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Turn Old Antique Skeleton Keys Into Modern Décor With These Decorating Ideas

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Heather Rode enjoys photography, baking, antiques, and hair care.

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.

Where Can I Find Skeleton Keys?

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.

Antique Shopping Tip: 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.

I like to de-germ my keys and dry thoroughly

I like to de-germ my keys and dry thoroughly

Antique Shopping Tip: Haggle to Buy Old Keys for the Best Price

If you're buying more than a dozen, brush up on your haggling. I make small talk with whoever 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 on 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.

Tie with black ribbon and hang from hooks!

Tie with black ribbon and hang from hooks!

Display the Keys

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
Fill a jar or vase with your beautiful keys!

Fill a jar or vase with your beautiful keys!

© 2011 Heather

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Kim S on January 20, 2020:

Wow, I have two old skeleton keys. What a great idea to use as ceiling fan pulls. Love it!

Montecarla on July 18, 2018:

Wow that's such a great idea I have my Skelton keys for a long time thanks to you I can know decorate with them and take them out of my box and I also search garage sales and etc

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on July 13, 2012:

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 from Lincoln, Nebraska on June 12, 2012:

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 from UK on February 08, 2012:

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 from New York City on January 31, 2012:

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

Nolen Hart from Southwest on October 21, 2011:

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.

AnnaStephens on October 21, 2011:

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.


Heather (author) from Arizona on October 21, 2011:

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!


Jill Spencer from United States on October 20, 2011:

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

Jean Bakula from New Jersey on October 20, 2011:

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!

Mazlan A from Malaysia on October 20, 2011:

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

Eileen Hughes from Northam Western Australia on October 20, 2011:

What a novel idea

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on October 20, 2011:

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 from Pennsylvania on October 19, 2011:

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 from st louis,mo on October 19, 2011:

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

Christin Sander from Midwest on October 19, 2011:

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 :)

Roberta Kyle from Central New Jersey on October 19, 2011:

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

Hillbilly Zen from Kentucky on October 18, 2011:

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

Deborah Demander from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD on October 15, 2011:

Congratulations on your hubnugget nomination.

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


P.S. Happy wedding!

fancifulashley on October 15, 2011:

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 from Kalispell, MT on October 15, 2011:

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

Michelle Simtoco from Cebu, Philippines on October 14, 2011:

This is really cool! Thanks for the idea!

Congratulations! Your hub has been nominated on the Hubnuggets! Join the fun right here:

Chelsea Carter-Kern from Florida on September 30, 2011:

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.

Debbie Carey from Riverton, KS, USA on September 30, 2011:

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 on September 29, 2011:

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.


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