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Antique Safes/can't open cannonball safe


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I have an antique cannonball safe that is purported to have come from a bank in the late 1800s. My dad bought the safe 50 years ago when his business safe was carried out of a bathroom window. I last unlocked the safe with the help of a locksmith around 15 years ago.  I wrote down the combination as 4 numbers... XXRight, XX left, XX Right, XX left, Right to open.  I didn't write down how many turns to make each time.  I also don't know which of the two dials to use.

I recently decided to try to use the safe.  I tried the combination several times on the top dial but it never stopped on the final turn to the right.  I then tried the lower dial and found that it wouldn't turn. I decided to try to open the safe using the crank.  It opened.  I then closed the safe and (big mistake) turned the dials.  I have not been able to figure out how to open it since that time.  


1) which lock should I use (upper, lower, or both)?  I only have one dial that I can move back and forth between the upper and lower lock spindles. Why are there two dials?
2) How do I know the dial is installed correctly on the lock spindle (square shaft)?
3) How many revolutions should I turn in each direction?

I am attaching pictures of the safe both open and closed.

Thanks for your help!



Hi Glen,

There is a really good chance that YOU are no going to get the safe open.  You are probably going to need the assistance of a REALLY trained safe tech from a local safe company.   Problem is there aren't many safe techs in the entire US who are exceedingly familiar with this safe or lock.

The safe appears to be an Ely-Norris.   This company was in business making safe from 1903 until about 1912 when the company was acquired by the York Safe & Lock Company.   The production of these safes was continued under the York label into the early 1920's.

The lock on the safe is a Yale 101-1/2 bank lock, manufactured by Yale specifically for Ely-Norris.   This is a dual combination lock where both combinations must be dialed to unlock the safe.   I don't believe that this lock could be used as a "redundant lock", meaning either lock can open the door.   The lock was available in both 3 & 4 wheel versions.

The dialing sequence for the lock WILL depend on the number of wheels in the lock but based on your combination description, it would appear that you have a four wheel version.   The dialing sequence would be:

5 times right to the first number,
4 times left to the second number,
3 times right to the third number,
2 times left to the fourth number,
1 time right until the dial stops

Note:   Right is clockwise, left is counter clockwise.   Do not count the rotations of the dial, count the individual number as it arrives at the index mark.

As for mounting the dial, if it doesn't have an index mark or an identifying feature to figure out its assembly, then you will have four different combinations to test out.

Why are there "TWO" dials?? - because it is a dual lock - two locks in one.   Each being capable of a different combination, with 100,000,000 possible test combinations for each half.

HOPEFULLY the previous owner or your father had the sense to set BOTH locks on the same combination.

Good luck, but if you can't get it, you will need to start looking for a trained safe technician who is VERY familiar with this safe and this lock.   Just because someone is interested in working on your safe doesn't mean that they are qualified.

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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