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Locksmithing/Antique Safe with no numbers on the dial.


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Hi Andy,
I have a question about this safe in the picture. I don't know what kind it is or what kind of lock it has,and it doesn't have numbers on the dial, it has letters. I am trying to get it open. The marks seem to be every 2 1/2 numbers apart if I counted correctly. Have you seen this type before? Do you know what kind of lock it is or what is the correct dialing sequence? And notice the knob instead of a lever. Do you know about how old it is? Thanks for what ever info you can give me.

Hi Dave,

There were only a few manufacturers to use safes with letter dials.  Unfortunately your's doesn't have any identifying markings.

With the dial and the key hole slot, slightly above the dial at the 11 o'clock position, I would have to believe that your safe is possibly a Tilton & McFarland safe,  possibly 1850's to 1860's, or so.   And yes I'm very familiar with this lock.

Basic operation of the lock would be:

1.  Turn the Left knob counter clockwise from 12 o'clock to 6 o'clock - this sets the lever for key insertion.
2.  Insert the key - groves facing up.
3.  Turn the key back to the 12 o'clock position.   The key will (should) hold the levers in the correct position.
4.  Dial the combination.
Note:   You can dial the combination before inserting the key as it is a separate piece of the puzzle.    However the lock will not engage the combination wheel until the key has been inserted.
Note:    The lock is a straight tailpiece type lock, so while you CAN dial it either LRLR or RLRL, each direction WILL have a separate (different) combination.

Dialing sequence is:
4 times Left to the first letter
3 times Right to the second letter
2 times Left to the third letter
1 time Right to the fourth letter - stop

5.  Turn the left knob clockwise from the 12 o'clock position to the 6 o'clock position.

If the key is the right key, and the combination was correct, then the left knob should also retract the bolt work opening the safe during this operation.

Note:   With the left knob in the 6 o'clock position and the bolt work retracted, you should be able to retract the key.   This will also lock the door open.

To lock the door:
1.  Turn the left knob clockwise from 12 o'clock to the 6 o'clock position.
2.  Reinsert the key - cuts facing up.
3.  Turn the left knob counter clockwise one full revolution.   This will extend the bolt work and allow the key to be retracted.
4.  rotate the dial several revolutions to clear the combination.

Note:   If you do not have the combination or the correct key, then chances are you aren't going to get it open without having the work done by a trained safe tech.   Unfortunately there are very few around who are familiar with this safe and this lock.

I see you are in California, but you didn't mention where.    I cover all of northern California if this helps at all.

Hopefully this info will help you.  


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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 - 2014 - 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)

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