Skeleton keys offer a fascination to collectors due to the mystery that surrounds them and their ability to open countless doors and unlock period furniture. Made of metals such as brass, steel and iron, the key’s weight, shape and long shaft make it an attractive collectible. Often, the key’s design features an ornately decorated bow. Collecting skeleton keys is an inexpensive hobby, making it ideal for beginner collectors. Collectors frequently display skeleton keys in a shadow box or as a wearable adornment.
Research the historical characteristics and previous purposes of skeleton keys. Then, narrow down the scope to a specific category to pursue for your collection. Consider skeleton keys that are antique or 18th century or earlier, vintage or reproduction. Choose keys that have barreled stems or ones that were used exclusively for warded locks. Select ones with an ornate bow design or by metal type.
Join a collector’s association such as American Lock Collectors or West Coast Lock Collectors to meet other enthusiasts worldwide through the forum and discuss the various aspects of skeleton key collections and collecting. Through the associations, research historical information on keys, in addition to viewing other associated online articles. Also, receive a monthly newsletter with key-collecting related information and updates on lock and key shows and conventions.
Connect with other key collecting enthusiasts at online site forums such as antique-locks.com. Look under the category sections such as a collector’s showcase which offers opportunities to meet other key collectors and exchange key-related information.
Acquire skeleton keys which are sold individually or in lots at antique stores or vintage and secondhand stores. Frequently, baskets of skeleton keys will be located near jewelry, buttons or in containers atop or nearby pieces of furniture such as armoires and desks among other pieces requiring keys.
Look for keys through antique hardware, restoration or salvage shops. Often skeleton keys will be grouped together in piles with window and door hardware. Alternatively, find locksmiths that specialize in older homes who usually will have collections of skeleton keys that they sell or give away.
Peek in family attics or estate sales for skeleton keys. Check in trunks, old tins and jewelry boxes. Open old desks, secretaries and dresser drawers to discover a single key. Stumbling on a single key or a ring of keys is part of the thrill of collecting them.
Tips & Warnings
- Display skeleton keys in shadow boxes or hang with a tassel from furniture handles and cabinet knobs.
- Hang skeleton keys from a window lock with ribbon or use as shade pulls.
- Make a statement by displaying the collection on a wall, either side-by-side or in an arrangement.
- Standard Guide to Key Collecting, 3rd Ed.; Don Stewart; 1990
- Warman's Americana and Collectibles, 9th Ed.; Ellen T. Schroy; 1999
- Introduction to Key Collecting; Tom French; 1990
- Photo Credit Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images
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