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Question: Need help identifying a skeleton key

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Sun 24 Aug 2008 - 2:00 am UTC

Question

prowler
Customer

Hey everyone,

I need help identifying a skeleton key. I would like some information on it's origin, it's use, estimated age, etc. It's quite heavy, and I'm almost positive it is made of solid brass. It is 9 7/8" inches long. I've posted a few pictures are here:

http://www.powerspowers.com/myspace/images/DSC_0344.JPG
http://www.powerspowers.com/myspace/images/DSC_0352.JPG
http://www.powerspowers.com/myspace/images/DSC_0354.JPG
http://www.powerspowers.com/myspace/images/DSC_0356.JPG

Let me know if you need any other information. Thanks in advance; you guys always do great, fast research!

 
 

Sun 24 Aug 2008 - 12:27 pm UTC

Uclue Researcher Request for clarification

Oliver Scriptor
Researcher

Very interesting ... the key's bow is shaped like a lyre. While elaborate ornaments were rather common with keys in the 19th century, such a complex design is not something you see every day on an old key. I am quite sure that it is a key from the 19th century; the ornaments look very much like they are from the Victorian age. A bit too pompous for Empire or Regency, though I might be wrong.

At the same time, it has the appearance of an industrial product rather than a handmade one-of-a-kind key. Expensive, but not unique. An English or American product, perhaps, judging from the overall style.

The close-up of the keyblade seems to reveal the faint remains of embossed letters. Unfortunately, they are too worn to read. The last three letters could be -GAI or -SAI. This could indicate a manufacturer's name of French origin, though not necessarily that the key itself was made in France. However, if the letters are not a manufacturer's name at all but only something like a catalogue number, these thoughts would not lead far.


Maybe I can find out something. Should I have any success, I will let you know immediately.

Greetings,
Scriptor

 

Sun 24 Aug 2008 - 3:32 pm UTC

Comment

myoarin
User

Hi Prowler,

A key of that size would likely have been for a large wardrobe or door in building from the period Scriptor suggests.  It appears that the lower hole at the head of lyre shows wear from the key's being carried, a bit unusual for a key of that size. That suggests that the key secured something more important than everyday materials and was used by someone who probably kept it on his/her keyboard or the like, since it is unlikely that such a monster would be carried on one's person.

The key to the wardrobe in a sacristy might fit that speculation.

The keyblade is too complex to allow this to be called a skeleton key.

Back to Scriptor,  Myo

 

Tue 26 Aug 2008 - 9:32 pm UTC

Uclue Researcher Comment

Rob Bowler
Researcher

Could it possibly be a jailer's key?  I have seen pictures of jailer's keys and they look similiar in their design:

http://images.google.com/images?um=1&hl=en&q=jailer%27s+keys

 

Tue 26 Aug 2008 - 11:44 pm UTC

Question clarification

prowler
Customer

Thank you scriptor and myoarin for your input -

Scriptor, you are correct in that the beginning of the embossed lettering on the key blade is unfortunately too worn to read, but in person, it appears that that last letters read RTUGAL, as in PORTUGAL. I now realize that the lighting in the pictures do not do this justice, and will upload a few pictures that better depict this.

Myoarin, I agree with you as far as it's possible use in a sacristy; it seems to have that "vibe", if you will. As far as I know, I thought a skeleton key was any key in which the axis perpendicular to the keyblade would fit into a keyhole which is shaped similar to a skull: circular at the top and trapezoidal at the bottom; regardless of the slots/cuts of the blade.

The one thing I can't seem to get over is that no matter how much I search, I cannot find a key that remotely resembles a key of this size, shape, or ornamentation. Below is a picture I found when searching for "temple key" on Google Images. It's not very similar at all, but as far as it's physical characteristics go (size and "level of importance"), this could be the closest:

http://tomallwood.com/images/locations/sri_lanka/monastery_key.jpg

 

Tue 26 Aug 2008 - 11:55 pm UTC

Comment

prowler
Customer

Bowler,

The mechanical aspect of the lock this once opened might be a bit similar, yes, but the overall look of the key doesn't seem very institutional to me.

Your comment did, however, provoke this thought: this key is incredibly sturdy. It appears as though the entire key was cast of some brass/bronze metal in an almost finished shape, then possibly put on a lathe to turn the barrel, and finally the key blade tack-welded onto the barrel.
The "strings" of the lyre/harp do not look to be welded on, but instead cast with the rest of the piece. I would imagine the casting process to be a more tedious one because of this. Hope this helps in your investigation, everyone.

- prowler

 

Wed 27 Aug 2008 - 12:42 am UTC

Comment

myoarin
User

Hi Prowler,

Two things:
A skeleton key is a locksmith's or burglar's tool:
"Any non-cylinder key whose bit, blade, and/or post is cut away enough to allow it to enter and turn in locks with different ward arrangements. ...
www.lock-picking.org/q-t-locksmith-dictionary.html"

Keys of that size are all very substantial, fitting in large locks with strong springs to hold the latch down (or bolt in), that the key has to move.

That goes equally for doors, wardrobes, or jails.  I can't imagine a jail key with your decorative handle that probably looked appropriate in a brass or gilt plate on the object that was similar in the style of its decoration.
(I live in Europe and have visited many old buildings with such doors and furniture.  The same goes for Scriptor, who knows a lot more about art and history.)

I agree with you impression of how the key was made.  It does very much look like the shaft is one piece with the handle and was lathed, the work getting a little uneven at the handle, where the locksmith couldn't work as easily.

Intriguing that the key would have been marked in any way, and then with "Portugal."  Could the letters be the end of the name for a room or piece of furitnure, in whatever language?

I will be interested ...

Myo

 

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