Antique Key: Identification & Value Guide

Humans invented locks to protect his/her belongings from getting lost, damaged, or stolen. And only a key can open the lock to let you access the secured items. The more or less medieval tool still manages to remain with human life with absolute usefulness.

Antique keys often seem pretty worthy in the eyes of many passionate collectors. Despite the ongoing debate on its actual usefulness, the collectibles can surely add an impression. But you don’t have to invest in some recent-time or modern locking keys.

Choosing the perfect antique keys can immediately become very daunting even for professionals. Neither all the keys share a similar appeal nor the keys feature noticeable differences. You should check the detailed guidelines on its identification for value.

Antique Key Identification & Value Guide

Available Types of Antique Keys

It’s a must to understand the fundamental categories to check your old keys. Likewise, your appreciable knowledge of the subject seems incomplete without details. As it happens, you better start looking into the viable antiques within the classification.

Barrel/Door Keys – It holds the most common form of vintage keys in modern times. Barrel keys are suitable for facilitating larger locks on doors or established entrances. House, offices, apartments, industries & commercial institutes highly depended on its function.

Master/Skeleton Keys – It often refers to a true skeleton key to restrict access on different setup sections. It explicitly enabled hassle-free locking-unlocking of all standard locks in the intended structure. However, most of the keys feature a rounded barrel-style on top.

Chest & Trunk Keys – Even the design possesses a similar rounded barrel shape within a smaller size. And chances are pretty good for the key to open any old-school traveling trunk or chest. It remained very popular among Americans to travel its different states by train.

Simple Suitcase Keys – However, the suitcase managed to replace chest/trunks by the early 20th century. And it featured a somewhat practical locking mechanism to require smaller keys. The tradition is no longer in practice. Anyone to have its keys are dealing with 50-year old designs.

Vintage Car Keys – One common trend may concern more recent car keys for an antique piece. Early simple keys to offer minimal security came into the picture by 1949 by Chrysler. But the 1990s observed mass development of keys to make early designs simple vintage/retro.

Tubular/Vending Keys – You should immediately identify the design with its unique outlook. Its shortened flat platform integrates a cylindrical round stem. The locking mechanism was tight enough to relieve thieves. Only some special tools can break into the system.

TubularVending Keys

Stringed Instrument Case Keys – Traveling distant places for a music festival or concert often requires musical instrument casing. And the trend often adorns violin, guitar & mandolins in particular. It featured more like a holding lock to encourage a steady device housing.

Standard Padlock Keys – Padlock remains in use from the ancient roman time to this date. It provides absolute portability through its 3-part design – body, shackle & mechanism. But detecting any previous version of usable padlock often becomes difficult for interested parties.

Novelty/Diary Keys – Any dainty adorable key should come from either a small decorative box or diary. Absolute exterior style merely performs any dependable security purpose. You can even encounter some fancy novelty padlocks on luck to introduce minimal security.

Clock/Watch Winders – Clock keys or watch winders are absolute vintage pieces from early centuries. Insertion of the keys explicitly winds the gears for classic watches & clocks. It’s entirely possible to find one or even multiple keys with your owned antique household clocks.

ClockWatch Winders

Confusion on Antique Skeleton Keys

Online searches end up causing trouble on antique skeleton keys instead of antique/vintage keys. In fact, the term ‘skeleton’ manages to overwhelm the standard reference of old/vintage keys.

Technically, the design explicitly concerns a unique shape at the closing/holding end. It primarily unlocks a warded lock to feature specific interior obstructions. However, some experts categorized barrel, bit & master key in the ‘Skeleton Key’ section.

You should stick with antique keys for exploring a greater number of available marketplace options. Otherwise, it’s possible to negligibly lose your best interest towards a valuable antique piece.

The old-fashioned piece of metal may hold the unlocking mechanism to definite mysteries. Many keys remain unmarked to this date, simply encouraging the mystery.

Confusion on Antique Skeleton Keys

Determination of Key Size

Antique keys possess a versatile range of lengths to cope with its necessity. You can find about 6” long keys as well as less than 1” keys. And the distinctive size can tell a lot more than other physical specs.

  • Tiny: Incredibly small-scale keys to open tiny locks or conventional jewelry boxes.
  • Small: More or less 2” – 3” sized keys to open furniture parts like drawer/cabinet.
  • Medium: Antique doorknobs may require 2.5” – 4.0” long keys for simple opening.
  • Large: Extremely large keys to support large gate locks or other substantial pieces.

Market Valuation of Antique Keys

Evaluating the market value of antique key concerns many interdependent factors. You’ll have to combine everything in one platform for confirmation. However, the following considerations directly influence the key value.

Actual Age Determining the exact age of any key remains a difficult task for common people. You don’t feel the necessity of running carbon dating tests on vintage keys. However, current keys available for purchase are older than the 1940s. Of course, the chances of encountering extremely old keys are nil.

Craftsmanship Factory-made keys are pretty smooth, uniform & exact from every perspective. But handcrafted keys should make your day for antiques. Noticeable distortion in size or shape should justify its precise antiquity. But check for the recent-time keys to undergo breakage, cracks, or vitiated shape.

Key Material Most of the classic keys feature bendable iron or standard brass construction. You must closely check the composition for clear understanding. Likewise, some designs stand pretty sturdy with modified materials. Know the difference between traditional brass & iron products for simple catchup.

Engravings Particular engraving can represent historic or certain events to relate the keys. But not many antique keys feature any worthy engravings. Checking the engravings online can provide you information. Additional & validated provenance is sure to imply further valuation for your collectibles.

Special Mark Also, you can check into other marks to provide clues on any particular occasion. Even a slight indexing mark can possess great value. Ancient keys merely stamped logos or trademarks on the key surface. Without knowing the significance, it’s somewhat impossible to promote the specific key.

Bow Shape Key bow refers to the widened hollow part to let you hold the key. Ancient keys featured distinctive shapes to match the relevant locks. Therefore, you’re to encounter too many variations with its timeline. Keys to integrate an interesting or attractive bow often hold many collectors’ attention.

Bow Shape

Noteworthy Brands of Locking Systems

Checking some established manufacturers can help you to find some vintage collections. Ancient handcrafted keys are pretty rare to find right now. But you may consider settling for some machine-made keys to fulfill your quest. Many companies joined the march following the 1800s revolution.

Some notable companies to manufacture locking systems are –

  • Hartmann
  • Corbin Eagle
  • Milwaukee
  • Everlasting
  • Crouch & Fitzgerald
  • Excelsior
  • Presto
  • Wheary
  • Yale & Towne
  • Star
  • Long

Also, you can utilize online resources to figure out other companies for checkouts. Look into the marks or stamps to determine the manufacturer history & product lineup. In fact, Ford, as well as GMC, preferred logo engravement on vintage car keys.

Checking Older Keys for Antiquity

Have some older keys in possession without any use? Well, it’s time you may check its viable antiquity right at home. Follow the process to date the available keys by yourself.

  1. Clean the keys using a suitable liquid to find out any visible marks or labels.
  2. Spray non-essential lock holes to try the available keys for locking/unlocking.
  3. Closely inspect the bow section to detect a particular combination of codes.
  4. Keys to feature ‘Do Not Duplicate’ can come from important office locks.
  5. Put all the keys on a level surface to judge the edges for any viable match.

Positive results require you to consult experts or even appraisals for confirmation of its authenticity.

Are Vintage Keys Worth Anything?

As mentioned, many pessimistic collectors think vintage keys possess no value. It’s particularly true for keys without any determined or known locks. Of course, it stands different for others to have a keen interest in gathering old keys.

There’s no need to insult or poke anyone over key collectibles. However, purchasing or selling antiques remain a passion for many private collectors. You just need to understand the opposition’s perspective.

Not to mention, most of the vintage keys are sold within $10 to cost you mere bucks. Key identification requires proper assessment to set the value high. Otherwise, many clients will happily skip the age-old design without second thoughts.

Final Words

Despite the debates, collecting vintage keys appears one funny hobby within budget. Also, you can start evaluating the old keys in your possession for sales. It concerns minimal trading risks on future damage or any other deteriorating issue. Keep checking the online platforms to find your favorite metal piece.


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