How Safe is Your Safe?


How do you spell GOLD? (Is it AU or AG?)

We joke in the pawnshop industry that the new spelling of G-O-L-D is S-I-L-V-E-R because many of our customers can’t afford the gold jewelry they would like to wear.

But more to the point, there is another item in the pawn and jewelry business that also has a new spelling – TL-30. It is now spelled TRTL-30X6.

In today’s world of high-tech crime, the old, faithful TL-30 just doesn’t stand up.

Here is an example…

Eight Arrested In Alleged Florida Jewelry Theft Ring

By Lindsey Wojcik, Editorial Assistant

Posted on June 16, 2011

Eight south Florida residents have been arrested and charged with operating a theft ring that broke into jewelry stores by cutting holes in their roofs, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Florida Attorney General announced June 15.

The suspects were charged with racketeering and conspiracy to commit racketeering. Three of the suspects were charged with burglary of a structure with damage in excess of $1,000. Two were charged with grand theft over $100,000.

The gang is suspected of operating an organized burglary ring with multiple crews who would cut holes in the roofs of jewelry stores and pawn shops, disable alarms and surveillance systems, and then use torches to access the safe.

Authorities estimate the value of the jewelry stolen at more than $6 million. The theft ring, based in Miami-Dade County, Fla., targeted stores in Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Connecticut.

Multiple law enforcement agencies worked for nearly two years to arrest the eight individuals.

“This group moved fast and hit targets in multiple jurisdictions, but they underestimated the level of sophistication and collaboration among our law enforcement agencies,” Gerald Bailey of Florida Department of Law Enforcement said in a statement.

A ninth suspect has not been apprehended but authorities have active warrants for his arrest.

The case is ongoing and will be prosecuted by the Attorney General of Florida.

In May, 19 Michigan residents were arrested in connection to a nationwide grab-and-run jewelry theft ring.

Reprinted from

I receive Crime Alerts by email from Jeweler’s Security Alliance on a regular basis. These three recent events are right on target with this article.

Jeweler’s Security Alliance Crime Alert, 09/28/11

Cumming, GA – September 25, 2011
Police report that between 3:00 a.m. on 9/25 and 8:30 a.m. on 9/26 burglars bypassed a security system at a retail jewelry store, cut their way through a concrete wall, and entered the jewelry store from an empty building next door. The burglars breached a Class 1 vault and took a large quantity of jewelry and scrap gold. The burglars also took merchandise from the showcases and took the cash register. The burglary was discovered on Monday morning by workers doing construction in the space adjacent to the jewelry store when they found the hole in the wall broken between the two premises. It is reported that two suspects have been subsequently arrested and cash was recovered.

RECOMMENDATION: An empty storefront adjacent to a jewelry store presents a special high risk and is a magnet for burglars who will break in through the unprotected common wall. Any notification of an alarm signal or “line trouble” requires immediate jeweler and police response, and inspection of the inside of the jewelry store by the police.

Jeweler’s Security Alliance Crime Alert, 10/21/11

Tampa, FL – October 17, 2011
Burglars cut holes in the roof of a jewelry store. It appeared that the first hole was cut to find out where the suspects were in relation to the rooms below them. Another hole was cut directly over a closet which contained the alarm and video system which was entered and the system disabled. The suspects used a torch and cutting tools to enter the safe. The suspects removed watches, diamonds, jewelry and gold from the safe. The burglars began work on two other safes in an adjacent office but did not enter them.

RECOMMENDATION: Despite some excellent recent arrests of rooftop burglars, this method of entering a jewelry store remains a major risk. Jewelers must have alarm protection for their entire premises, including entry from the roof or through the wall from adjacent premises, and must have line security which will send a signal if their alarm system is tampered with. Today’s burglars have no trouble entering safes with the Underwriters Laboratory rating of TL-15 or TL-30, but burglars virtually never have the time, the tools or the skill to enter high-security safes with a TRTL 30×6 rating.

Jeweler’s Security Alliance Crime Alert, 10/28/11

Philadelphia, PA – October 26, 2011
Burglars went across barbed wire on the roof of a shopping plaza and got in through a metal hatch to gain entry to the building and avoid setting off alarms. They lowered themselves into the building, broke through several walls, including that of a restaurant, and gained access to a retail jewelry store. They cut through steel bars to get inside the cage containing the store’s safe, and then used a drill and other tools to cut through the steel and concrete walls of the safe. They cleaned out the safe and escaped.

RECOMMENDATION: Entry from rooftops and through the walls of adjoining premises is a common way for burglars to get into jewelry stores. Jewelers must have three things to prevent burglars from getting into their safes:
1. An alarm system which will provide coverage of their entire premises, including entry from the roof, side walls, bathroom and all other areas, not just their doors and windows.
2. Line security which will cause an alarm signal to be sent if their alarm is tampered with or defeated.
3. An adequate safe. Today’s burglars can easily enter safes with Underwriters Laboratory ratings of TL-15 or TL-30. A higher rated safe is needed to provide more security and peace of mind for the jeweler.

Finally, jewelers must respond to all calls from their alarm company, and when police respond to an alarm signal and inspect the premises, they must not fail to see if the burglars are on the roof or have already entered the premises from the roof or adjoining premises.

Here is a third example from NorthJersey.Com

Police investigating $3M jewelry heist in Paramus

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A group of “professional” thieves stole $3 million in diamonds, jewelry and watches from a Route 4 diamond store this weekend in a heist eerily similar to a break-in that occurred nearly two years ago on the same stretch of highway.

“It was well planned … very professional,” Police Chief Richard J. Cary said. “Several people had to be involved.”

The burglars didn’t even have to enter the store, Elite Diamond Exchange, to steal the 2,000 pound safe containing the diamonds, Cary said. They simply cut a hole in the wall of an adjacent LensCrafters store and wheeled the safe away with a hand truck without having to navigate the diamond store’s alarm system, Cary said.

“Video shows the safe there and then gone,” Cary said.

The theft is markedly similar to a burglary that occurred the night of March 18, 2008 at the Jewelers Exchange on Route 4 west. In that case, burglars broke through a vacant store, cut into a safe and stole nearly $1 million in diamonds, jewelry and watches in a case that remains unsolved.

Now is your safe worth its weight in gold? At today’s prices, the answer is probably no. If this were the case, people might try to steal your safe, or maybe just a piece of it.

Our goal is to protect our customer’s personal property as well as our own, hard-earned cash and inventory. How we each achieve that goal may be entirely different.

I don’t know how many hours I have spent watching YouTube videos or searching websites for lock picking and safe opening tips and methods, but there is a lot of information about breaking into businesses and safes available online.

First, the average safe is really not that hard to break into. All you need is the right tools, enough time and the ability to avoid detection. Second, all safes are rated in hours. When you buy a better safe, you are actually buying more time. You are buying more time for detection to occur.

Early safes were the result of technological advancements over time. Even though we’ve come a long way from wooden strong boxes to the first real iron safes, these safes still had their vulnerabilities and were often manufactured with smaller safes or money chests, inside. Why was there a chest inside? Because the large iron or steel safe was not strong enough to secure the true valuables it was designed to protect. This concept (a safe within a safe) is still in existence today with both safes and vaults.

It is not uncommon to see a few safes inside of a walk-in vault either. My daughter who works for a bank says they have a safe inside the vault for storing money. Many employees have access to the vault (once the big, outer door is open), but only a limited number can open the safe inside the vault.

If you do have an updated safe or vault, a burglar may not choose you as a possible target. While the possible reward may be there, the time and effort of breaching a Class 3 vault or a TXTL-60X6 safe (better yet, a modular vault / vault room with safes inside), may not be worth the effort except to the best in the industry. And, while there are those out there who may be able to perfect the crime, the odds are very small that you would wind up being their potential target.

I hate to say it, but, in this case, just like banks, you’re more likely to be a daytime job; a robbery which is best perpetrated right after opening or just before closing. But, this is intended to be a burglary article, not a robbery article.

On the other hand, if you do have a successful pawnshop, jewelry store or gold buying operation, and, you are operating in a typical American city or suburb, in a strip center or small stand-alone building, you may be a more likely candidate.

It is not my intent to give away trade secrets and making everyone an expert burglar or safecracker? Everything I have written about and more can be easily found on the Internet and in private trade schools (prisons) around the country. The goal here is for education and preventative measures you should be taking.

Although I’m not looking at breaking into a business, I am interested in keeping others out. And sometimes, we have to imagine the ways in which a break-in could occur in order to try to prevent it from happening. Unfortunately, technology has gotten ahead of many in the business. I still see pawnbrokers and jewelers using 100 year old rolling record safes that only have a thin sheet of armor plate over concrete. “It’ll never happen to me…”

I’m not a safe expert. I’m an end-user. I write articles and a Tips column that express useful information to the pawnbroking industry. When I need help, I ask an expert. Whether I chose to follow his advice may be an economic business decision or a mistake on my part. Only time will tell.

I have been collecting data for this article for a while. I’m not writing a thesis or dissertation, but I think I want to do more than say “just buy more insurance and hope you don’t need it.”

Will it change anyone’s mind? Who knows. What I have found in the past, with reference to safes, has been the price of the safe was usually the determining factor. I’m sure that you have had similar experiences.

You are also going to be reading some repetitive information from both myself and from industry experts. Now, if everyone is saying the same thing, maybe one of us is right.

So, just how safe is your safe? Is it made of 21st century burglary resistant composite materials? Does it have intricate locking and relocking devices? Maybe it uses digital time locks to prevent unauthorized entry.

The first thing to determine is if your safe is the burglar’s primary target, this is not going to be your ordinary burglary. The burglars targeting safes are going to be well trained and experienced in many different modes of breaking and entering. They will know locks, alarms, the use of the proper tools, your store layout and usually have an idea of the contents of your safe. They will know what kind of safe you have and exactly where it is located. Yes, they might have some inside knowledge of your operation, too.

You were not chosen at random, but were actually specifically targeted. A lot of time, effort and planning have gone into this brazen attack on your premises. You should feel honored. Or, maybe not. Perhaps you have been targeted because of your lack of concern over security issues.

Our business model as pawnbrokers presents us with a number of idiosyncrasies that are not applicable in other fields.

Suppose I was a really smart burglar who was going to make an attempt to get into your safe or vault, I would already know your store layout (especially where the safes were located and what they were made of). That is a given. No real safe burglar goes in blind. I may not even necessarily need to bring my tools with me either. They would already be there. Yes, I would have someone pawn everything I needed and attach a locating device to it so I could find it at night, or, over the weekend. Just think about this the next time you take in high-end cutting tools with diamond blades or a big plasma torch with full tank of fuel (fuels or inert gases may vary). Or, maybe I’ll just bring special cutting blades and use the tools you have on the shelves for sale.

Illegal entry should be discrete – that is why rooftop entry is so popular. Often, if the owner or police show because of an alarm, shake the door, look around and if nothing seems out of order, they leave. WRONG!

Jeweler’s Mutual Insurance reports in a news release titled Burglaries where alarms and safes are compromised: More sophisticated burglaries involve attempts to disable alarms and enter safes. Sometimes burglars gain access to a jewelry store by cutting a hole in the roof or in a common wall shared with an adjacent business. Guards or police officers responding to a burglar alarm signal may not be able to detect exterior signs of forced entry and may leave without further investigation. Other times, burglars may trigger an alarm signal and wait to see who responds and how long it takes.

A professional burglar may make his attempt to gain entry to your business in steps. First, gain entry into an adjacent, unalarmed business. Next, enter into your business from above the ceiling (roof) and prepare to deactivate the alarm system. Your alarm system control box is not located above the drop ceiling is it? Even if it is not, chances are all the wires feed up the wall into the ceiling.

Or maybe the burglars attempt to access your safe, possibly from the rear, will be initiated from inside the vacant store room in order to avoid your alarm system altogether.


Whether your safe is on display for the public to see or hidden in back is often a matter of your physical layout or convenience.

I have visited many pawnshops where multiple large safes are located right behind the pawn counter and the customers may look into them and see all the envelopes full of jewelry. Is this supposed to make your customers feel their jewelry is safe?

However, it may not be a wise idea to have your safes exposed to everyone who walks in, especially if they are inadequate for protecting your loans or merchandise. This gives the potential burglar first-hand knowledge of what he is up against and the exact location of your safes. In essence, you are doing the burglar’s homework. He now knows exactly what you have and where it is located.

The logic here is the safe is safer because it is in plain sight. Anyone passing by the pawnshop at night can see the safe, including the police (and the bad guys). The visibility from the street adds an additional layer of protection.

No matter how hard you make it, people will always know where your safe is located.

Delivery people, maintenance people, inspectors, repairmen, pest control, HVAC, remodelers, all notice things when they are in your pawnshop and you have no control over who their friends are or whom they share what they saw.

That pawnshop safe is over-flowing with jewelry loans.

Can this information be shared? You bet! Digital cameras are everywhere. Everyone has one. Even cellular phones are capable of taking snapshots or recording full length videos. They even sell surveillance equipped glasses for discrete recording.

How many of us still have the same safe our fathers and grandfathers may have used when they started the business fifty or one-hundred years ago?

Well, I’ll be … you’ve got safes just like the ones granddaddy used to break in to…

I didn’t think anyone used those old things anymore. This will be easy.

 In my opinion, safes located on an outside wall present the most risk. And, the risk will quadruple if the outside wall was next to a vacant business. Vacant space could be adjacent, above or below your business. If a new tenant moves in, make sure they are legitimate. Landlords often overlook things, like legitimacy, when a store room has been sitting empty for a while.

If you must have your safes on an exterior wall, install alarmed glass panels on rear and sides of the safe to help prevent penetration from an exterior wall and include shock and vibration sensors.

 I’m too old and fat to come through roofs anymore. I now scout out safes located on a wall next to an adjacent, empty or low security store room. I’m not even going to enter your business. Just kick through the drywall in the common wall with your neighbor and then cut into your safe from the rear. It’s the easiest way for me to get access to your treasures. Your alarm system will never know I was there.

Ideally, you should have a large vault or vault room with safes inside. But this is not always practical or affordable.

Many of us are thrifty by nature and for cause. We tend to buy local because we can see the product and save money on shipping. At any given time I can find a number of adequate safes listed on eBay. Sometimes, a dollar saved is not really a savings.

If your safes are old and outdated, you can find used safes available everywhere. Hey, the economy isn’t that great. Jewelry stores and other businesses are going out of business every day. Check with your safe specialist, who may have taken a trade-in or possibly acquired a used safe from an expired lease or repossession.

Your safe or vault is undoubtedly your final defense against property loss. And, like most things in life, the bigger (stronger), the better. Again, like most things in life, the more protective the safe, the higher the price tag.

I know, I’ve said this before – it bears repeating. Many pawnbrokers are still using the same safe that their grandfathers may have used. I have seen pawnshops where safes were lined up behind the pawn counter against the wall. These are often what I am fond of calling old “rolling record safes.” Large, concrete-filled, single or double-door safes on four wheels whose only real protection is a sheet of armor plate welded to all six sides. This type of safe is easily peeled open with common hand tools.

While the iron or steel box safe had been the industry standard for over one hundred years, the first real improvement in safe design came in 1962 when Chubb introduced a new production method incorporating TDR (Torch and Drilling Resistance).

This concept was the creation of a seamless bell casting which formed the five-sided protective walls of the safe. Being cast from a proprietary material which deterred cutting and drilling, the safe seemed to be resistant to all the common tools of the day. The door was made of the same material as the safe body.

Safes were now being filled with newly developed, super hard security concrete fillers as an additional effective barrier against forced penetration. Concretes with fiber fillers and other additives, which were commonly vibrated onto reinforcements securely affixed inside the safe’s shell casting, also hindered attacks by requiring heavier breaching tools, offering longer resistance and often the need to create more noise and smoke, not to mention operator fatigue.

This is where this article really begins – with your safes.

Safecracking 101

Once the alarm system has been defeated, or, in many instances, where the attack is mounted from the rear of the safe and no real entry is made into the target property, it is on to step #2 – the safe.

Safecracking is any attempt to open a safe with or without the use of the proper combination or key and generally without the safe owner’s consent. While this effort may take two forms, non-destructive and destructive, the latter tends to be most popular.

First and foremost, one must understand that it is not the lock itself that keeps the safe door closed. These locks are merely the ‘key’ to releasing an elaborate mechanical bolt network that secures the safe door from all sides. The hinges on the safe door are not designed to really provide any protection, but merely to keep the door stable and in place.

How to break into a safe is usually a question that only thieves and locksmiths ponder. But anyone owning a business with a safe should have the same thoughts. The more knowledge you have, the more you can protect yourself and your property.

To start, we will talk about your safe’s location. Its location should be one of your first concerns.

Logically, safe placement against an outside wall may be the most efficient use of space in your building. And you may have fitted your safe with time locks and door alarm contacts. However, depending upon your location’s physical attributes, you may be offering the burglars an opportunity to break into your safe without actually setting foot in your store.

If professional burglars are able to gain access to your store all night or weekend because they have compromised your alarm, they could still gain entry to your TRTL-60X6 safe with the proper equipment. The addition of shock or vibration sensors to your safe will be useless if your alarm system is not operational.

A lot of newer safes have security measures in place to prevent some safecracking techniques popular in the past. However, I know that many pawnbrokers are still relying upon very old and outdated safes and combination locks for security of their goods. So, this data is still applicable.

Electronic time delay locks will keep someone from opening the safe in the usual conventional way – by means of the safe door. But our focus here is more unconventional entries. In this case the person trying to gain entry may be more inclined to use the back or side of the safe for entry and avoid the door altogether.

Non-Destructive Safecracking Methods

Non-destructive safecracking is based upon overcoming the combination lock and/or key lock by manipulation. Although not necessarily the easiest method of entry, once the locks have been manipulated with the proper sequence of numbers, or the key lock picked, the door will open without any further resistance – the easiest way to gain entry (by opening the safe door, not manipulating the locks).

Almost all safes are shipped from their manufacturer with a preset try-out combination with the intent for the purchaser to pay his local safe mechanic to change the combination. This is not always the case. Many safe owners continue to use the try-out combination. These try-out combinations are an industry standard and known to all safe vendors, locksmiths and safecrackers (50 – 25 – 50 and 100 – 50 – 100, used to be popular). Don’t buy an expensive new safe and then be cheap, have the combination changed.

This shouldn’t have to be said, but I going to say it anyway – don’t use numbers like your birthdate, a relative’s birthday or something that a thief could easily deduce as being your combination. This goes along with not having the combination written down near the safe or lying around your home.

One method of lock manipulation used by safe mechanics (these are the good guys who work on your safe) and possibly the best safecrackers was devised by Harry C. Miller in 1940. It allows for opening a locked safe without drilling or defacing the safe. As you may have guessed, it involves the use of a stethoscope or other electronic listening device. And you thought that was just the way it was done on TV or in the movies.

Miller’s scientific system is a three-step process which manipulates the lock into exposing its combination.

1)    Determine the contact points

2)    Discover the number of wheels

3)    Graph your results

While not as fast as is seen on TV or in the movies, in reality, it is a system that has merit. Sorry, I’m not going to reveal the entire system.

As technology advances, more and more anti-manipulative locks are being marketed. These locks may use wheels made of softer or lightweight materials such as nylon or polycarbonates which may be just as hard and not a telltale as metal wheels.


Auto-dialers, such as the Intralock ITL 2000 Safe Dialer, are computer controlled devices that test the entire set of possible combinations. They mount to the face of the safe and electronically start to dial away. Although this method is very feasible, it may take a considerable amount of time before the safe’s combination lock is breached.

Intralock advertises their ITL 2000 Safe Dialer as having these features:

Quick and Easy Set up. Only 15 minutes needed

No supervision required. Once in place, it runs until safe lock opens.

Average opening time is 6 hours.

Non-invasive. Safes remain intact and costly repairs are avoided

4 dialing speeds for loose wheels

Wheels can be dialed:

  • to every possible safe lock combination
  • through a specific range of numbers

Dialer mount attached by strong rare earth magnets

Reversible jaws grip most dials

While Intralock only sells its Safe Dialer to licensed, bonded and certified security professionals and to law enforcement, things have a way of getting into the hands of the wrong element.


Vibration is a method that was used in the past and may still be applicable on some older combination locks. This method applies a vibrating mechanism to the combination dial and allows the wheel gates to slowly rotate to the proper “unlock” position. This occurred because of the weight difference between the wheel and the gate. Modern combination locks alleviate this method by designing wheels that are evenly weighed.


Radiological attack uses a penetrating radiation (beta ray, gamma ray, neutron beam, ultrasound, and x-ray) from a portable device to discretely view the inner workings of a combination lock. This aligns the wheels in the correct position to engage the lever arm and open the safe door.  Some combination lock wheels are now made of low density materials to prevent this type of attack. UL Group 1R type combination locks use acetyl resin or other non-metallic wheels to resist x-ray imaging.

Ultra-Violet and Thermal Imaging

Ultra-violet and thermal imaging, which will show UV residue or heat, may be used to indicate which keys or buttons have been used on a safe with an electronic based combination. While this method may not show the combination, it will narrow down the possibilities by revealing the numbers used most recently.

This method may also be used to detect the numbers entered into your alarms system’s keypad. Can your safe or alarm’s digital keypad be seen or accessed by others? Can I watch you unlock or enter your combination or codes through a telescope or high-powered camcorder’s zoom lens?


Typically, an item the combination owner will come in contact with is coated with a ultra-violet ink. When the safe combination is initiated, the ink is transferred to the corresponding keys on the electronic keypad. A simple black light can reveal which keys were used.

Thermal Imaging

Thermal imaging is a specialized technology on its own. But when used in conjunction with electronic access controls (electronic safe locks), it can be a quite effective tool.

Technically, the potential safecracker would need to deploy an uncooled micro bolometer thermal imaging (far infrared) camera within five to ten minutes after an electronic key code was entered.

The heat transferred from human contact, even for a split second to the keys, dissipates very slowly making a reading of the contact possible after the combination owner has left. The sequence in which the keys were depressed would also be evident by a difference in the color of the keys as they cool, and are visualized or recorded by the thermal image. This image may even be read from a distance of one to ten meters allowing the safecracker to maintain a low profile. Handheld portable thermal imaging devices and cameras are made by companies like Flir and Fluke and are available to the public – and yes, you can even buy them on

In theory, this all works just fine and I’m sure has been used in a movie plot or two. In reality, usually only inside personnel are able to get that close to a safe soon after it has been opened. Not that an insider might not want unauthorized access or the opportunity to make a few bucks on the side by selling the combination.

There are simple ways to help overcome this method of attack. Use an inanimate object to depress the keys of the electronic combination lock. Hold your hand over the keypad either before or after (or both) to warm all the keys. Use a number twice to make the actual combination harder to detect. Scrambling keypads are also available for high security instances.

Electronic locks are becoming more popular in safes these days and often allow for each individual with access to have their own access code, which then allows for tracking (for security purposes) to determine who was the last one who may have opened a safe. Sophisticated models have a built-in date and time stamps that may record up to the last 200 users and combination entries.

Advances in technology are not usually far behind innovation. J.D. Hamilton of the Mas-Hamilton Group, innovators in electronic locks, have developed a safecracking software that interfaces with electronic locks and will run a sequences of numbers until it finds the proper combination to open an electronic lock. There are reported to be a number of clones of this software on the market.

In these types of scenarios, I see the keypad to your alarm system most susceptible to these threats. Gaining access and deactivating the alarm is step one.

Does your safe or alarm’s electronic keypad have white keys? If so, keep them clean. Dirt from your fingers will eventually build up on the keys and make it easy for anyone to observe which keys are regularly depressed and which are not. 

A Short History of Combination Locks

Linus Yale Sr. (you’re probably familiar with the name) invented a pin-tumbler lock in 1848. His son, Linus Yale Jr., a mechanical engineer and also a lock manufacturer, improved upon his father’s lock using a smaller, flat key with serrated edges and patented a cylinder pin-tumbler lock in 1861, which became the basis for modern pin-tumbler locks.

He designed and patented the Yale Infallible Bank Lock in 1851 and his factory in Massachusetts became famous for its innovative bank locks, the Yale Magic Bank Lock and the Yale Double Treasury Bank Lock in 1861.

Yale Jr. is also credited with inventing the modern combination lock in 1862. Always trying to improve upon his past work, Yale realized that the key holes in conventional locks made them susceptible to thieves who could use picks (yes, even back then they picked locks the old-fashion way), explosives (gun powder being the most popular) and heat, which were all used to defeat locks.

Such techniques and efforts to defeat keyed locks convinced Yale Jr. to turn his creative efforts to the use of a permanent dial and shaft design – today’s combination lock.

This concept was not totally original. The majority of combination locks are based off of the Pin Tumbler or Ward designs. Typically, multiple numbers or letters will form a combination to open the lock. The idea for such a design was originally recorded by Gerolamo Cardano of Italy in the 1500s.

In 1862, Yale Jr. introduced the Monitor Bank Lock which soon revolutionized the banking industry with the changeover from traditional keyed locks to combination locks on bank safes.

In 1873, James Sargent (another name still important in the lock industry, Sargent and Sargent & Greenleaf, a Stanley Security Solutions company) patented a time lock mechanism that became the prototype of those being used in contemporary bank vaults. The time mechanism was concealed, utilizing as many as three clocks to cover a total of three days. The bolt was released, for the time the clocks were set to, and the safe then opened to the correct combination.

Joseph Loch of Germany is credited with making improvements to the combination lock in 1878 for Tiffany’s in New York City. These improvements focused on changes in the tumbler design to increase security of the lock mechanism and to further restrict compromise.


How to Choose a Combination

7. Combination Locks

(2) Safeguarding Combinations.

(a) Selecting a Combination. When selecting combination numbers avoid multiples of 5, ascending or descending numbers, simple arithmetical series, and personal data such as birth dates and Social Security Numbers. Use numbers that are widely separated. This can be achieved by dividing the dial into three parts and using a number from each third as one of the high-low-high or low-high-low sequences. The same combination should not be used for more than one container in the same office. Carefully follow any manufacturers’ instructions in installing combination numbers.

(b) Protecting Combinations.

• Combinations should be known only by those persons whose official duties require access. The written combination should be protected at the highest classification level of material in the container or be protected in a manner commensurate with the value of the protected material.

• Combinations should be memorized. They must not be carried in wallets or concealed on persons or written on calendars, desk pads, etc.

• When opening any kind of combination lock, be sure that no unauthorized person can learn the combination by observing the sequence of numbers being entered or dialed. It may be necessary to position your body so as to block the dial from the view of anyone standing nearby.

Reprinted from; U.S. Geological Survey Manual, Physical Security Handbook 440-2-H, Chapter 7, Safes and Storage Equipment, 7. Combination Locks

Ric Blum is a vice president of Ohio Loan Co. in Dayton, Ohio. He has served as president of the Ohio Pawnbrokers Association, secretary/treasurer of the National Pawnbrokers Association and as a member of the board of directors and the board of governors of the National Pawnbrokers Association. Please feel free to e-mail your comments  to or mail them to Ric Blum, Ohio Loan Co., 3028 Salem Ave., Dayton, OH 45406.

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