Antique Safes/Please help me with information on my antique safe
QUESTION: Hi Terry.
I acquired an antique Diebold safe yesterday and I am excited about restoring it. I was hoping you can help me with some basic questions. How can I figure out what year this safe is and its value. If doing a complete overhaul on this safe where is the best place to get the original detail work done. Please let me know any information I can provide to help you identity this safe. I know its 36 1/2" H i need to double check the width but it may be 26 1/2 W
ANSWER: Hi Billy De,
Unfortunately Diebold has never released any records concerning serial numbers and/or dates of manufacturer. Fortunately as Diebold is still in business you can try to contact them to see if they have any records for your safe - HOWEVER, you well need the serial number of your safe. The serial number should be stamped into the ball of the T-handle.
I'm not sure what you want me to identify, as we already know that it is a "Diebold's Special". Note: These safes weren't "special", like a limited edition, it simply wasn't Diebold's "Standard" safe. The standard was built as the work horse, to be installed every where providing the most protection for businesses. The "special" was more of a personal safe, though these were also found in business and banks. I've got photos of one with an installed jewelers chest that was used by a bank.
As far as where to get "original" detail work done - unless you have a time machine, you aren't going to get original work done. So, I guess what you are referring to would be restoration work done. Unfortunately, there are ONLY about 1/2 dozen guys in the entire US, doing restoration work on antique safes and generally they don't take on too many projects like this.
Let me clarify - while they do restoration work, they do it on safes that they own, and then sell them. The main reason being is that buyers will take the safe "as is" after the restoration work is completed. When you work on someone else's safe there are several areas of "mis-communication" that can turn a project into a nightmare. First being the owners concept idea of what he wants the safe to look like, second being the concept idea that the painter understands what he thinks the owner wants, and third being the actual work done. Many times it doesn't matter how good a job looks, if it doesn't meet the owners imagined idea of the finish product, then for all intents and purposes it is a failed project - meaning a lot of time and money down the drain.
I'm not sure how far into the project you are at this point as you have only provided the one photo, but my first recommendation would be to strip off the layers of VARNISH only off the face of the safe. The original paint may be in very satisfactory condition and it may not be necessary to repaint the entire safe.
As far as having someone in your area - take PLENTY of up close, detail photos. In fact I would recommend laying a sheet of visqueen or plastic over the front and tracing the lettering and pin striping so that you have template to go from. You can also check your area for local painters that specialize in lettering and pin striping to see what services they can offer. They guy that I use, specializes in motorcycle art work and graphics.
There are also plenty of sign & graphic companies that make decals or wraps for cars/trucks that may be able to help provide the pin striping and lettering that will match yours exactly.
Fortunately you have a lot of local resources available, how you make use of them in your project, and how the project turns out is up to you.
You may want to check out the following FaceBook page for some ideas: Matts Antique Safe Restoration. Matt Lamborn may have some photos to help you out - if nothing else he is a great resource.
Hope this helps. I'm happy to see that you are interested in saving this cute little safe.
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QUESTION: Thank you so much for the detailed reply. Very helpful and much more then I was expecting.
I just want to make sure that by sanding or sand blasting and refinishing this safe and doing a restore I would not be damaging it or its value in a professionals opinion. I was told by a few individuals that are not in the safe market that if any work was done besides the as-is condition it would ruin the safe?
Lastly from my short research the age of this safe to me was from 1890-1910 do you believe this is accurate?
Thank you again for the information you have provided.
Hi Billy De,
A major difference between restoration of a document, art work or similar items is that you can't recreate what the person did - well you can but it isn't the same item!
With OPERATIONAL objects, like safes, guns, cars and even locomotives - ALL of the items MUST work and be in correct condition to have been properly restored. This also means removal of rust and damaged paint in some cases. Oh, by the way just as a reference rust is NOT Patina - it is oxidation of the metal and is NOT a good thing. Restoration or preservation means REMOVAL of the rust and preserving the material so that the object IS in good operational condition for the future.
While in some cases, due to the tremendous amount of art work on some safes, AND if we can ID the artist I would recommend against stripping the paint and/or sand blasting or bead blasting the surface material. In most cases this isn't going to be a problem.
The last safe that we restored had body damage. The safe had been dropped onto one corner edge of the safe causing severe bulging of the top and left sides of the safe. In this case besides sand blasting to remove all of the old paint, we had to carefully skin the safe and install new metal top and left side. Afterwards the safe was painted and lettered. This sounds fairly simple but I wasn't happy with the paint and lettering and so we had to do it a second time to correct a few flaws.
Fortunately the know-it-all's, who aren't in the safe business or even the antique safe business generally have their heads up their ass, and have no actual idea about the market. Again I have to caveat this with the fact that there ARE a few safes, that I would NOT recommend doing this to - those that have documented historical significance or where the original paint is tied to a painter of some importance - THEN we would have a different approach. For the other 98% of the safes out there, this applies.
Think about it this way - over 98% of the antique safes are NEVER going into a museum so they would be owned and/or displayed in someone's home or private collection. Would you wanted a rusted lump in the corner to show off, or something that has been restored to its original operational beauty???
When you have guests over for dinner, wouldn't it be cool to open your restored antique safe to pull out a bottle of after dinner wine, or something similar??? I've got one customer who has weekly poker games with a group of friends - EVERYTHING that goes with the game, including his cigar humidor is kept in a restored safe, with his name on it and a beautifully painted Royal flush on the front. He never plans on selling this safe, but you tell me how much this safe is worth to him???
As far as your age range of 1890-1910 - you are in the right ball park, but I believe that the "specials" were built into the early to mid 1920's. Maybe someday I'll get access to Diebold's serial number files!