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Antique Safes/Who Can Open Barnes Safe?


QUESTION: My family bought an old Inn built in ~1840.  In the basement, within the dark room used to store coal for the old coal-fired furnace, sits a safe.  It says, "Barnes Safe & Lock Co, Pittsburg, PA."  My father who poured much energy into restoring the Inn, passed away in the 1990's, and we have often talked about opening the safe to see if anything is in it (My dad always assumed that there was nothing in it, but I don't think he had any objective evidence to support that position).

The safe is approximately three feet tall and almost as wide.  It is shut and locked, and we have no combination information.  I have never tried to take quality photos of it, especially because it sits in such a dark part of the basement.

We are in the Pittsburgh area - would you recommend a knowledgable and reputable person to open it?

Thanks, much.


ANSWER: Hi Brad,

In General, people do NOT abandon safes with stuff left inside.    It's interesting how many people hope empty safes are full of "treasure"!   I guess that's why things like the lottery and Las Vegas make so much money.    The chances of finding valuables inside of a safe are about the same as hitting the super lotto!

That being said, there are exceptions.   For instance a death in a family.   If the owner had a safe, chances are there might be stuff inside.   I recently opened a safe, brought in by a man who acquired it at an estate auction.    For some reason the family and/or estate didn't have the safe opened.    Inside was about $3,000 to $4,000 in cash, jewelry including a small pistol.

The Barnes Safe & Lock Company was in business from the 1870's through the early 1920's.     From sometime around 1870 - the name was changed from "Pittsburgh" to "Pittsburg" (without the "H").   The name wasn't officially restore to the original spelling until 1911, though it took another 5 to 7 years until everyone had shifted to the new spelling.   There appears to have been a bit of resistance.   As your safe has the spelling - without the "H", it would probably have been from before the name change.    There is no indication that the safe maker ever changed the name of the company to coincide with the city name change.

The lock that I would expect to be on this safe would be a Sargent & Greenleaf, C62 series, 4 wheel, rotary bolt type lock.   This lock would give you approximately 100,000,000 potential test combinations.   Testing 500 every day, would only take about 530 years to test them all.

A couple companies you can check with in the Pittsburgh area to discuss opening your safe would be:

Penn-Trafford Safe & Lock
Craig Toocheck


Alpha Star Safe & Lock Technicians
Brian Joe McWilliams

You can discuss opening options, repairs and costs.   If you have any questions concerning procedures or costs, feel free to run them by me before you have them do the work.  Afterwards is simply crying over spilt milk - and I have little sympathy!

Note:   As parts are not going to be readily available, non-repairable damage should NOT be an option.   While manipulation is a possibility, you MAY NOT have a trained safe tech available.

Drilling - when done professionally and correctly, will NOT damage the safe or the lock, and the usually single, very small hole can be easily repaired.

Hope this helps,

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

QUESTION: Mr. Andreasen,

Thank you for the history and information.  We'll have a safe-opening party without expectation!  Assuming that we get the safe open without damaging it, can a combination be learned or set so that it will function, again?

Thank you.


Hi Brad,

In general the answer is "YES"!    I caveat this answer by saying that I always use myself, or my service techs as an example.

Regardless of what the safe is going to be used for afterwards, or whether it is on its way to the dump - we do NOT ruin or destroy any safe.    We always ASSUME that when we open the safe, at some time, the owner will probably - NOT possibly - want it repaired.

As parts for older safes, and especially antique safes, are rather non-existent, this ALSO means that we do no damage to the lock or other components that we can't repair.

When we finish opening and/or repairing your safe, it would be in working condition!    This of course assumes that there are not OTHER problems which would have to be addressed to bring the safe back to fully operational condition.

As indicated I cannot speak for ANY OTHER company or safe technician.   Part of your job when you hire them, is to ascertain their capabilities.    You should have a basic idea of what they are going to do to open the safe.   How much damage to expect.    What they plan to do for repairs and service.   And of course, how much they are going to charge for their services.

If there is nothing wrong with the lock, after repairs and service, they SHOULD be able to either recover or reset the combination, and it should function.

Hope this helps, if you have any questions after discussing your safe with them, I would be happy to try to answer them.  

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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

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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