Vintage keys are everywhere. From home decor, embroidery on high end clothing such as Dolce & Gabbana, and hanging from a long necklace, skeleton keys are in style!
At the title office, we purchased a wooded key so that new home buyers could take a photo with it to post on Facebook.
A few of the furniture pieces I grew up with had old keys to lock a drawer or cabinet. Some of the furniture I have purchased in the last few years came with old keys, whether original or not. Of course those “vintage” keys that feel light weight are probably modern reproductions made of aluminum.
In particular, my barley twist desk came with two keys, but I really need two more. My quest for keys taught me a few things. First, I needed barrel keys, which have a hollow tip. Second, chances are another key, not original to the lock, will work.
There are several sites to buy vintage keys or reproduction vintage keys. Prices vary accordingly. From eBay, etsy, houseofantiquehardware.com, or kennedyhardware.com, you are sure to find something that will work for you. You may choose a single key for decoration or an offering for antique keys by the lot. If you really want to have some fun, visit local antique stores for your key quest.
There are three main parts of an old key: The bow (which is the part you hold), the barrell (the long part between ends), and the bit (the end part that is inserted into the lock). Although the term skeleton key is often used to mean any old key as photographed above, there are differences. A barrell key or hollow-barrell key has a hollow tip. A skeleton key is more a master key, which will open several locks. A bit key is cut specifically for one lock and will not open other locks.
The bow of an old key might be highly decorative or pretty plain. I do wonder if the ornateness of the key bow indicated what it unlocked. Maybe a plain key for the kitchen larder and a fancy key for a jewelry box?
In so much of the antiques found today, if there is a key, it is often not the original key. My desk in need of keys has a keyhole in each drawer. I am not locking the drawers, but the keys serve as a drawer pulls. I get tired of having to move the keys I have from one drawer to the next. I though having a key for each drawer would make my work day easier. So far, I am just having fun trying to find keys that fit!