Antique keys
Antique keys are fairly common, usually pre-19th century collectible metal keys that are known as either flat, barrel or skeleton. The most coveted type of antique key is the historic, ornate, skeleton key.
A single brass railroad key and ring of 19th century skeleton keys
A single brass railroad key and ring of 19th century skeleton keys


It is generally agreed that the key and lock were invented in ancient Egypt and China simultaneously, in around 4000 BC. These ancient keys and locks were usually made from either wood or iron. Keys and locks really took hold during the Roman Empire, however, as geographical conquest brought great riches, which then needed to be protected against theft.

How to identify antique keys

Compared to other collectibles, antique keys are fairly easy to get hold of and can often be found in charity and thrift stores, and at car-boot and garage sales, as well as in antique shops, auctions, and on-line. Antique keys are easily identifiable with reference to shape, colour, evidence of tarnishing, and weight. They may be unmarked, or have unique markings not seen today, such as symbols and hallmarks.


  • Antique barrel keys have a short, hollow shaft and a rounded edge.
  • Hollow barrel keys will weigh significantly less than antique skeleton keys, which are made of solid metal.
  • The bow of an antique skeleton key will often be elaborately decorated.
  • An antique skeleton key will be able to open most antique locks - skeleton keys are, of course, known for this function.

Collector's guide

Typically, the older and more finely embellished a key is, the rarer it will be, and therefore the more valuable. Keys dating back to pre-1700, for example, are a lot more in demand than keys dating back to the early twentieth century - and there are far fewer of them. Replica antique keys will very rarely feel as heavy as genuine antique keys as they are usually made of aluminium. The aged patina on the surface of the key may also appear too even in colour and tone.

Common antique keys

Chubb, Cotterill, Brahmah and Victorian-era keys are frequently sold and can range in prce from between $1 and $15 depending on the level of intricacy and elegance they exhibit.

Railroad Keys

Although collecting railroad keys might be thought of as a niche collection within a niche area; railroad key collectors and collectors of railroad memorabilia in general are oftenespecially keen on small brass keys, which have been known to fetch as much as $250 for a single key at auction.

Unique elaborate keys

The value of these elaborately cast keys depends upon their condition, age and scarcity.

Price guide

Antique keys can be worth from anything between $1 and $500. Age, condition, detailing, rarity, weight, shape and size are all key considerations.

See also

Main article: Youniverse Time Lock Safes
Main article: Antique and vintage skeleton clocks

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