Securing Historic Documents, Signatures & Stamps

Collectors of signatures, historic documents or stamps should secure their collections in good safes with two-hour fire ratings, right?  Maybe not.

Fire safes protect papers from charring and burning if there is a fire.  If you experience a fire, however, your documents are likely to be damaged by moisture in most types of safes.  When subjected to heat the insulation gives off water vapor to the point where the inside air is saturated with water.  As the safe cools down, lower internal temperatures cause the air to become super-saturated, so that papers will become damp or even wet.  They will get wrinkly and inks may get blurry.  In addition, water pressure from a fire hose may penetrate the crack between the safe door and frame, forcing water into the safe.  If the safe is in a basement and water pools up there, that water may also seep inside the safe.

People in the safe and gun safe industries usually recommend that valuable documents be protected by putting them in plastic sleeves or Tupperware-type containers to protect them from moisture damage.  This advice may be erroneous.  There are hundreds of different plastic compositions and each has its own characteristics. Good information is hard to find, but the melt point will vary depending on the exact chemical composition.

Consider Tupperware:  Most of their products are made from low density polyethylene (LDPE), high density polyethylene (HDPE) or high density polypropylene (HDPP).  From what I can find these materials begin to melt at temps as low as 278 degrees F for HDPE, or 266 F for HDPE.  Characteristics of the melting process also vary by chemical composition – they may just lose their shape, they might become sticky or they might give off damaging chemicals.  That process might damage the items you are trying to protect.  When fire safes are tested the inside temperature can go as high as 350 F before they are considered to have failed.  Plastic containers, therefore, could potentially melt inside a safe that is “performing well”.

Next:  A better type of safe for historic docs.

Plastic Fire Safes

The photo shows a very low-end fire box or fire safe which is sold at big box stores.  We get these in at our shop because they frequently need some kind of work.  The cost of our labor often approaches the cost of a new unit.

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These fire boxes have an Underwriters Labs “1 hour 350” rating so they apparently do well in a fire.  The problem with these, however, is that people buy them for burglary protection because the packaging calls them a “safe”.  You need to look pretty hard to find any steel here – both the exterior and interior are plastic, as are the working parts.  Even the metal bolts are held in place by plastic.  Poor excuse for a lock, too.  If a burglar breaks into your home and finds one of these units he will go into a “happy dance” before he pops it open.

You need to use some common sense when buying a safe – if you are going to put valuables in it, spend enough money to buy real burglary protection.

Why a Safe Lock Quits Working Gradually

Here is a call we often get that drives me crazy:  “My safe quit working today and I can’t get it open.  The lock started acting up about four months ago and kept getting worse, but now it won’t open at all.”  The safe now needs to be drilled open and they complain about a bill of $300 to $400.

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The most common reason a combination lock goes bad gradually, and then fails completely, is a loose “spline key”.  When you turn the dial on a good combination lock a spindle transfers that movement to the lock body which is mounted on the inside of the door.  Three or four wheels and some other parts are held in place on the spindle by a tiny L-shaped spline key, pictured on left.  The other photo shows the inside of a Group 2 lock.  At the center of the “drive wheel” is the spindle.  It is grooved to hold the spline key (here pointing to 10:00) that in turn unites the wheels to the spindle.

When the spline key gets loose the wheels move, so they are no longer in sync with the dial.  The lock will not open consistently even when dialed accurately.  Keep trying to use the lock and the spline key will loosen up more, until it hits the inside of the lock cover or it falls out completely.  In either case you are locked out of your safe.

When your safe acts up, don’t put it off.  Avoid paying to drill it open by calling a competent safe technician immediately when you have problems.

Gun Safe or Burglary Safe: The Affect on Insurance

Customers always ask about insurance coverage when they have a gun safe or burglary safe.  There are lots of assumptions and questions, so I called several agents that handle home insurance, and here is what I was told.

One said that usually, if you have a burglary safe you can get a small savings on your annual insurance cost, probably around $10; the other disagreed.  Ask your agent.  The next paragraphs talk about coins in particular, but collections of guns, jewelry, watches, etc. will be similar.

They both said that, if you don’t have your coins scheduled or itemized on a rider, your policy will usually cover up to about $500, whether they are in a safe or not.  But they will only be replaced at face value, so numismatic value will not apply.  A penny that is worth $50 to a collector will still be reimbursed for $.01.  Value of the silver or gold content most likely will not count either.

If you have your collection appraised and covered on a rider, they will be covered up to the appraised value.  (My coin guy charges $50/hour to do written appraisals.)  When that value is based mostly on the gold or silver weight, however, be careful.  If the appraisal is done when gold is $1300 per ounce, and you are robbed when gold is worth $1600 per ounce, you will be reimbursed at the original $1300 value.  Cost of the insurance rider will probably run about $38/year for every $10,000 in value provided the collection is in a safe.  Cost will go up about $4 to $5 per $10,000 in value if there is no safe.

All kinds of variables affect insurance, including where you live, which insurance company you use, your loss history, etc.  For an extremely high value collection there may be better coverage with a TL-rated safe.  There might be specialized policies for high value collections, like there are for classic car collections.  Some items are irreplaceable because of sentimental value, like Great Grandpa’s old rifle or Grandma’s wedding ring.  To the insurance company they are probably only worth generic value.  I am certainly no expert.  Don’t make assumptions – ask your agent lots of questions.

You should always have insurance coverage on your valuables.   But the best protection against theft in the first place is to have a really good gun safe or burglary safe and good home security.  Don’t take a chance that you may not be properly reimbursed after a loss.  Prevent the loss!

New Home? Get Divorced? Make Sure to Re-key the Locks!

We had an emergency residential service call last week from a couple who were very upset.  They finished moving into their new home on Wednesday.  On Saturday night when they were away someone got in with a key and robbed them.  At least no one was hurt, but they obviously needed their locks re-keyed.

Last year we had a similar call from a single mother who was robbed the first day after moving in, while she was at work.  She was afraid to stay in her house that night with her children, so we fixed her up that night.  There are always more keys around than the previous owners turn in!

We see terrible things happen when a couple goes through a messy divorce.  You hear about the worst cases on the news when someone gets hurt.

Home security should start immediately when you buy a house or when there is a change in living arrangements.  Check the quality of the locks, make sure they latch properly and have them re-keyed.  Consider spending more for high security locks which are un-pickable or for push-button locks that don’t use keys.  Make sure windows lock properly.  Look at slider doors especially close to make sure they latch well, and make sure the sliding unit cannot be lifted completely out of the frame.  Install motion activated exterior lights, and maybe add a security system.  If there is a safe, change the combination.

When you have a new home custom built have the locks re-keyed before you move in.  Think about how many workers were there with access to the locks and keys.  Incidentally, do not have the builder install a wall safe – every person who goes through the house will know about it.  Workers all have access to various power saws, so they could come back later and just cut the safe out from a stud wall.  Wait until after the contractors have left the jobsite to install wall safes or fire/burglary safes.

Don’t ignore security at these life changing events when you are especially vulnerable!

Coolest Gun Safe on the Market, From Fort Knox

Fort Knox Safes is famous for allowing the consumer to customize the gun safe he wants.  This year Fort Knox introduced two more options that offer cool new looks, more ways to get your gun safe your way.

Old, very retro industrial design is fashionable.  This is especially true where old factories and warehouses are being converted into desirable apartments and condos.  Fort Knox’ new “Distressed Industrial” finish fits right in.  Each gun safe is different with the addition of big rivets and random distress marks to the paint.  Besides rehabilitated industrial buildings these units look good in your work shop area or man cave.

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The other terrific new option is Fort Knox’ crane hinge.  This is also a throw-back to the old days.  A hundred years ago very heavy safes and vault doors were frequently built with crane hinges to help the doors move more freely.  This system makes safe doors that are actually double-hinged, so they move in a more three dimensional manner.  Crane hinges are available on all Fort Knox gun safes (except Mavericks) and in all finishes.  D6031 and D7240 shown.

If you want to really impress your friends — and get serious security at the same time — get a Fort Knox gun safe or vault door with the new Distressed Industrial finish and crane hinges.  Awesome!

TL Rated High Security Gun Safes

Customers that do research in order to find the best gun safe on the market sometimes decide they need a “TL” rated gun safe.  But while they find all kinds of units with Residential Security Container (RSC) ratings, they cannot find any TL’s.

Very few gun safes qualify to carry TL ratings.  You are basically buying a jeweler quality safe with a gun rack interior.  Here are the reasons most manufacturers do not offer them:  While buyers like the idea of getting a high security unit, few are willing to spend $5000 to $10,000 for that security.  High security gun safes do not hold as many rifles, because thicker walls leave less interior space.  Few homes can accommodate the weight and dimensions of a TL rated gun safe.  Most dealers don’t carry TL rated safes because they cannot move them.  The majority of manufacturers use production techniques than are incapable of producing TL rated safes.  The costs of U.L.’s TL certification tests are too expensive in relation to the low volume of potential sales.

That being said, if you are serious about a high security TL-rated safe, here are some options:

Amsec RF6528, TL-30, Exterior 72h x 35w x 29.5d, 3455#, 24 gun max.
Amsec RF582820X6, TL-30×6, Exterior 64h x 34w x 29.5, 3418#, 24 gun max.
Amsec RF703620x6, TL-30×6, Exterior 76h x 42w x 29.5d, 4578#, 58 gun max.
Fort Knox L Series 5520, TL-30×6, Exterior 63h x 28w x 32d, 3716#, about 20 guns.
Fort Knox L Series 6532, TL-30×6, Exterior 73h x 40w x 32d, 4512#, about 50 guns.
Fort Knox L Series 7240, TL-30×6, Exterior 78h x 44w x 32d, 5460#, about 55 guns.

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“TL-30” means the unit has been tested for burglary resistance through the front.  “TL-30×6” means it has been tested for burglary resistance through all six sides. These safes have legitimate two hour fire ratings.  Freight and delivery are expensive on these units.  Pictured is an Amsec RF6528, gun racks covered by shelf pieces.  Note the door is 6″ thick.

The decision whether to purchase a high security gun safe depends on a number of factors like where you live, security systems in your home, and the value of its contents (I suggest $80,000 and up).  Yes, they are expensive; but if you need the best protection a TL rated gun safe is a great investment.

Use Discretion When Buying a Gun Safe, Part 2

Additional thoughts about being discrete concerning your gun safe:

  • Don’t allow your safe to be delivered with a truck or trailer advertising gun safes. The truck should be unmarked so your neighbors don’t all know about your safe.
  • It is best if delivery is not subcontracted out to a delivery company. That allows more people to know about your safe and possibly see the combination.
  • It is best to not have a safe drop-shipped to your home. Someone in the freight system will know about your safe and may have the opportunity to find the combination.
  • Do not place your safe where it can be seen through a window – don’t temp someone who might look into the house from outside.
  • It is best to place the safe in a room where it is least likely to be seen by house guests.
  • If possible put the safe inside a closet or in a room with a locking door.
  • If possible, avoid putting your safe in a garage because it is more likely to be seen by neighbors, snoopy kids, delivery personnel, landscape workers, etc. If you must put it in the garage, anchor it to the floor.
  • Do not tell all your friends that you bought a safe, and certainly do not post it on your Facebook page.

A quality gun safe is a major purchase, almost like buying a car.   Most people want to show it off, but common sense says you should keep it private.

Use Discretion When Buying a Gun Safe

There is a gun store in our state that also sells gun safes.  When they sell a safe they put a “sold” sign on it which includes the buyer’s name, address and phone number.  But the safe along with the customer’s information remains on display until it is picked up or delivered.  Dozens of people every day could potentially write down the safe model and customer information with the intent to break into it after it is installed.  But consider this:  A thief might decide that since the buyer obviously has things in the house that need to be in a safe, it might be better to visit his house now, before the safe is delivered!

I related this to a customer who had visited that gun store.  He observed the same thing and said he would never buy a gun safe there because of the store’s complete lack of discretion.  But he stated “It’s even worse than that. I asked to see the interior of a sold safe, and the store employee wrote the combination for me on a paper so I could open it to look.  I could have gone to that guy’s house when he was away, opened the safe using the combination, and cleaned it out, without needing to take any tools.”

Be careful when investing in home security.  Protect yourself by being discrete, and buy from a place that also practices discretion.  Stores like the one above are one of the reasons I always say “Buy your guns from a gun store, but buy you gun safe from a safe store.”      

Rare Antique Safe by Carl Ade

Pictured is an extremely rare Carl Ade antique safe which is for sale in our store.  This may be the only one in the U.S. as I have never seen or heard of another one.  You can find posters and prints of old Carl Ade advertisements, but not actual safes.  A German member of the Safe and Vault Technician’s Association has seen several in Europe.  He said it was built in Stuttgart Germany between 1888 and 1892.  This particular safe was brought to Michigan in the 1970’s by a German manufacturer when they built a factory here.

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The safe is 36” tall by 28” wide and is built into a beautiful wooden cabinet which is 67” tall.  It Carl Odde Safe 004features true German quality including the most air-tight door I have ever seen.  The key is a rectangular brass tube ½” x 3/16” x 2 ¼”, with openings on the end and one side to expose precision tumblers inside.  Security is enhanced by unique hook-type bolts, which I have not seen anywhere else.

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If anyone has ever seen another Carl Ade safe please call to let me know.  We are always looking to buy high quality antique safes and vault doors.