Copyright © 1996, Neal McEwen
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I wish it were that simple. There is not a place that one can go and say, "give me that one,... that one... and that one... and charge it to my account." There is not that big a market for old keys to support that kind of trade; one veteran collector in Florida estimates there are less than 200 serious collectors worldwide. I know of no professional dealers that make their living buying and selling old keys.
So where does one go to find keys? Hit the ham-fest trail. Go to flea markets. Comb the antique stores. Turn the junk shops upside down. Keys are where you find them. Estate sales in older neighborhoods are good sources. Check the manifest at antique auctions. There are countless keys waiting to be discovered. All it takes is a little foot work. Tell your friends that you are looking for old keys. Chances are, someone among your friends will have one or know of one that you can obtain. Don't be shy about telling others what you are engaged in. I wear a badge saying, "I collect old keys and bugs. Do you have one?" It works great! I have had many people stop me and say, "yes, I didn't know anybody wanted those things; would you like to have it?"
You may be wondering why established collectors want to trade keys and not sell them. Many collectors have duplicate keys. They found them by all of the above means and countless other methods for developing a 'pipeline'. After all the miles and long hours, a collector does not want to put cash back into his pocket. He wants a key of equal value that will enhance his collection. If he takes cash, he is back to square one, pounding the pavement. Beginning collectors are often frustrated by this mode of collecting, but later adopt it themselves as they find a few duplicates. It is infinitely easier to add a new key to your collection if you have something to trade.
Finding the first few keys appears to be difficult. It is not really that hard. After you figure what avenues work best for you, the keys will start to come to you as if you were a key magnet. You will develop a sixth sense and be able to smell a key when you walk into a flea market.
Good Luck! I'll see you on the ham-fest trail or bump into you in an