Inspect the key for signs of damage or wear; a broken key will not turn properly in the lock. At the same time, ensure you are using the correct key; it's possible the lock supplied with the cabinet is not the right fit. The key is wrong if it sticks too far out of the keyhole or fails to turn. Experts specializing in antique locks can often machine a new set of keys, if necessary.
Antique display cabinets often feature a simple lock to keep prying hands off the precious ornaments inside. The internal moving parts of the lock tend to seize up after a few years of inactivity, causing the cabinet to be difficult to open and close. Treating the lock with a little tender loving care will help loosen the stuck mechanism and make it easier to operate. In most cases, the lock can be restored to normal working order in less than an hour.
Spray a little compressed air through the keyhole to dislodge dust and other dry debris in the mechanism. Cans of compressed air are available from hardware stores and photography stores. Photographers use the canisters to clean dust from lenses.
Purchase some graphite powder from your local hardware store, preferably in a container with a spray nozzle. Squirt a little into the keyhole and move the key around inside the lock a few times. The mechanism should loosen up after a few uses.
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