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Locksmithing/Herring-Hall-Marvin Safe Early 1900's


QUESTION: I recently purchased a large Herring Hall Marvin, St. Louis, Mo. double door safe from a local jewelry that went out of business after 91 years.  There were pictures of the store from the 1920's showing the safe. It is a large safe approximately, 58" tall, 38" wide, and 30" deep. Inside there are two flat steel doors, then inside of that it looks like it was built to store papers and receipts.  It sits on 6" diameter cast wheels.  I have the combination, and had the safe open at the jewelry store.  At one time it had the glass tear gas tubes inside, they have been removed.   I have the combination and the large flat key to the doors inside.  Here is the problem. After moving the safe from the store to my garage, the combination will no longer open the safe.  Even the retired  jeweler, who is an old high school friend came over and tried to open it with no luck. After much reading on the internet, I fear the move has triggered the "relocker" and now all I have is a 2500 pound paperweight.  There are no certified safe techs in our small town, and the only suggestions I have received is to cut it open from the back. With out spending a large sum of money to get a safe tech from a city 200 miles away( the closest I could find), is there any thing I can do?

ANSWER: Roger,

Chances are the relocker did NOT activate.   If the combination isn't working, then it is a lock problem.   If the combination unlocks, but the handle won't turn, then it "MIGHT" be a relock problem.

Chances are also that your safe is NOT a jewelers safe.   Regardless of who owned the safe, this is a designation of how the safe is built, NOT by the ownership.   Generally Jewelers are traditionally cheap when it comes to safes.   They don't necessarily buy what they need, they buy what they want to spend - this hasn't changed one bit over the last 100 years.

Your safe was designed as a fire resistive safe, for document protection, NOT burglary protection.   At the turn of the century, FIRES were a much bigger problem than burglaries.

Bankers and Jewelers models, were made of thick solid steel.   While your's may look really thick, it uses a thin (1/4" or less) outer skin, with 3-5" of concrete or mortar type insulation, and then another thin inner skin.

If your safe is over 100 years old then it would be an antique.   Any damage that you do to the safe, such as cutting a hole in the back to have it opened will severly depreciate it, or out right ruin it.
You have to decide if the loss of the value of the safe outweighs the cost to have it opened correctly.   Chances are if you have the correct combination, a trained safe technician can open it without doing in harm or damage to the safe.

As far as the 200 miles is concerned, most real safe technicians are use to traveling large distances.    For instance my service area is Fresno, CA to Oregon, including western Nevada.    I routinely travel 200-400 miles almost every day.   In fact JUST to go to the office, I have 120 mile round trip.
Let me know where you and/or the safe are located (zipcode), and I'll see who I know in your area.

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

I am at my wits end on this old safe.  I have tried the combination over 100 times in the last few days.  Tried it straight, reversed directions, one or two numbers either side of the real numbers.  The handle seems to fall into a notch with the straight combination, but just not turn the rest of the way. Could one of the wheels have come loose?  I'm ready to break out my cutting torch, or my Stihl cut off saw.  This old safe has beat me, and I'm ready to beat on it.  I'm retired, so I have lots of time, but not much money to throw away on this project. It was for fireproof storage for the wife's genealogy records and such, not for valuables.  If I just drill right through the middle off the lock with a large hole saw and take out the lock and wheels in pieces, do you think it would open?  Right now on ebay, there is a Herring Hall Marvin safe listed with a picture of the inside of the door showing the lock and works. Is this what my safe looks like?  This thing is driving me crazy, and I'm ready to take it out on the safe!!   As for location, I'm southeast Missouri, about 150 mile from St. Louis, and 250 mile from Memphis. Thanks for your help.

ANSWER: Roger,

I'm not sure what you mean by "a wheel coming loose"???   Each wheel is free to rotate on the wheel post, continuously in either direction, the only "limit" would be that it can only rotate until it contacts another (adjacent) wheel, then either both wheels rotate, or the first one stops.
If the handle engages the lock at one point, and the dial will no longer turn, then you have a straight tail piece lock.   Each wheel utilizes a "screw in drive pin" on each side, which not only sets the assigned number to that wheel, but allows pick up between the wheels.   Unless you have sheared off one of these drive pins, there is nothing to come loose.

You seem to have conflicting plans!   on one hand you are trying to sell the safe, and on the other, you are thinking about ruining it.   While I'm sure that you will eventually get it open, your plan for using a hole saw will simply ruin the safe, and unless you are planning on paying someone to haul it away, you won't get much for it.

Your "location" is kind of vague as St. Louis and Memphis are about 281 miles apart, so I can't see how you could be the distances you've indicated, and also in southeast Missouri?????Probably the closest company that I would recommend would be:

Frank Zykan Safe & Vault
St. Charles
St. Charles, MO   63301

while there are a number of locksmiths and safe techs scattered throughout southern Missouri, I would need a zipcode to try and narrow down who might be close to you.

Assuming that you have the three wheel lock on your safe, it may dial LRLR or RLRL, depending on how it was set up originally.  While dialing it one way would unlock it, reversing the directions will NOT work.

You might try dialing:

4 times Left to the first number,
3 times Right to the second number,
2 times Left to the third number,
1 time Right to the fourth number - STOP - turn handle to open.

If this doesn't work, reverse the directions or RLRL vs LRLR.   NOTE:   DO NOT count the revolutions of the dial, you are counting the individual number.  If your first number is 50, you would turn the dial counter clockwise (LEFT), stopping the fourth time the number 50 arrives at the 12 o'clock index mark.

If it still doesn't work, try reversing the direction.  

While I understand your frustration, bottom line should be selling the safe.   Ruining it won't get you any money, and will probably cost you to have it hauled away.    having it opened and repaired WILL leave you with something that you can sell, and at a minimum recoup any monies that you have spent.

Good luck.

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

One more idea from a crazy friend with a large excavator, if I turn the safe upside down will the relock pin fall out, or is it spring loaded? His idea was load it back up on my trailer, bring it out to his shop and he would pick it up and turn it upside down and shake it to drop the pin out.  Yes, there would be beer involved.  The lock does not stop when you finish the combination like the lock does on my other safe. It starts out right and goes 5 turns to the first number, then 4 turns and 3 and so on. Ends at 95 then then left to zero and open, or that's the way it worked at the jewelry shop before I moved it.  Sorry about the big drill and the torch comment, it's just this safe looks at me every morning from the garage, smiles and says " I've beat you!", and I just want revenge. Zip is 63701, maybe I was little off on the miles, but my dog got me up at 4 that morning, so I was sleep deprived. I'll try your latest suggested turn example and let you know what happens. Heck, there is nothing on TV worth watching anyway.    As for selling it, I've determined I'm going to beat this old safe one way or another.  Thanks for your help, and putting up with these wandering diatribes.  Hope you have a great weekend.


Quit talking to your friends, they have no idea what they are talking about.   If this safe is the model I'm thinking of, it does NOT have a relocking pin, the device is a pivot arm which blocks the bolt work.   The only way it activates at all, is if the Curb of the lock has been removed.

In the preceeding answer, I gave you the dialing sequence assuming it to be a three wheel lock.  This is why you need to provide me with ALL of your information up front.   As it now appears that you may have a four wheel lock, the dialing sequence will be either RLRLR or LRLRL.

5 times Left to the first number,
4 times Right to the second number,
3 times Left to the third number,
2 times Right to the fourth number
1 time Left to "0" - stop and turn the handle.

If this doesn't work, try dialing RLRLR vs LRLRL.   NOTE:   DO NOT count the revolutions of the dial, you are counting the individual number.  If your first number is 50, you would turn the dial counter clockwise (LEFT), stopping the fourth time the number 50 arrives at the 12 o'clock index mark.

Unfortunately, Frank Zykan is still going to be your closest and best bet.   I have several really good safe techs in the Lexington, KY area, but that's even further away.    Give Frank a call if you still can't get it open.   It doesn't hurt to discuss it with him.   If you were planning on loading it on your trailer anyway, why not simply take it up to Frank's shop to have it opened, and be done with it.    Then you can sell it and make some money back.


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Terry V. Andreasen (Andy)


Safe and Vault related Questions; Antique Safe Repair and Restoration; With over 42 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. 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 Author of "The Coffee Table Guide to Antique Safes".

SafeCrackers International and the National Antique Safe Association Safe & Vault Technicians Association (SAVTA)

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 Expert 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 and Western Nevada)

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