Sunday, July 27, 2014

"Life is rather like a tin of sardines-

we're all of us looking for the key.”  ~Alan Bennett

"Someone's sweet, old tasteful Granny died..."   That was a comment that I saw on Facebook posted in response to a photo of Limoge plates that someone purchased at a Goodwill.  I guess only tasteful little old ladies had pretty things?  But, why does it not compute that the antique/vintage world is merely recycling?  The same day that post showed up Country Living had a list of things to buy at thrift stores or yard sale:  Cast iron,  Solid wood furniture, Tools, Jewelry, Kids' toys, Picture frames, Leather bags, Plates, glasses and silverware.   The responses to that were even better..."Seriously ?!?!?! Not a chance! Sometimes other people's junk is just that JUNK"  and "Less is more and stuff is often just stuff"...and, of course, the show Hoarders that focused on the extremes (as reality TV loves to do), but it scares collectors: "Seriously, if I ALWAYS snapped up those things, I'd have a very real hoarding issue on my hands."                     

So what is the key to this business?  Who knows?  In that spirit then, let's just look at keys--and they don't take up much room either! (Hey! I can transition--actually I had a customer searching for keys to collect and that was the firestarter here!)  Keys and locks go back to ancient Babylon and Egypt over 6000 years ago.  They were wooden with small pins, and  by using wooden toothbrush-shaped keys, Egyptians could lift those small pins and unlock the blot. Sadly, this design had several disadvantages – both lock and key were made from wood (material that is very susceptible to external brute-force attacks) and the key itself was very bulky and heavy. The oldest examples of these ancient locks were found in ruins of the Assyrian palace of Khorasabad, in a biblical city of Nineveh dating to 704 BC.
The next evolution of keys came from ancient Roman engineers and inventors who used iron and bronze and created much stronger and smaller locks with keys that were light enough to be carried on person. Roman locks, too, were an improvement on the Egyptian model. 'Wards' were developed – projections inside the lock which demanded a corresponding 'bit' on the face of the key. Only the key with the correct slots for the projections to pass through would be able to rotate and throw the bolt.
Astonishingly, locks changed little over the following 1,700 years. Warded locks were actually quite easy to pick – given a tool that could clear the projections and a bit of patience – but efforts were made more to confuse or confound the lock picker rather than to re–engineer the lock. Keys were made exquisitely complicated and very ornate. Keyholes were obscured so lock pickers couldn't easily identify them, and dummy keyholes were designed to waste an intruder's time.
As far as the form of the keys was concerned, one great invention changed their look forever. According to my research, the introduction of wards into locks shaped the keys from large flat structures with pins on their end to the look of what we call today the “Skeleton key” – simple cylindrical shaft that has one single, thin and rectangular tooth (or bit). This design continued to be used for 17 centuries after the fall of Roman Empire, receiving only minor update in their looks (during all that time locksmiths were more focused on deceiving the thieves or making their work more tedious than innovating new safeguarding mechanisms). Skeleton keys can be found even today in houses that were built before 1940s.
Modern “flat keys” were first introduced to the public by Linus Yale, Sr and Jr. in mid 1800s. By using a tumbler lock and a more sophisticated way of regulating the pins, these flat keys became an instant success across entire world. They were easy to manufacture, and thanks to invention of key cutting, easy to replicate in large numbers.  (I found a flower frog makes a neat display for keys!)
Today, the majority of the locks in the world use flat keys that activate mechanisms invented in 1800s - warded locks, lever tumbler locks and pin tumbler locks.  Magnetic signatures, which are most often used in public buildings (such as hotels), government facilities, scientific labs, and similar sensitive locations are the "non-key" keys.

I can't help but wonder what locks all these keys opened...the stories they could tell...and why would someone keep a broken key ?  I bet that tale is a good one!
“It's a lot easier to be lost than found. It's the reason we're always searching and rarely discovered--so many locks not enough keys.”  ~ Sarah Dessen from Lock and Key 

1 comment:

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