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Antique Safes/opening sequence


QUESTION: We have a safe that the plate identified as The Dick.
The next identifying information is The Safe Cabinet Marietta, Ohio.
This safe has been in the unlocked position for many years. It was recently locked and even though we
have the combination, we cannot get it opened. It is a 4 number combination
and our instructions state to turn it counter clockwise first. Can you offer any further advice
to assist us.

ANSWER: Hi Nancy,

Yes this was actually a safe company and not a cruel joke!   Here is a basic history of this company.

The Safe Cabinet Company was organized under the laws of Ohio about January 31st 1906.  Having then succeeded a partnership composed of Willis V. Dick and George B. Shad of Marietta.  They traded under the firm name of the Safe Cabinet Company, and who founded the business now owned by the Safe Cabinet Company in February, 1905, and then commenced the manufacture and sale of the goods known as “Safe-Cabinets”.  His safe-cabinet was a novelty manufactured from sheet metal in such a way as to leave an air space between two thin sheets of metal in which space was placed a fire proof material in such a manner as to become what is known as “fireproof” construction.
  During the early years of its manufacture, prior to 1909, the word “DICK” was used in different ways in connection with the name “Safe-Cabinet”, but the words “safe-cabinet’ or “Safe-Cabinet Company” appeared on all of these products.  From the year 1909 on the name plate simply called it the “Safe-Cabinet” putting on also the date of the patent, the name of the company and its place of manufacture.

Early on this company used several different type locks including key locks and combination locks.   The standard lock used on most of their safes was a Yale combination lock which dialed up as RLRL - NOT LRLR.

You have indicated that your instructions indicate turning counter clockwise (LEFT) for the first number - if that is the case, then your dialing sequence should be:

4 times left to the first number,
3 times right to the second number,
2 times left to the third number,
1 time right until the dial stops - should be around 90 and may be your last number

Note:   Left is counter clockwise and right is clockwise.   DO NOT count the revolutions of the dial, count the individual number as it arrives at the 12 o'clock index mark.

If it still won't open, try reversing the turns or RLRL instead of LRLR (above).   If it still won't open, then you may not have the correct numbers - it may be time to have it checked out by a safe tech from a local safe company.

Hope this helps,

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

QUESTION: Thank you for your rapid and detailed response.
The sequence was not successful lrlr or rlrl.
The numbers are 1 through 12 and are stationary.
The dial rotates to the numbers.
Could this be an indicator of a mechanism that
dictates a different opening sequence or method?

Hi Nancy,

Yes, I know exactly which dial ring plaque you are talking about, however the only ones that I've seen used a key lock and not a combination lock, so I'm interested in seeing what is actually installed.    The standard locks used by this company were from both Sargent & Greenleaf and Yale, and were three wheel locks.   Possibly the earliest one of these safes that I have photos of with a combination lock is from around 1909.   It has a 50 number dial and an S&G three wheel lock.

Based on the info you originally provided, that you have a "four number, combination", this would indicate a three wheel lock.    This is actually three combination wheels and a drive wheel.

Because of the designs of this type of lock and the wheel interactions, the 4-3-2-1, LRLR or RLRL dialing sequence "IS" the correct sequence, regardless of whether it allows 12 numbers, 50 numbers or 100 numbers.

If you are dialing it correctly and NOT making a dialing error, then the only other possibility is that either you DON'T have the correct numbers, or there is a lock problem.

Fortunately as the dial only uses 12 numbers, it won't be hard for you to make a spreadsheet illustrating ALL of the potential combinations for this lock, using the dialing sequence originally presented, using the LRLR sequence.

If it still won't open, then it is probably time for you to have it checked out by a safe technician from a local safe company.

Once you get it open, I would like to see photos of the dial installed and the lock installed.

Hope this helps get you started, you only have about 1728 possible test combinations to try out (12x12x12 = 1728).   There are some combinations that you can probably skip - for instance any time you have the same number in two adjacent spots.

This can be a family project over the next couple of weeks, assign blocks of test combinations to each person, with a "prize pool" for who ever finds the correct combination.

Note:   If you are not dialing the sequence correctly, even if you dial up the correct numbers it will NOT open.   Any dialing error, will move one or more wheels out of alignment.

Make sure that YOU understand the correct dialing sequence or you are simply going to be wasting your time.

Hope this helps,

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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

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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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