Locksmithing/Safe Mystery


Safe Photo
Safe Photo  
QUESTION: In cleaning out my grandfather's barn, we came across the safe that was in my great-grandfather's grocery store.  There are no identifying markings on it. The only numbers we can find are etched into the end of the handle.  Those are V221.  We estimate the age of the safe to be near 100 years old.  This is such an amazing find for our family.  We are just trying to figure out brand, etc. in an attempt to maybe get it open.  My father does remember opening it years and years ago and he swears it was only a 2 number combination????
Thank you in advance for any thoughts you might have.

ANSWER: Hi Katie,

I noticed a rather large hammer in the photo - hopefully this is NOT part of your opening attempts!    If the safe IS over 100 years old, then it is going to be an antique.  Regardless of if anything is in the safe or not, damaging an antique safe will also ruin any of "ITS" potential value.

While I would be more than happy to look at the safe to try to ID it for you, most of the exterior identifying features may be gone, which means that an actual ID may not be possible until the safe is open, though we can possibly narrow it down.

Safes similar to this one either had three or four wheel locks.   While it is possible to set the combinations on one or two numbers to make it easier for the owner to open, this isn't generally done.   With a three wheel lock and a 100 number dial, you have a possible 1,000,000 combinations available.    The four wheel lock has 100,000,000 possible combinations.

Bottom line - if you don't have a combination, and you don't know which lock you have - you really don't have a starting point.   This means that short of testing ALL of the possible combinations, which on a four wheel lock could take about 530 years - testing 500 combinations each and every day - your best bet is to have a trained safe technician from a local safe company open the safe for you.   Note:   I never recommend using locksmiths for safe work, especially on antique safes, as they generally don't have the training, knowledge or tools to open the safe without causing excessive damage, and/or charging exorbant fees.

Check your yellow pages under safes & vaults for local companies.   Or you can let me know where you and/or the safe are located (zipcode) and I'll see who I might know or recommend in your area.

As mentioned I would be more than happy to look at your safe.   Please send me as many of the requested photos as possible, though some may not be available until the safe is actually open.

In order to answer specific questions, identify, evaluate or appraise your safe, I'm going to need photos.  They should include full exterior and interior.  Detail photos should include pictures of the dial, handles, hinges, artwork, locks, bolt work, castors, cabinetry and any special details or damage.  Note:  You may have to remove the back panel on the door to gain access to the lock & bolt work – I will need these pics.
If you have a particular detail that you have a question about, I will need a photo of it along with your question.

I will also need to see any documentation that you have in regards to your safe.  If your safe has a unique historical perspective, you should be able to document this with letters, newspaper articles or photos, if not it is simply a story and will have no bearing on the value of your safe.

Please use as high a resolution as possible so that I can examine details of your safe.  Pictures which are low resolution, out of focus, or from a distance don’t help when we try to evaluate the container.  Note:  with higher resolution, you may only be able to send 2-4 pictures per email, depending on the size of the file, I have a 12mb limit per email.  If photos are larger than 2mb each, you may only be able to send 2 or 3 photos per email, requiring several emails.

Please don’t send me “cell phone” photos, unless they are very clear and of sufficient resolution.   Also, please don’t use online, internet photo drops as most of these also don’t allow me to easily access the photos for examination.   Send the pics directly to me, while this may be more work for you, it will make my job easier.

Please send all of the requested photos to:  andy@securitysafeusa.com

Note:  As I am in the field several days each week, covering a huge service area, I may not get back to your photos immediately, but I will respond as soon as I get an opportunity.  Due to field work, emails may tend to get backed up which means I may not answer them immediately.

Our informal evaluation is at no charge, however if you feel you need a formal evaluation or appraisal for insurance, estate sales, donations for tax write offs, or to establish it as an antique, there is an administrative fee for this service.

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

I sent the requested photos to your email account listed at the bottom of this page because I had difficulty attaching this to this page.  I am concerned they never reached you. Would you be able to recommend a reliable safe expert in the Dayton or Columbus area of Ohio?  We are still trying to find someone to help us open the safe.  Thank you for your time.

Hi Katie,

I've been on the road almost consistently over the past two weeks, so my emails at work are pretty backed up.   Hopefully I'll be caught up by the end of the week.    Sorry but work comes before the free stuff.

The one really good recommendation that I had, died last year so I don't have anyone that I know in that area any longer.

You might try:

Safe Tech of Dayton
937-684-3535       John Johnson
1288 Southlyn Dr
Dayton, OH 45409

You can discuss the opening with him to make sure you are comfortable with his skill level.   If you have any questions about proposed methods or costs, feel free to run it by me.   

As soon as I get a chance to look at the photos, I'll respond back to that email.


All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


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 AllExperts.com

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

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 and Western Nevada)

©2017 About.com. All rights reserved.