The Guy Zani, Jr. Safe Collection – Provenance Note Morphy 3-30-2013

A rare 1820s cast iron hobnail safe by J. Scott

p4A ItemID E8929129
A late 19th century personal safe from an unknown maker, having a combination lock door and fitted interior, on wheels

p4A ItemID E8928933
A late 19th century gentleman's personal Hall's safe concealed in a galleried oak cabinet on stand with paneled drop-front

p4A ItemID E8928902
A late 19th century French personal safe having a key lock door and pierced foliate crest

p4A ItemID E8928701

The Guy Zani, Jr. Safe Collection

Guy Zani Jr has found a “safe harbor” at Morphy Auctions, where his remarkable collection of more than 80 rare antique safes will be auctioned on Saturday, March 30, 2013. Zani’s 25-year quest to amass the finest and most elusive models resulted in a premier collection that includes such coveted examples as salesman’s samples, mini cannonballs, Hobnails, money chests, safes in wood cabinets, small personal safes, and coveted brothel/boudoir and pedestal parlor safes. Several of the safes have never before been seen in public or offered at public auction.

Now retired from the business and financial sector, Zani’s fascination with safes began during childhood, when his mother gave him a toy safe in which to save his pennies.

“The combination dial intrigued me, and I kept the bank for quite a while,” Zani recalled. “As I got older, I started to collect toy cast-iron safe banks. Then I graduated to full-size cast-iron antique safes. It’s definitely true what they say, that as men grow older, the only difference between men and boys is the size of their toys. I had a collection of Corvettes that was featured in the New York Times, but I bought my last Corvette six or seven years ago and decided to devote all of my time to the safes.”

Many of Zani’s leads came through a website he maintains which draws 7,000 visitors per month. Zani said he is often sent images of safes and asked if he wants to purchase them. In other cases, his widely acknowledged expertise prompts requests to evaluate safes.
“The enquiries come from collectors all over the world,” said Zani. “There’s an active safe collectors club in England, and I understand they’re chipping in to buy a copy of the March 30th auction catalog, which documents my collection.”

Zani’s collection includes two extraordinarily rare Hobnail safes – one full size; the other a salesman’s sample. The Hobnail’s production era in the United States was from 1824 until about 1840. The Zani collection includes an example of the 1830 Rogers Hobnail Safe, predecessor to the first combination-lock safe ever made; and the oldest known salesman’s sample safe in existence – an 1826 hobnail safe attributed to Jesse Delano & Sons, New York.

“Even the John M. Mossman Lock Museum, which has locks, keys and tools dating as far back as 4,000 BC, didn’t know there was a surviving example of the Rogers Hobnail safe. Their collection includes a Rogers Hobnail lock, but not an actual safe,” Zani said.

“In the 1830s the US Patent Office in Washington burned to the ground, and a large section of all existing patents was destroyed,” Zani continued. “If you had a patent that was filed prior to the fire, like the patent for the Rogers Hobnail safe, it could cause a real problem.”

Zani explained that, in an effort to re-establish the patents, the US Government appealed to England’s patent office, with which the United States had a reciprocity agreement. As a standard practice, each office provided the other with a copy of each approved patent, so many of the destroyed patents eventually were retrieved – but not the patent for the Rogers Hobnail safe.

“And that’s what makes the safe in my collection especially desirable. When Rogers produced the safe, they embossed the words ‘Rogers Patent’ inside it. That’s the best provenance of all,” Zani said.

Unraveling the mystery behind the mechanisms inside old safes is not unlike pursuing the secrets behind famous magicians’ illusions. “Recently I bought a safe from a person in Italy. He included a note that said, ‘When you get the safe, please e-mail me and I will tell you a special procedure to open the safe.’ I already had an Italian safe with trick locks, so I figured out how to open it. It was a challenge,” Zani said.

Eight or nine of the safes in Zani’s collection are difficult to value because there are few auction comparables against which to draw comparison. In particular, Zani expects keen interest to be shown in his 1905 Victor salesman’s sample cannonball safe, so named because it is round rather than square. His Victor has a screw-lock door with a working time lock and is the only known example.

Cannonball salesman’s samples are considered the ultimate acquisition to antique safe collectors. In 2011 a Mosler salesman’s sample cannonball safe in a box was put up for public auction. Zani said the Mosler company made 11 cannonball samples, which were designed to expose the internal locking mechanisms in a cross-section view. Constructed on two wheels, the safe was manufactured in a box with a drop front. Only eight of the original 11 samples are known to exist today.

“I have owned five of the eight Mosler cannonball samples at one time or another, and I know where all eight are. The eighth one appeared at auction in 2011 and created quite a buzz. It sold for $35,000 and set a world record for a salesman’s sample safe.” Zani believes that because his Victor salesman’s sample is “one of one” and not a cutaway, but rather a complete freestanding safe with four wheels, it should break the current record.

Four Marvin mini cannonball safes are entered in the sale. Marvin made these safes in three sizes, 650 lbs, 1,300 lbs and 2,000 lbs. All sizes are represented in the auction, with the 2,000-lb size representing the only known example. All are fully restored with attractive original graphics and paperwork from the manufacturer. Additionally, there is an example of the 1899 York mini cannonball safe, the smallest of all cannonball types, excluding replicas and salesman’s samples. It is only 16 inches tall, weighs 450 lbs and is considered quite special because it is the only cannonball safe to feature a dual-key lock mechanism.

A bona-fide work of art, Zani’s 750-lb Herring parlor safe came from the atrium of a fine house in St. Louis. Painted in an elegant floral and foliage design on all surfaces plus its cabriole pedestal, the safe is attractive from all angles. “Not only is it beautiful, it’s also extremely rare,” said Zani. “No one has seen one like this at auction before, so I have no idea what it will bring, price wise.”
Among the many other highlights included in the March 30, 2013 auction of Guy Zani Jr’s collection are:

1801 Italian Secretaire Habitante with internal hidden safe, three keys

“The Twins” – 1870 Herring Safe Co. ladies’ jewelry safes

1834 Milnor and Shaw Cathedral safe; door has stained-glass motif

1858 Sharts and Bedell safe with white porcelain knob; only known example

1868 Derby salesman’s sample with one of a kind Johnson & Thompson Permutation Stem combination lock

1890s Rouse & Co. Diamond Trade Show display model

Information courtesy of Morphy Auctions, March 2013.


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