16th November 06

I recently acquired this quite nice chunky Roman key.

Found in the Balkans.



Look what happened when I gave it a vigorous brush to get adherent dirt off it.


I suppose that the hidden metal could remain this uncorroded after all this time if this was repaired in antiquity.

The hole is not quite regular enough to have been drilled with a modern high speed drill (?)



  From Joe

I have one or two that have a bronze shank or ring and an iron bit. So clearly sometimes they were cast in two parts.


Though with this one it's only the end bit which has been added in this way.


But I also have a bronze one (same type as yours) that is straight from the mold : the miscellaneous bloom from the casting was never filed off.


It was clearly cast in one piece.


Still, two-part casting would have been easier for larger keys. Or if the fellow who made it had a lot of business, he could have reused one shank design with different bit configurations.


On a related point, I have wondered if these things were made by specialists, or by general metal workers.


I cant say that I know a lot about keys; they are hardly covered in the many books I have.


From Alison

I have had a key like that and spoke to the seller. He told me that it  had been dug in Eastern Europe and the diggers would try to secretly repair breaks that occurred while they were digging something up (didn't have to be a key). He told me he wouldn't have sold the key if he had spotted it (it came apart en route) and apologized (it was nearly imperceptible when pieced together). I got my money back on the key.


It is hard to tell if your key could have cracked while being dug. I suppose it could have been repaired in Roman times. My pinned key looked identical. (I actually still have it, the seller said not to bother returning it after he had a chance to see the photos).

I can't imagine that they would have keys with interchangeable bits or keys with a basic post casting, then a different bit could be added for whatever lock the owner wanted? Who knows?


 From Joe

I wonder how identical is "identical"? If Alison's key is truly identical, then these are probably forgeries.


No, not identcal; though similar style of repair this key has clearly broken; it's not a case where one might surmise the alernative bits theory.


 From Christophe

I have seen quite a few Roman bronze keys made of several parts.


The bronze ends of keys, soft metal, often got worn by use and that was a way to replace that part without throwing out the entire key.


Would be interesting to have more comments and pics of repaired keys.


Alison's key


Here is an interesting example of an ancient repair. This ring's band has been secured with silver wire.

This one is for sale: number 1667 in the gallery