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Locksmithing/HHM safe, closed, locked, no combination


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QUESTION: Hello Sir,

HHM safe, closed, locked and no combination.          17 June 2016

Serial Number  1070 as indicated stamped into the handles

Dimensions:  53” tall 38” wide 32” deep

Weight unknown. I move quite a few vintage machine tools of known weight and I would estimate this safe at 2000 to 3000lbs. but I have not weighed it.

2 door safe. Doors are tight fitting and aligned well.

Dial turns freely

1 dial on right door (sitting in front of the safe looking at the doors). Indexed with 130 marks and numbers at intervals of  ten.

Each door has a handle and both handles appear to be free to travel the very small amount they can being locked as it is. The included photograph should  provide a good image for generalization. I am happy to provide any further photos or info.

I am not a locksmith or safe Technician. I may use the wrong terms here but I will do my best to be clear.

Information to Date:
Obviously I purchased the safe as a project hoping to open it by manipulation.
When rotating the handle adjacent to the dial on the right door  counterclockwise some mechanism is made to bear against the locks wheels. I assume this is the fence. The dial gets harder to turn as more pressure is applied. With the correct pressure the dial can be turned and some action can be felt.

I was disappointed to find through “feeling” the dial that there is a wheel with what I will call false gates. Thirteen of these gates are distributed equally around the 360 degree rotation of the dial. I am assuming twelve of these are false gates and 1 is real. This wheel with false gates appears to be directly connected to the dial. The gates appear in exactly the same spots turning cw or ccw. I first wound the dial several times right then felt the gates and then several times left and felt the gates. I doesn’t appear that I am “picking up” this false gate wheel. As stated It feels like it is directly connected to the dial. This situation makes feeling for gates on the other wheels near impossible. If I rotate the dial several times either cw or ccw then reverse direction I believe I hear three wheels being picked up. I think that makes this a 4 number lock. My next step is a dial indicator on the handle to measure the depth of the false gates and see if I can find one deeper to call the real gate. That still won’t allow me to feel the other wheels gates. I don’t know in what order the wheels are stacked. I assume the “regular wheels” are closest to the outer skin of the door and the false gate wheel is closest to the inner skin of the door. I don’t know if this safe has a re-locker device. Talking to the seller and looking at the safes finish I believe the safe was tipped over accidentally onto its face on a dirt/gravel driveway and then uprighted. There doesn’t appear to be any damage beyond cosmetic.

Question 1 of  2.
Can you provide a next step or am I up against a wall?

Question 2 of  2
If  I am at the end of what can be done by manipulation can you provide any picture or graphic or knowledge showing the mechanism so that a drill point can be established? I have bore scope equipment. Hoping to see the gates to align them.

Any comment or wisdom shared is well appreciated.
Best Regards

ANSWER: Hi Bear,

What you have is a "mixed" safe!   Built and sold by HHM (more or less)!   As this is possibly confusing, let me explain.

Your safe was actually built by the Hall's Safe & Lock Company of Cincinnati, Ohio - but not really!    LOL -  This sort of makes this a conundrum safe!

Basic History:

In 1892 several safe manufacturing companies decided to merge.   These companies included the Hall's Safe & Lock Company, Cincinnati Oh, Herring Safe Company, NY NY, Farrel Safe Company, Philadelphia PA, and the Marvin Safe Company, NY NY.   The merger in 1892 formed Herring Hall Marvin Safe Company.
Manufacturing was continued at each of the original companies in their original styles until mid 1897, after a new modern facility had been built.   All of the original companies were then closed down and ALL manufacturing moved to the new facility in Hamilton, Ohio.

So while owned and built by HHM, your safe would have been built at the original Hall's Safe & Lock Company factory, in Cincinnati Ohio, between 1892-1897.    

Unfortunately we have no records of the serial numbers for safes built during the 1892-97 period prior to safes being made at the Hamilton factory, but based on the serial number of your safe, it would probably have been built in late 1892 to sometime in 1893.

Your weight estimate of the safe might be fairly close, though probably more likely 2500-3000 lbs - unless the safe has an interior chest, which many of these safes did have.    An interior chest, depending on size, could easily add another 1000+ pounds to the weight, so your estimate MAY be shy by a thousand pounds.   When moving the safe plan on the heavier weight for safety purposes!!!!!

The locks built by the Hall's Safe & Lock Company had 3, 4 or up to 5 wheels.   I've seen a couple with 6 wheels though I believe that these were only made a couple times on special requests - not standard at all.
You are correct in your diagnoses that the "DRIVE" wheel is connected directly to the dial.   The drive wheel is what transfers YOUR motion on the outside to the inside, allowing the "combination wheels" to align correctly to be opened.

With a three wheel lock, there are a possible 2,197,000 possible test combinations,  with the 5 wheel lock there are a possible 37.129 BILLION possible combinations!!!!   

Drive wheels have varying numbers of false gates.   Generally though, the number of gates is an equal number, the standard being 10 (one real gate with 9 false gates).    I looked at numerous examples that I have of similar safes to yours and didn't find one having 13 gates!  But that being said, if you are going to try to open it, you need to go with what YOU find on your safe.

The "STANDARD" lock that I would expect to find on your safe would have one drive wheel with 10 gates (9 false gates), and three combination wheels.   This pretty much matches the info that you have felt, and provided info on.

As far as the wheel stack sequence - it doesn't matter.   REGARDLESS of the position of the drive wheel, the number 1 wheel is ALWAYS closest to the drive wheel and the number 3 wheel is ALWAYS furthest from the drive wheel.   I think you can figure out where the number 2 wheel is located.    In the case of the Hall's locks, the drive wheel is towards the front of the safe, meaning the number 3 wheel is going to be the furthest one away.

In manipulating locks the wheels are NEVER going to indicate in a given order.   when you get what you think is a correct number, then YOU are going to have to determine which wheel that number corresponds to.

You are on the right track, however don't expect this lock to be easy peasy.   Just because the safe is around 120 years old, doesn't mean that the lock makers weren't smart.   Some of the most ingenious locks ever designed came during the last 1/2 of the 19th century.

As far as your question 1 & 2 (follow ups) - sorry but the answer is no!   The purpose of this forum is a general question and answer.   For obvious security and liability reasons we do not provide ANY information to open safes other than the proper dialing sequence for the lock that we would associate to be installed on your safe.    While I do understand what you are trying to do, you have to understand that we have no way of vetting you, and/or determining if you are the owner of or even authorized to work on the safe.   Secondly, the answers on this site are available to anyone and everyone, so even if you are legitimate in your efforts, someone else reading the information might not be.   This would be the same even if you were a locksmith or safe technician that I personally know.    This forum/website would NOT be the place for that type of information.

If you get stumped, my recommendations would be as follows:
1.   Contact a local safe company - NOT a locksmith company, to have their trained safe technician open your safe, and/or
2.   Develop a relationship with your local safe company.   If you are determined to continue this as a DIY project, you will need some local guidance, assistance and/or mentorship that you can't get on an open forum like this.   Just remember that they are in business to make money so even "FREE" help, comes at a price!

While I applaud your efforts and hope that you will continue and succeed in getting this old safe opened and restored, I hope you understand why we don't provide any opening information.     This is basically how I got into this business and industry, so I hope you will continue - and on a more personal note - WELCOME to the world of antique safes.    

Hope this helps a bit.    If you don't have a local safe company, let me know where you are located (zip code) and I'll see who I might know and/or recommend in your area.

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

I cannot thank you enough for your time and wisdom. You are kind to have shred with me. When I asked for a drilling location the liability issues were the furthest thing from my mind. It was an innocent, all be it naive question. Your explanation was welcome and appreciated.
Im off to strike up a relationship with a Safe technician...... I hope.

Kindest Regards

Hi Bear,

While I would recommend striking up a relationship with a local safe company, generally speaking many of the smaller companies have little to no actual safe training, especially when it comes to antique safes.   If you don't have a local company that seems knowledgeable, I have a couple recommendations for Indiana - though again, I would need your zip code to narrow down the list or give you someone closer.

Koehlinger Security Technology, Inc.
260-424-1520          Matt Eisenacher
421 E. Washington Blvd
Ft Wayne, IN 46802

A-1 Lock & Safe Co., Inc.
812-473-3536 or 812-853-3536     Kenneth Nutt
5983 Laurel Ridge
Newburgh and Evansville, IN 47630

Good luck with the project and with your new relationships!


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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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