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Bronze padlock attributed Enoch Robinson. Credit: Collection of E. R. Butler and Company.










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Tips for Collecting Old Master Paintings, Drawings

As seen in The Antique Shoppe Newspaper, December 2008

When I decided to write about antique locks, keys and door hardware I decided to check out what was happening on the internet. Imagine my surprise when I discovered many specialty dealers. One even offering a brasss “Ming” lock. Note, the seller didn't say it was "Ming period or authentic." There were also dealers specializing in reproduction items. So why should I be surprised?


My brief research showed that probably some of the best authentic examples would be the ornate, late, Victorian locks, keys and door hardware. One reason this category has become so popular is that it doesn’t take up a lot of space. Helpful for Condo dwellers. While dealer prices are in the hundreds of dollars these days, for what used to be found in salvage lots and flea markets, there are still flea market bargains.


The look and mechanical techniques of locks and keys have undergone many changes over the centuries. They have come a long way from the simple wooden locks and keys made in Egypt 4000 years ago. In ancient Rome the keys had become iron or bronze. It was there that there was the first use of “wards” (fixed projections in a lock) to ward off entry. Padlocks also had early beginnings in many ancient cultures including China. They were made of iron, bronze and brass. Credit the ancient Greeks with inventing the keyhole.


By Medieval times French and German locksmiths trimmed their lock plates with Gothic mouldings and carvings.


Historically the Bramah lock, first made in America by Joseph Bramah(1818) is notable as a safety lock considered unpickable. It is the oldest lock Company in the world still making its' mechanisms.


Among the important American makers of hardware was Enoch Robinson (1801-1888) Boston. Many of his locks and escrutcheons were bronze. They are still in use in old Boston hotels and on doors in the United States Treasury building.


Most often found these days are 19th and 20th century locks and keys. Choose the type that turns you on. This could include keys to wind clocks, lock buffets, desks or trunks. There are keys and padlocks for prisoner ball and chains, handcuffs and dainty charms.     


Sometimes an old trunk or valise that is falling apart has a lock worth saving. Once type was made by the Eagle Lock Company in the late 19th century. It was a brass crop with an eagle design. Others were Japanned.




If you are serious about collecting,  take a trip to the Lock Museum of America, 230 Main Street, Terryville Ct. It is a visual tour of lock history beginning with examples from ancient Egypt to 20th century America. On view is the original patent model of the mortise cylinder tumbler lock designed by Linus Yale Jr. in 1862. The first modern combination lock. His father, Linus Yale, Sr., adopted the priciple of the early Egyptian lock. It was wooden, and fastened on the outside of the gate. Pegs on the end of a huge wooden key fitted into wooden pins in the lock that kept the bolt from moving.


If you are more concerned with the beauty of design than historical purpose ornate Victorian examples of locks and keys are still plentiful in brass


If you have any questions, you can Email us at

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