If your house is an old one, chances are that you probably have a number of internal locks that were designed to be opened with a skeleton key, also know as a bit key. These ornamental keys were often characterized by a long slender shaft, a decorative handle, and a very simple bit. The bit is that part that fits into the lock and usually is a variation of four simple styles; the “tee” shape; a wedge, a left or right facing “ell,” or an oblong.
Because the bits are so simple, it’s very possible to open a number of different locks using one key. For us old house owners looking for replacement skeleton keys for our homes, this versatility means that finding a replacement really isn’t that difficult.
Antique stores and yard sales
Up until 20 years ago, it was possible to buy bags of skeleton keys for a couple of bucks at an antique store or yard sale. These days, the best skeleton keys assortments can be found on eBay. Prices range from $9.99 for a half dozen simple keys to $125 for a larger assortment of decorative skeleton keys. If vintage keys are what you want, then eBay is really the best resource for finding an antique key for your home.
Old house hardware stores
If you don’t mind having a reproduction key, then an Old House hardware store is a great resource to explore for a replacement skeleton. Two of my favorite on-line old house stores are House of Antique Hardware and Antique Hardware.
House of Antique Hardware carries a limited amount of reproduction keys ranging from $1.59 to $4.19. If your house is a simple period home, then their selection of keys designed for interior mortise and rim locks may work. The House of Antique Hardware web site can be viewed here.
If you are after a broader range of keys, then the Antique Hardware company may be the place for you. The Antique Hardware store sells 15 key sample sets for $27.99 which can be viewed using this link. Antique Hardware also sells sample sets for desk and cabinet locks as well.
Visit a locksmith
If you are able to remove the lock from your interior door, then one of the simplest solutions may be to take your locking mechanism to an old time locksmith. Most independent locksmiths carry a wide selection of skeleton keys which can be filed to fit an existing lock. For a walk in customer, the cost of finding a replacement skeleton key is usually less than $5. It may not be a bone fide antique key, but at least you’ll finally be able to lock those interior doors.