Antique Keys and Locks

Locks and keys have always been precious tools. They not only have a practical use to them, but also a certain symbolism and mythology. We use them every day and if we temporarily lose them we have a minor panic attack. They’re so much more than everyday objects: they give us security.

Historically, the more keys you own, the more property you own and the more wealth you have, symbolizing a higher social status.


These are just a sampling of the practices surrounding keys and locks:

  • In Viking culture, women received keys as wedding presents after they were married, and they wore them on the outside of their clothes to indicate their status.
  • The bows on keys (that top part with the design, more prominent when considering antique keys) often took the shape of religious symbols like crosses and trefoils around the Middle Ages when superstition ran rampant.
  • Europeans at the time of the Middle Ages believed that iron had the power to ward off evil and demonic spirits. These malevolent beings would get into buildings through keyholes as well as other openings, so many door pieces featured iron dragon heads to scare the spirits away. Blacksmiths even set two pairs of tongs in the shape of a cross to protect their forge when they left work for the day.
  • Superstition said to never put keys on a table because that would lead to chaos and disagreement.SONY DSC

In 1848, American Linus Yale and son created the cylinder lock (or pin tumbler lock) that we still use today. The key for this lock operates the pins inside the lock, setting them at the right intervals to turn the cylinder and unlock the lock.

When it comes to collecting keys, you can recognize the era and sometimes the country of creation by the key’s design. An antique key has three parts: the bow (the part you hold and turn), the bit (the lock) and the shank (the long part of the key).

Keys also make great, cheap home decorations for those who like to use vintage decorations in home décor.

Do you own any antique keys or locks?

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