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One heavy decision

  • DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS Borough worker Mario Marconi of Lansford believes the 1884  Lansford Borough safe weighs 1 ton and maybe more.
    DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS Borough worker Mario Marconi of Lansford believes the 1884 Lansford Borough safe weighs 1 ton and maybe more.
Published April 04. 2014 01:02PM

The historic Victorian vault that safeguarded cash and Lansford's most important documents in days gone by might be up for grabs if the price is right.

It's recognized as a masterpiece of engineering and art, but the borough simply has no place to put it.

The town's oversized combination safe, built Aug. 26, 1884, is a relic of anthracite's glory days and a surviving gem from world-renowned York Safe & Lock Co.

The wheeled 1-ton safe had been kept in the former borough hall for decades.

But when the 1906 town hall/firehouse building was razed in May 2013, the safe was moved to the borough garage, a project requiring assistance from Summit Hill Borough.

"It's very heavy. Summit Hill brought its loader to haul it," said Mario Marconi, Lansford borough worker.

But town leaders feel the new location isn't ideal and will prove detrimental. They fear dampness could take a toll on the safe's components and tumblers.

"We're concerned it will rust," said Rose Mary Cannon of Lansford Borough Council.

The safe features hidden compartments and interior lockable drawers.

In fact, one drawer remains locked. The borough is without keys and unable to open it.

"They tried to jimmy the lock," said Cannon, explaining that workers stopped for fear of damaging the vintage wood.

Nobody has a guess as to what might be inside the locked drawer.

As for the main rotary lock, the borough no longer knows the combination.

At recent meetings, council members expressed a desire to seek offers from interested parties, but took no official action.

They recognize that moving the safe will be a task, as will finding a suitable location.

It currently sits on a concrete floor. If moved, it must be placed on a similar solid floor.

Were it not for excessive weight, council members might have opted to place the safe in their meeting chambers inside Ridge Street town hall, Cannon said.

Not appraised

The safe's value is unclear. It hasn't been formally appraised.

The website Antique Safe Collector lists somewhat similar safes in the $4,000 to $6,000 range.

However, none appear to be as ornate, detailed or in the same outstanding original condition as Lansford's.

In comparison, the town of Tamaqua also has a Victorian-era safe, although not as large as the one in Lansford.

The Tamaqua safe, a Stiffel & Freeman, was left behind in the early 1970s when borough offices moved to the former armory building. The old safe is now owned and used by Citizens Fire Co.

The Tamaqua safe is hand-painted, but lacks the elaborate ornamentation of its Lansford counterpart.

The Lansford safe features two mountain and lake scenes hand-painted in oil in addition to lavish, hand-done embellishments and gold leaf trim. It's marked "Geo. F. Abbott, Ag't, Pottsville."

In many ways, Lansford's safe also represents a piece of American history.

For instance, the main lock was produced by Yale & Towne Mfg. Co. Linus Yale invented the popular pin-tumbler cylinder design and is now seen as a pioneer in engineering.

Manufacturer York Safe & Lock Co. was established in York in 1882 by Israel Laucks and was up and running in 1883, meaning Lansford's 1884 safe is one of the firm's earliest works.

The company grew to become producer of the largest and heaviest bank vaults in the world, according to its corporate history.

The firm also installed many of the largest Federal Reserve vaults in the U.S., including New York City, Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago. During World War II, the company aided the war effort by manufacturing products for the Army and Navy, such as specialty bomb and detonating fuses, shells, and parts manufactured from armor plate for use on tanks, airplanes, jeeps and ships.

In fact, the Navy Department took over the firm because of essential war materials being produced.

York Safe & Lock Co. went through a series of ownership and name changes and existed until 1959.

Inquiries about the vintage vault can be directed to Lansford Borough Hall, 570-645-3900.

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