Guy Zani, Pasco's master of safe keeping

He got his first safe when he was a child, and he's filled his house with rare antique models.

Published January 9, 2007

NEW PORT RICHEY - Guy Zani Jr.'s house is an antique safe collector's paradise, if ever such a thing existed.

About 200 safes fill a trio of 6-foot glass cabinets that line the walls. There are more in the garage.

The items in his repertoire, worth about $200,000, include:

- An 1865 cherry red cannonball safe.

- A double-door office safe from England, circa 1880.

- A 750-pound cast-iron Victorian parlor safe made in 1871.

Zani is 63. Before he retired, he owned an electric sign company. Some call him "The Safe Guy," but he takes his hobby seriously. He's a member of the Still Bank Collectors Club of America, and he self-published a book called Uncle Sam's Register Banks & Cash Registers Collectors Guide.

"There's collectors and accumulators," Zani said. "Accumulators want to amass a lot of the same thing. A collector doesn't want 10 '55 Chevys. He wants one to be different than the one over there."

His hobby started about 50 years ago when his mother gave him a small red steel safe. It sits on a shelf in one of the glass cabinets.

"It was a toy," Zani said, "and I was always interested in little boxes with locks."

His safes date from between 1826 and 1910. Some are worth as much as $10,000. One has trick locks. Some have multiple keys. Most are cast-iron.

For one of the heftier safes, Zani used an engine hoist to lift it onto a table in his house. The combined weight of his collection is 12 tons.

Zani buys most of his safes at auctions or online. Sometimes they arrive in pieces, and he puts them together. He transports big safes with a trailer.

His wife, Kimberly, coats the safes with glossy paint to replicate their original flair.

Zani's collection is so rare that 40 of his safes are one of five of their kind in the world. Others are mechanical safes, which do more than just store items. The Fortune Teller Savings Bank is one: Drop a coin in the slot and a goodwill message appears on a tiny screen.

On Zani's desk sit small jewelry box safes with tiny velvet-lined drawers.

"I'm interested in things that are unusual or rare," Zani said.

If he buys a safe that doesn't work, Zani calls friends like Lynn Collins of Sebring, a retired certified master locksmith.

"He brings me safes that need mechanical work or need opening," said Collins, who is working on three of Zani's safes. "Generally, if the finish is in decent condition, I like to leave that and do mechanical repairs to make it work properly."

Terry Kovel, co-author of Kovels' Antiques & Collectibles Price List, said Zani's hobby is rare.

"I only know of a few people who collect safes," she said. "It's a major problem to move these things."

As elaborate as Zani's collection is, few have seen it. And he's just fine with that.

"Nobody knows," he said. "It's the best-kept secret around."

Camille C. Spencer can be reached at 727 869-6229 or cspencer@sptimes.com.

About Zani's safes

- The oldest safe is from 1826. Zani bought the black chest safe, complete with original patent papers, from a retired collector.

- The heaviest safe weighs about 3,200 pounds. It's from the 1860s and has a solid steel bolt.