Home Page

Stefan's Florilegium


This document is also available in: text or RTF formats.

keys-locks-msg - 2/15/08


Medieval keys and locks.


NOTE: See also the files: keys-locks-bib, furniture-msg, metalworking-msg, decor-sources-msg, furniture-msg, beds-msg, tools-msg, tools-bib, blacksmithing-msg.





This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.


This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


I have done a limited amount of editing. Messages having to do with separate topics were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the message IDs were removed to save space and remove clutter.


The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make no claims as to the accuracy of the information given by the individual authors.


Please respect the time and efforts of those who have written these messages. The copyright status of these messages is unclear at this time. If information is published from these messages, please give credit to the originator(s).


Thank you,

    Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                          Stefan at florilegium.org



From: James L. Jordan (6/16/94)

To: Mark Harris

RE>Source for Inexpensive Keys


My my, so many questions, so little time.


Ignoring early locks (ie. viking period), where the key is used to push a

spring out of the way and move the bolt aside, let's see...


The locks we use today are made of a stack of discs with a slot cut

through the middle for the key to slide in.  each one of the notches and

bumps on your house key  matches up with one of these discs ('tumblers).  

If the bump is to long, or not long enough, you sleep i your car.


In the good old days a key would be basically a rectangular plate

sticking out of a round shaft.  The slots cut into the 'plate' allowed

metal pins (wards) attached to the inside of the lock to pass through

when the key was turned.  The head of the key (plate with notches) does

two things when it gets near the top. 1) it lifts up a spring that keeps

the locking bar in place  2) it slides the bar out of the way.


They used this 800 years ago, and they used the same basic system in your

grandmother's house.  Trivia- keys used in doors were symetric sot hey

could be used from either side.


Catalouges of medieval archeoloical digs ten to turn up a lot of keys

(people have always lost them I guess) and thye usually give a digram of

the locks they went to.


Hows that?


Jay Jordan (Lord Thorvald Hrafnsson)



From: James L. Jordan (6/17/94)

To: Mark Harris


Mail*Linkš SMTP               RE>Source for Inexpensive

Questions, questions...


One of my sources is "Medieval Ojects & Economy in Winchester (England)",

Ian H. Goodall is one of the main editors.  They did a acoprehensive

archeological survey and so covered items from Roman times up through the

14th-15th century.


Keys and locks were made of iron.  Sometimes the locks were tin plated

for rustproofing.  Locks were custom made for a peice (chest or whatever)

and were therfore pretty expensive and came in all sorts of sizes and

types.  For those who couldn't afford that, padlocks were more affordable

and more portable.


In Norse culture, the keeping of the keys waas one of the wifes

responsibilities and she displayed them on her person as a badge of

office. (I also think the more keys, the walthier you appeared).  In

other European cultures, the key was kept by a person if it was a very

private matter, or handed over to a servant if it wqas a matter of

household operation (key to the liquor cabinet, and all that good stuff).


Locks were not only security, but a sign of wealth. Fancier locks meant

more money.  Some keys had very elaboate heads that would indicate a very

complicated lock within, but most were dummies just cut in for show.  

Some later period examples I've seen (German, 16th century) were

incredibly elaborate and functional.  There was a transition form the

village blacksmith to a locksmith that increased the complexity of locks.


Whew, I'm out of breath.  Later


Jay Jordan (Lord Thorvald Hrafnsson)



From: jjordan at yorick.umd.edu (James L. Jordan)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca,rec.woodworking,rec.crafts.metalworking

Subject: Re: Source for Inexpensive Keys needed

Date: 15 Jun 1994 13:02:20 GMT

Organization: University of Maryland, College Park


What do you mean by an "early appearing key"?  I happen to make locks,

and the keys that go with them vary quite a bit from, say the 9th

century, up to the 14th century depending on the design of the lock.


Regular locks and keys did not change much in function from the 13th cen.

until the 19th when tumbler locks started takeing over.  I was in a

hardware store the other day, and saw some skeleton keys with the regular

keys.  Presumably for dressers, etc. that have mostly decorative locks.


They look a lot like 'earlier' keys.  File off the 'made in China',

perhaps get rid of the bright finish or blacken and you will have an old

looking key.  The teeth on the bit wont be fancy, but a hacksaw can take

care of that.  Places that sell furiture (the good stuff) may have acess

to different types ans sizes of keys.  I usually just make my own.


Hope that helps.


Thorvald Hrafnsson, Atlantia



From: meg at tinhat.stonemarche.org (meg)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca,rec.woodworking,rec.crafts.metalworking

Subject: Re: Source for Inexpensive Keys needed

Date: Fri, 17 Jun 94 14:50:50 EDT

Organization: Stonemarche Network Co-op


dragonsl at hebron.connected.com (Ralph Lindberg) writes:


>   Please excuse the cross posting, but these are the three groups that

> most likely would have the information I want.

>   I am looking for an inexpensive source for early appearing keys. They

> need not work as they are just for show. I've tried my usual wood

> worker/metal working catalogs and found nothing. Please e-mail me any

> responces. Thanks ahead of time...Ralph


> Ralph Lindberg N7BSN                     More hobbies than time

> Ellen Winnie N7PYK                       Just because I'm not doing anything

> email => dragonsl at connected.com         doesn't mean I have nothing to do.

> Members SCA, REI, ARRL, AMSAT, PS Lacemakers, NW Microwave, KCFMS, CS-VHF,

> Good Sams, RPI and Kitsap ARES



Megan here. I am a lover of old keys. Having a real house at Pennsic made

it appropriate for me to have some keys dangling from my belt. I go to

antique shops for mine...especially the dingy dank ones that sell almost

anything. Flea markets are another good source. Hint...wear an old key

from a cord round your neck...hold it up as you inquire "Got any old

keys?" so they will know exactly which type you are looking for.

You shouldn't pay more than $5. for a large key, or $1. for a small

skeleton key.

The wards of the key, to appear more medieval, should be like a maze,

with intricate cut outs of a square field. The ring should be round. But

most people won't know the difference today. In 20 years, however, the

authenticity police should be sufficiently educated about medieval keys

to demand accuracy.;-)


Medieval locks...now there's something I lust after. Any smiths out there

who want to make me a  working reproduction of a 16th century lock for my

house at Pennsic? I will pay cash!




In 1994: Linda Anfuso       non moritur cujus fama vivat

In the Current Middle Ages: Megan ni Laine de Belle Rive  

In the SCA, Inc: sustaining member # 33644


                                YYY     YYY

meg at tinhat.stonemarche.org      |  YYYYY  |





From: jjordan at yorick.umd.edu (James L. Jordan)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca,rec.woodworking,rec.crafts.metalworking

Subject: Re: Source for Inexpensive Keys needed

Date: 20 Jun 1994 13:27:29 GMT

Organization: University of Maryland, College Park


Woop woop!  Pull over please, it's the authenticity police!  The bows

(back end) of keys do not have to be round.  The most common keys

between, say 12th and the 19th had round bows because tehy wer the

simplest to make.  Some were diamond shaped, some had pieces that were

cast, and had all sorts of fancy scroll work, etc.  Keys from earlier

periods have a toatally different shape as they operateed the locks



I happen to make period locks, mostly for chests, but I have played with

a few types of pad locks.  Oh, before I foget.  You know that fancy

'maze' pattern you said to look for in the teeth of the key?  In period,

a lot of those fancy twists and turns were bogus.  It is a hundred times

easier to cut notches in  the key and mak it look complicated tahtn it is

to actually put the wardds in the lock.  After you've bolted ti to the

chest, who's going to know the difference?


Trivian alert!  If you get a lock for your door, the head will be

symetrical.  This is so it can be used from both sides of the door.  I

suppose you want those little little plate that swing down and cover the

key hole?  Such privacy concerns probably aren't period.


Woop woop!  Thank you for your time, my lady.  type carefully out there.


Lord Thorvald Hrafnsson (Atlantia)



From: mchance at nyx10.cs.du.edu (Michael Chance)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca,rec.woodworking,rec.crafts.metalworking

Subject: Re: Source for Inexpensive Keys needed

Date: 20 Jun 1994 12:07:02 -0600

Organization: University of Denver, Math/CS Dept.


Baoness Megan writes:


>Medieval locks...now there's something I lust after. Any smiths out there

>who want to make me a  working reproduction of a 16th century lock for my

>house at Pennsic? I will pay cash!


I saw a medieval guild strongbox in a museum in Braunschweig (Bunswick)

Germany for a locksmith's guild.  If I remember aright, it had 16 locks

(4 on each side), each of a different style than the others.  It was

displayed with the top removed, so that you could see the different

lock mechanisms from the inside of the box.  Truly interesting to see.


Mikjal Annarbjorn


Michael A. Chance          St. Louis, Missouri, USA   "At play in the fields

Work: mc307a at sw1stc.sbc.com                             of St. Vidicon"

Play: ab899 at freenet.hsc.colorado.edu

      mchance at nyx.cs.du.edu



Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

From: swhite at utkvx.utk.edu

Subject: RE: Source for Inexspensive Keys needed

Organization: University of Tennessee

Date: Mon, 20 Jun 1994 15:23:44 GMT




>   I am looking for an inexpensive source for early appearing keys. They

> need not work as they are just for show. I've tried my usual wood

> worker/metal working catalogs and found nothing. Please e-mail me any

> responces. Thanks ahead of time...Ralph


      Well, that would depend an awful lot on your definition of inexpensive.

Recently, Thor's Mountain obtained a rather unusual key from Dixie Gunworks out

of Union City TN.  This key was about 11 inches long, 6 inches wide, and

about 5 pounds of solid brass (your mileage may vary). The price was in the

nieghborhood of 15 dollars and was I think 20 bucks after shipping and

handiling.  In the catalouge it went under the name of the "Jailors gun key"

and was supposed to be a reproduction kit of a match light pistol given to

jailors.  Needless to say, that Seneschal always had a good grasp of the

wieght of his office.

                        Yours in Service,




From: kellogg at ucssun1.sdsu.edu (kellogg)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Period Crime Prevention ( was Re: Not an Urban Legend)

Date: 12 Sep 1994 15:20:14 GMT

Organization: San Diego State University Computing Services


I wrote:

:     I don't know about things other than the above, but the Norse

: made rather clever locks, both padlock and built in, for chests.  One

: book I have shows photos and reconstructed line drawings of one of each,

: I'll get the bibliographic data and post it tommorow.


      Here's the data on that book.


            Eldjarn, Kristjan.  _The Viking_. New York: Random House, 1975.

            ISBN 0-517 44.553-0


           Avenel Kellough

           Regent and Chatelaine for the (newly elevated)

           College of St. Isidore, Huzzah!



Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

From: bq676 at torfree.net (Kristine E. Maitland)

Subject: Combination Locks in Period

Organization: Toronto Free-Net

Date: Sat, 16 Aug 1997 17:34:07 GMT


Bona dies, tutti!


I was doing some research on period middle eastern garb for dancers when

I stumbled on this article that I thought some SCAers may find interesting

[as usual I look for one thing and find something else]:


        Francis Maddison. "Al-Jazari's Combination Lock: Two contemporary

                examples." in _The Art of Syria and the Jazira, 1100-1250_

                ed. Julian Raby (Oxford University Press, 1985)


Inez Rosanera                           Kristine Maitland

cortigiana,cantana, pariole             branch assistant, lyricist, critic

Barony of Septentria                    Toronto, Ontario

Principality of Ealdormere              Canada



From: rmhowe <MMagnusM at bellsouth.net>

Date: April 28, 2006 1:05:10 AM CDT

To: - AncientArtifacts <Ancientartifacts at yahoogroups.com>, - Authenticity List <authenticity at yahoogroups.com>, - B of *WH* Forgemonkeys <forgemonkeys at yahoogroups.com>, - BARONY of WINDMASTERS' HILL <keep at windmastershill.org>, - Dunstan <Dunstan at yahoogroups.com>, - EKMetalsmiths <EKMetalsmiths at yahoogroups.com>, - Manx <TheManx at yahoogroups.com>, - Medieval Leather List <medieval-leather at yahoogroups.com>, - Medieval Sawdust <medievalsawdust at yahoogroups.com>, "- MedievalEncampments at yahoogroups.com" <MedievalEncampments at yahoogroups.com>, - SCA-ARTS <artssciences at lists.gallowglass.org>, - StellarArts <StellarArts at yahoogroups.com>

Subject: A New Book on Keys, Locks, Small Caskets and Fittings


For those of you interested in European Locks and Keys along

with many fancy caskets the following is in color:



Goetz sells books on specific arts like glass, furniture, or

painting. There are no problems I know of buying from him.

I've done it for years now. All his catalogs are in German

though, so I have tried to be specific. He takes credit/debit


Look for it under suche [search]:


Bookseller number: 47794  PrunkstŸcke aus der Hanns Schell

Collection SchlŸssel, Schlšsser, KŠstchen und BeschlŠge Pall,

Martina 29,80 EUR  [A Euro is about $1.25 US.]


Pall, Martina: PrunkstŸcke aus der Hanns Schell Collection:

SchlŸssel, Schlšsser, KŠstchen und BeschlŠge; [Pieces of

splendor from the Hanns Schell Collection: Key, locks, small

boxes and fittings] Description: Katalogbuch zur Ausstellung   

in Wien. 21 x 30 cm. Geb. 403 Farbabb. und 25 techn.

Zeichnungen. 165 S.  

Publisher: Graz, 2005, Hardcover, Catalog book to the exhibition

in Vienna. 21 x 30 cm. Geb. 403 color pictures. and 25 technical

designs. 165 pages. The book itself is in German and English

on each page or description.


Shows how a number of the locks work from Roman times onward.

Also included are some Asian locks.


Previously the same collection has had books on cutlery and

the cases for it {I didn't buy this one] and one on Caskets.

Those were published by Arnoldsche.de and not nearly as

reasonably priced as this one. Then again they were larger too.


I don't know if it is still available but this is the book on


Berger, Ewald: Prunk-Kassetten, Europaische Meisterwerke aus

Acht Jahrhunderten, Ornamental Caskets of Eight Centuries;

1998: Arnoldsche, Stuttgart, cloth, dj, Text in English and

German. The Hans Schell Collection, Graz., profuse color &

b/w illus., 318 pages, 12 x 10, ornamental caskets /           decorative art / metal work / gold boxes.

ISBN 3-925369-83-X   $110.

Bestand katloge der Hanns Schell collection; Bd 1.

(to be followed by others on cast iron objects, locks and

keys, forged steel objects, and guild emblems.)

Pp. 336, approximately 500 illustrations.

Berger, Ewald: Ornamental Coffers; Eight Centuries of European Craftsmanship ISBN: 392536983X  Arnoldsche Verlaganstalt GmbH,

Jan.1999, US 110.00


Master Magnus Malleus, OL, aka R.M. Howe

Great Barony of Windmasters Hill, the Manx, Great Dark Horde


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org