Accession number: 1998.T433
Object type: Skeleton
Date: early 18th century - mid 19th century
Measurements: 6.8 cm L x 2.5 cm W x 0.7 cm Thick
Narrative: Found by donor on the Fort Sackville site.
Description: Metal skeleton key with a central shaft, a wide notched tooth extending to the side at one end of the shaft and an oval loop on the other end as a handle.
History of Use: Skeleton keys have been used for as long as warded locks have existed. A warded lock contains a set of obstructions, or wards, and only allows the correctly shaped key to unlock it. The term skeleton comes from the fact that the keys have had their warded section (notches) removed so they are just the 'bare bones' of the key, allowing them to unlock any warded locks. This came in handy for those who wanted to be able to access all the locked areas in their large estate, but it also became useful for criminals as well.
Up until the 18th century, these warded locks and their keys became more and more intricate to make them more secure. But as locks progressed, so did the craft of lock-picking. In the mid-19th century, pin tumbler locks were perfected and went into production, making skeleton keys obsolete.