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Turn Old Antique Skeleton Keys into Modern Décor with these Decorating Ideas

Updated on June 23, 2012
Vintage and feminine in a shell-shaped dish with a handful of inexpensive pearl beads
Vintage and feminine in a shell-shaped dish with a handful of inexpensive pearl beads
I like to de-germ my keys and dry thoroughly
I like to de-germ my keys and dry thoroughly

Where can I find them?

Skeleton keys are actually pretty easy to find. Etsy has a ton, but some are reproductions. If you're looking for the real deal, hit up antique stores. I'm on a 3+ month adventure to collect about 90 vintage skeleton keys for my wedding. My wedding reception is in the lounge of a historic haunted hotel, so we're using keys in place of escort cards for seating arrangements. I could have been done by now, but this is an expensive adventure and it's easier on my pocketbook to get about 30 at a time.

Bring a friend...

Unless you have an entire day to waste, bring a friend and ask for help. Antique stores are a labyrinth of dead people's dust. Most of the ones I frequent have hundreds of cabinets and each cabinet is rented by a different person and filled with their own unique junk. Many times, I have asked for help and even the owner can't help me because they just don't know what is where. Other times, I have received great help. Bringing a friend makes it easier when you have another pair of eyes, especially if you have to find keys on your own.

Tie with black ribbon and hang from hooks!
Tie with black ribbon and hang from hooks!

Let's make a deal!

If you're buying more than a dozen, brush up on your haggling. I make small talk with whomever is helping me and I'll say "Wow, these are beautiful. How long have you had these in your store?" It's usually a long time. So I reply with, "Wow, well I'd love to take some off your hands and free up that space for something else you could sell. And I say "some," but I need about 20, if the price is right. How low can we go for these?"

I have seen skeleton keys priced between 1 and 10 dollars per key; it depends. In my area, the skeleton keys are about $3 but I always get them to go lower when I buy about 2 dozen in one trip. They usually have clock winding keys mixed in, which are beautiful, but priced usually between $5 and $10. They sometimes have railroad keys mixed in, which are large and thick and start about $10. It depends what project you have in mind.

Find out if your antique stores have Facebook pages, websites, and/or mailing lists. All of mine do and I get e-mails and coupons when they have special after hours events or sales. This has saved me even more money on my precious keys. Bring some items with you for store credit or trade so you don't even have to take your wallet out.

Don't spend more than $7 on just a regular old skeleton key unless there is something truly special about it.  Be familiar with return policies just in case you change your mind and shop around a bit before dropping money.  If you start early in the day and hit a few shops before purchasing anything, you can get an idea of who has the best deals and still have time to go back and make your purchase.  Some antique stores will even hold items for you for a few hours.  Just don't say you're leaving to shop the competition!  I use the "I didn't bring enough money with me" excuse.  I ask them to hold my items while I "hit the bank and eat lunch."  Wink wink.

Fill a jar or vase with your beautiful keys!
Fill a jar or vase with your beautiful keys!

Display them!

Turn them into beautiful art!

Here are some neat ideas to display your great antique skeleton keys:

  • Hang them on hooks
  • Fill a jar with them
  • Display in a candy dish
  • Decorate a picture frame with them
  • Turn them into jewelry
  • Make a skeleton key windchime or mobile
  • Use as decorative ceiling fan pulls
  • Display inside lantern

Heather Says: I LOVE old skeleton keys.  I've had fun collecting them for my wedding and I'll feel sad when I have to say goodbye, but all of our close friends will have one to remember us and our special day.

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    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 5 years ago from Orlando, FL

      I never thought about using skeleton keys for unique décor ideas! great ideas Heather. I see these keys at yard sales and flea markets, now I just might buy some. Thank you Heather for sharing with us!

    • Angela Brummer profile image

      Angela Brummer 5 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

      I love this idea I am a fan of antiques! Very pretty! I have shared this on twitter and google+ and with hub follers.

    • Wendy Finn profile image

      Wendy Finn 5 years ago from UK

      This is such an interesting idea. I must start hunting! Well written and great advice on negotiating too - I'm always so bad at that :-)

    • acliff profile image

      acliff 5 years ago from New York City

      This is a great idea - I love antiques and have a few old keys. Thanks!

    • doodlebugs profile image

      doodlebugs 6 years ago from Southwest

      These old keys are such beautiful objects. You can sometimes find them at rummage stores and garage sales. I think wind chimes made from them are beautiful.

    • profile image

      AnnaStephens 6 years ago

      What a great hub, and congratulations on your forthcoming wedding. I particularly like the idea of suspending them from black ribbon - very gothic and eerie.

      Great hub.

      Anna

    • Heather Says profile image
      Author

      Heather Rode 6 years ago from Buckeye, Arizona

      Thanks everyone for checking out the hub and all of your great comments! Today, I finally finished buying the rest of my skeleton keys for my wedding next Saturday. We have 80 right now (one for each guest)! As we (my groom and I) sit down to decide which guest will get what key, we wonder what city each key originally came from? When was it made? Who used it? Who lost it? What did it open or keep locked up? Who did it keep out? Where is its soul mate keyhole after all these years? So much history and intrigue! I love all of your stories and love that we share this in common!

      -Heather

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 6 years ago from United States

      I just love these. And your decorating ideas are simply great!

    • Jean Bakula profile image

      Jean Bakula 6 years ago from New Jersey

      Hi HeatherSays,

      My Dad was a Sheriff's officer years ago, and he had a large collection of really old and unique keys they gave him. I always wanted to make a piece of art with them, but could never decide what to do. You have inspired me to make a piece to hang on the wall of the bedroom I am redecorating! Thanks for the motivation!

    • greatstuff profile image

      Mazlan 6 years ago from Malaysia

      Congratulation on your nomination. we have lots of old keys..so now I know what to do with them.. Thanks for sharing

    • Eileen Hughes profile image

      Eileen Hughes 6 years ago from Northam Western Australia

      What a novel idea

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 6 years ago from United States

      I love antique keys also. I found my first set of keys in an antique shop in Key West and spent $100. I have 2 groups in frames. You have some great ideas and I enjoyed you hub.

    • Terri Meredith profile image

      Terri Meredith 6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Wow, I thought I was the only one with a thing for antique skeleton keys. I own about 200 of them and yes, I have them displayed. Some are in a mason jar on an antique sideboard, some are hanging on a huge old jailer's iron key ring, and some are actually hanging out of the locks of a few antique furniture pieces with locks. Great hub!

    • grinnin1 profile image

      grinnin1 6 years ago from st louis,mo

      Always have had a thing for old keys, but never knew what I would do with them. Now I know. Thanks- great hub!

    • ChristinS profile image

      Christin Sander 6 years ago from Midwest

      congrats on your hub nugget nomination. I love these old keys too and have picked them up for décor. We live in an old farmhouse :)

    • Kenorv profile image

      Kenorv 6 years ago

      Interesting hub. Congrats on your hubnugget nomination.

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 6 years ago from Central New Jersey

      what a very cool idea-- I love it. I'm off to the flea market to see what they've got asap.

    • Hillbilly Zen profile image

      Hillbilly Zen 6 years ago from Kentucky

      What a cool idea! Thanks for all the info, and congratulations on your wedding and your nomination!

    • Deborah Demander profile image

      Deborah Demander 6 years ago from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD

      Congratulations on your hubnugget nomination.

      What a great idea. Would totally fit into my décor. Eclectic.

      Namaste.

      P.S. Happy wedding!

    • fancifulashley profile image

      fancifulashley 6 years ago

      This is a very creative idea. I like how you not only point out projects that can be done with skeleton keys, but you also alert the readers on where they can find the keys and how to get good deals.

    • AnaisLynn profile image

      AnaisLynn 6 years ago from Kalispell, MT

      I love skeleton keys and used to make jewelry out of them.....never thought of using them in these ways. Awesome ideas! :-D

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 6 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      This is really cool! Thanks for the idea!

      Congratulations! Your hub has been nominated on the Hubnuggets! Join the fun right here: http://koffeeklatchgals.hubpages.com/hubnuggets6/h...

    • cjcarter profile image

      cjcarter 6 years ago

      I pick up antique keys at flea shops sometimes! I like that they have character, but I never knew what to do with them! Thanks for the tips.

    • prektjr.dc profile image

      Debbie Carey 6 years ago from Riverton, KS, USA

      I have the skeleton key my grandparents used for their back door when I was a kid. It is very special and I love your ideas for using them to decorate! I will use that one for a ceiling fan pull in my bedroom! Thanks for the interesting hub! Voted up and interesting!

    • princesswithapen profile image

      princesswithapen 6 years ago

      Very interesting and I love the idea of using antique keys for decoration purposes. I am going to begin my search for these keys right away!

      Great hub, Heather.

      P