that you have a better understanding.   (note:  I'm using myself as an example, situations will vary throughout the country and by company).

Business is based on productivity - meaning the more jobs that I can effectively do each day, the more money my company makes.   "YOU" are not going to be the only job that I have that day.   Meaning that I have to be able to arrive at your location and have your safe opened and repaired in a reasonable amount of time, so that I can be on my way to the next job.    I've seen some of the best manipulators in the country spend ALL day working on one safe, while in the same amount of time, I've opened 8 safes for multiple customers.

If you luck out and find someone trained in manipulation, who has no other customers or jobs scheduled that day, then they have the luxury of spending as much time as necessary working on your safe.

This by no means indicates that manipulation isn't possible or shouldn't be tried, what I'm trying to convey is a "Time/Money" concept to you.    For instance my best time to open a safe with an unknown combination is under five minutes - the last safe I manipulated open (couple weeks ago) took almost 20, but I had a large audience who had questions about what I was doing, and a lot of back ground noise - this particular safe was only about 5 minutes away from me drilling it!!!

In general, I will always try manipulation, not only to open the safe, but as basic dialing diagnostics to make certain determinations about the lock and the safe.   If, within a reasonable amount of time, I'm not getting numbers or readings that I'm happy with, I won't hesitate to switch to the drill to open the safe - that being said, a professional safe technician does NOT drill a safe to ruin it, and generally the single small hole, can easily be repaired with no damage to the safe.

I'm sure that there is someone in your area that can open your safe (may or may not be to my standards), but you also need to be reasonable in your expectations - either that or be willing to pay out some extra bucks for having a pro meet your requirements.

Costs to expect (reasonable)
Manipulation     $350 to $500     Regardless of whether or not the safe opens.
Drilling         $350 to $500     This should include opening, repairing, and the trip charge.
parts - if necessary - would be additional.

If you don't have a trained safe tech in your area, familiar with your type of safe, then let me know where you are located (zip code) and I'll see who I might know or recommend.   Note:   I never recommend using locksmiths as they generally do not have the training, knowledge or tools to work on safes without charging excessive fees or causing extra damage.

I quoted a lady $480 - TOTAL to open and repair her safe the other day.  She called me up to let me know that she had chosen a locksmith who she thought would be cheaper - the final fee wound up over $750 and she said he "chopped the safe open", totally ruining it!    Most times when you focus on your "pocket book" you are missing the big picture, which in this case was opening and repairing - not ruining, her safe!

Obviously your other option would be to test dial all of the possible combinations.   The lock on this safe (three wheel lock with 100 number dial) yields about 1,000,000 test combinations.   Testing 500 every day should only take about 5.5 years to test them all, though hopefully you will recover the working combo long before you test them all.   And best part - other than time - this won't cost anything.    

Hope this helps, and if you need a reference, let me know where you are located.



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

QUESTION: Hi Andy,

Thank you for your very informative answer!

The minimum cost estimate I had been given previously started about three times higher than your (reasonable) costs, that was 12 years ago. I'm sure you could imagine my dilemma when hearing a number like that for a starting point. I won't be calling that so called reputable company again.

The purchase of this safe was never meant be an investment. The safe is meant to become a family heirloom because it has my family name on the door.

I have seen safes that have been drilled and opened by amateurs in the past and told myself that I would never do that or have that done. You say that a professional safe technician should be able to manipulate the lock or drill AND repair the ONE small hole necessary for opening a safe. Yes, I am very interested in getting this done. please send me a reference. My zip code is 98321, hopefully you will know some one in my area that meets your standards.

Thank you again, for your time and answers.

Answer
Hi Eric,

I totally understand your dilemma,  Recently I had a woman call me to let me know that she had turned down my offer to open and repair her safe - complete job for between $450 to $500 in favor of a local locksmith/safe guy, who seemed to be "cheaper"!    In the end it cost her over $750, and she stated that he "chopped it open" (her words) and did no repairs, ruining the safe completely.

So it isn't 12 years ago - it still happens today on a regular basis.  

I wish that there was an ethics standard in this industry and everyone not meeting that standard would be drummed out of town - tarred and feathered on a rail, but sadly, this isn't the 1880's!

What I indicated is that while manipulation is possible, it may not be available.    Either because no one in your area is trained, or because the safe lock simply won't talk.   While it is possible, it isn't a guarantee!
Drilling when done correctly by a trained professional safe technician, should NOT damage the safe or the lock and the usually single small hole, usually 1/4" or less can easily be repaired.

Fortunately for you, you have one of the top safe crackers in the US in your back yard, I can't tell you if he is going to be cheap or not, you will have to discuss pricing with him to determine whether or not the price is acceptable.   Obviously if you can take the safe to him, you can save some money - or if you really want to save money - load the safe up and bring it to me.   After all its only about a 12 hour trip to the San Francisco Bay area.

Anyway, give Dave McOmie a call and discuss having your safe opened.   He can manipulate, and/or drill the safe, and more than likely if he drills, his hole may only be around 1/8th of an inch.    Obviously quality work may cost as much as a sloppy job done by an un-professional locksmith, but the difference is in the end product - not having to worry about your safe being damaged or ruined.

You can contact Dave by going to:    http://www.davemcomie.com/openings.htm     
or emailing him at:    davemcomie@mac.com

I highly recommend him.......... or you can bring the safe down to me!   :)  

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Terry V. Andreasen (Andy)

Expertise

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.

Experience

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

Organizations
Safecrackers International and the National Antique Safe Association Safe & Vault Technicians Association

Publications
The Coffee Table Guide to Antique Safes AllExperts.com

Education/Credentials
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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