I cannot begin to explain my interest in antique safes. I have no idea where the fascination came from or when it started. All I can tell you is they have a certain Victorian elegance, grace and opulence about them which as an Engineer seems to catch my eye. Unfortunately modern safes do not have a lavish appearance to them any more. They are built to serve a purpose and that is it. Vintage safes were a centre piece, decoration and in some cases a real work of art produced by incredibly skilled engineers, some skills of which are almost lost by today’s modern technology.
The safes I have worked on and a few that are currently in different stages of restoration have taught me the old methods how they used to do it without all the modern technology and machine tools we so depend on, which also to a degree deskill our work force.
The following photos and links illustrate typical safes and related subjects which start to give you an appreciation for the skills we once had.
Below: My first project. A Samual Withers & Co Ltd 12 bend fire proof safe. It had odd screws missing, very poor paint and no keys. I first stripped it down to bare metal and removed all the door furniture, gave the locking mechanism some maintanance, made new brass screws, matched the paint colour with British Standard paint chart, had the paint mixed up, undercoated, painted, coach lines and new key. £16 from a charity shop and many hours later...
Below: My second project almost finished. A small 16" high cast steel safe. No makers markings, but it may be a Carron safe / casket. I found it on Ebay and had it couriered down from up North on a pallet. It was in a very poor state, no original paint, no main key or drawer key, no main handle or drawer knob and broken escutcheon. Firstly I had it sand blasted down to bare metal. This showed all the original casting marks from where it had been poured whilst in the sand cast and very rough might I add, even some original sand broke away. The lock was then stripped, it was a warded lock. This meant I had to reverse engineer the key to suit the lock. I made a cardboard mock up of the key, then ordered a blank and cut it out by hand using a 1mm drill and needle files. I also had to repeat this process for a smaller key to fit the drawer. I found a solid brass large door handle and small knob and machined them on a lathe to suit the size of the safe, then polished them. The escutcheon was tricky due to only having half of it. Using a bit of guessology I made the missing components. It works by depressing a secret button on the side allowing the front panel to slide down revealing the key hole. I had to clean all the bolts and internal threads up by hand as the threads were so old and did not match any common screw thread gauge, they were all slightly different!
Antique and Collectable Safes