Vintage post office box door restoration for wooden banks

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Project by trasner posted 02-24-2015 03:26 AM 22084 views 12 times favorited 11 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I like to collect these vintage p.o. box doors to make little banks and give them as gifts. The most enjoyable part of the process for me is the restoration of the door. Most of the ones I will buy are from the 1930’s or earlier. A few are from the 1880’s. Although not terribly sophisticated, they were built rock solid. Other than the thick 1/4 inch glass window, they are either solid bronze or brass all the way down to the knobs, dials, gears, screws, washers, name plate, springs, etc. Because of this, they can be restored to almost near new condition. They usually are in good working condition when I get them but are in somewhat horrendous shape from an aesthetic point (unless you like black corrosion and green patina which is better suited for an ancient coin). I like taking them completely apart and then polish everything all the way down to the little brass screws. I have the process down to about 45 min per door including a lacquer finish. They are definitely a product of a bygone era when craftsmanship meant more than it does today. It must have been a site to see to walk into the post office in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s and see walls and walls of shiny bronze. Going to the post office back then was probably an event as most people did not have home delivery of mail.

Picture 1 & 2 are of one of the banks I made using Brazilian Cherry with Ebony splines (I used a home-made spline jig which I am also going to post on LJ). Picture 3 is an assortment of the doors I have. Going from top left clockwise: The 1st is a dual dial from the Keyless Lock Co (circa 1886). The 2nd is a large radial dial from the Eagle Lock Co (circa 1898). The 3rd is a star dial from The American Post Office Equip Co (Circa 1901), and the 4th is the flying eagle which is also from the Keyless Lock Co (Circa 1906). Picture 4 is a Corbin double dial bronze unit (1920’s) before and after polishing. Picture 5 are a pair of U.S. single dial brass doors I purchased from Ebay. I have restored the one on the left to compare before and after. There is no paint on any of these whatsoever, it is the natural bronze and brass after buffing and polishing.

As you can see, they are very ornate, and as other woodworkers have found, they make really neat banks, keepsake boxes, etc. Next time you are at your local post office look the P.O. boxes of today and notice the difference. Vintage P.O. boxes can be found on Ebay, Etsy, and antique stores.

Thanks for looking.

-- Todd

11 comments so far

View dustyal's profile


1322 posts in 4595 days

#1 posted 02-24-2015 03:15 PM

Well done. This is not the time to leave a patina… Shine them as they were meant to be.

Do the locks work and can you change combination? Alas, I assume there are reproductions out there, how to tell the difference?

-- Al H. - small shop, small projects...

View trasner's profile


87 posts in 4027 days

#2 posted 02-24-2015 03:35 PM

Al, the locks all work perfectly and the combinations can easily be changed. Each door style is slightly different, but in general, they all use 2 or 3 stacked gear wheels with a slot. You just line the slot up to the pin and open. You can rearrange the slots to change the combinations. There are some reproductions out there. These can usually be differentiated from the originals by certain stampings on the inside such as patent dates and the manufacturer’s name. For example the real Corbin door has “Corbin” with a circle around it engraved above the window on the inside of the door. Reproductions can also be identified by the screws. The originals use slotted brass screws whereas most reproductions use zinc Philips head screws. There is a nice guide available on Ebay which has almost every U.S. postal door ever made: It is called “Post office lockbox doors: An illustrated guide” by Jane Ingram.

-- Todd

View Ken90712's profile


18028 posts in 4308 days

#3 posted 02-24-2015 03:45 PM

I have always loved these and been on the look out for some face plates. Great work, I really like them.

-- Ken, "Everyday above ground is a good day!"

View Tim_CPWD 's profile


414 posts in 2365 days

#4 posted 02-24-2015 04:42 PM

Nice work. Thanks for sharing all the details. I really like this as a gift idea. What do you use to clean and polish all the parts?

-- Tim Haenisch, San Diego Ca.

View trasner's profile


87 posts in 4027 days

#5 posted 02-24-2015 04:58 PM

There are commercial brass cleaners as well as do-it-yourself mixtures (ketchup, cola, vinegar mixed with salt and flour, etc) but I find these to be too laborious. By far the best way to go is a 6” fine wire wheel attached to a slow speed grinder followed by a stitched buffing wheel using white compound. Just be careful of openings and corners and watch your progress so you remove only a minimal amount of material. You don’t want to lose any detail. You will need to wear gloves as the metal will get hot. Clean with acetone or mineral spirits after buffing/polishing and put a brass lacquer on to preserve the finish.

-- Todd

View Mean_Dean's profile


7057 posts in 4267 days

#6 posted 02-25-2015 12:57 AM

Well, these certainly restored very nicely! I like the idea of turning these into little banks, or just to keep special items in. And it’s nice that these historical items are being preserved!

-- Dean -- "Don't give up the ship -- fight her 'till she sinks!" Capt James Lawrence USN

View asmang's profile


23 posts in 4634 days

#7 posted 03-02-2015 09:51 PM

These are cool, Todd!

View PredatorVI's profile


1 post in 1603 days

#8 posted 01-29-2017 05:01 AM

Tossing out a hail mary here, but I have a small Corbin post office box bank and the kids have lost the knob on the door. The bank is in great shape otherwise. Does anyone know where to get replacements without spending $50.00+ on a complete door/bank? Hate to drop that kind of change just for a knob.

View larryboman's profile


1 post in 1516 days

#9 posted 04-25-2017 12:04 PM

Man, what a brilliant job! You’re simply jack-of-all-trades!

I saw this project on and considering putting it into action.

View SecMutt's profile


1 post in 64 days

#10 posted 04-17-2021 03:06 AM

These look great, and they inspired me to give it a try. I am curious how did you attach the 1906 flying eagle to the bank carcass. I recently scored one and realized that it only had brass tabs for mounting points instead of screw holes, I was hoping to be able to pick your brain on best practice for attaching them.

View jmahieu's profile


1 post in 8 days

#11 posted 06-11-2021 03:02 PM

I have an antique po box bank. Star lock, 2 number combination. I have had it open once but cannot open it now. Of course its almost full of coins.

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