Exposing The Skeletons In Your Closet: Finding And Using Old Skeleton Keys In Original Art

Most people secretly fear exposing the skeletons in their closet, but those who love the vintage look have different ideas. Skeletons in the closet are a treasure trove – skeleton keys, that is. These keys speak of a simpler life and are often prized for adding to original art. Learn how to find and identify skeleton keys and turn them into a unique work of art.

What are skeleton keys?

The earliest master keys to locks were referred to skeleton keys. These keys typically contained a circular or oval open fob, or bow, at the top. They were often shaped in the form a trefoil, the secret sign of the Holy Trinity in Victorian times, or a quatrefoil, a stylized four-leaf clover that symbolized the four Gospels. The shaft of the key (called a barrel) may be either hollow or solid. The end of a skeleton key contains several teeth that resemble the teeth on a toothbrush. The teethe allowed the key to open any lock.

The skeleton key likely earned its name from its appearance. Some claim the bow of the skeleton key resembles a skull and the long barrel represents the body. Others claim it earned its name because the key resembles individual bones of the human body. Either way, the name and appearance lends unique value to these old keys. Many people mistakenly believe that all antique keys with a round bow and a long slender barrel are skeleton keys. The truth is most of many keys assumed to be skeleton keys are just old keys that fit a specific lock, but they look similar and can be used interchangeably in decor. Nowadays, professionals at sites like http://www.andersonlockandsafe.com use other methods.

Where to find skeleton keys

The first place to look for old skeleton or antique keys is in that box of miscellaneous items from Grandma's estate that you tucked away in the back of the closet or stored away in the attic. Old trunks of family memorabilia can also be a goldmine. If that comes up short, antique shops, secondhand shops and flea markets are your next stop. Keys are often discovered in bins of old tools, but don't overlook vats of old kitchen utensils and old jewelry. Because keys were often kept in the kitchen, it is not unusual to find a stray key or two nestled amongst the measuring spoons. Look through drawers and bins of old door hinges and doorknobs, as you may be pleasantly surprised to find abandoned keys. Check with your local locksmith for other sources of old keys.

How to use skeleton keys in art

Skeleton keys can be used in a variety of ways in art. Some common uses are:

Wind Chimes: Making wind chimes from old skeleton keys adds country charm to your home.

  1. Wrap a wreath ring with jute.
  2. String ribbon through the bow of each key.
  3. Tie the keys to the ring so they hang at different levels. You may wish to paint the keys or embellish them with decorative stones or faux jewels from old costume jewelry to create a signature piece.
  4. Enhance the illusion of days-gone-by by adding tiny dried flower to the key bows, or threading the ribbon through the holes in a piece of antique lace, but don't hang chimes with fabric and lace where they will be exposed to the elements.


String an old key on decorative ribbon or an old chain to make a one-of-a-kind necklace. The key can be painted, if preferred, or left in its natural state for a vintage look. Key pendants are more than an attractive accessory. They symbolize the opening of new doors or the key to the future when given to graduates or someone embarking on a new calling in life. When given to a loved one, they symbolize the key to the heart.

Santa's Key

For the young at heart, transforming an old skeleton key into Santa's key can be a lot of fun. Paint the key bright red – or candy cane stripes, if you desire – and add miniature Christmas décor to dress the key up in style. Attach the key to a large key ring and add a laminated tag to label it as Santa's key. Suspend the key from the mantle during the holidays, or start a tradition of leaving the key outside for Santa with the little ones in your life.

Antique or skeleton keys speak to the heart with a touch of old-fashioned romance. Don't be afraid to add them to your décor and put their simple charm on display.