Early homes in the colonies did not have locks on the doors of their homes, whether the dwelling was a cave, a bark covering or a log cabin. These homes had little to be looted.
There wasn’t much hardware on early doors. Hinges were at first made of leather. Nails were used for fastening and usually this was the only metal item used in home construction. Iron was quite uncommon therefore when a house was abandoned it was common practice to burn it down to obtain the nails that had been used.
Latches. Most doors were merely stopped with a stone or another object. Latches with strings hanging outside were employed by discriminating home builders. By pulling the string through a hole the door was secured. Remember the old saying, “The latch is out for you?”
Later the more sturdy and refined homes were more likely to have a plain or fancy door knocker made of wrought iron or brass rather than a lock of any type. Homes that were based on English designs were equipped with complete hardware – knockers and latches were standard equipment. But even these were for practical use, not just as an adornment.
The need for locks. The colonists considered a lock for a door an unnecessary use of metal and labor. Blacksmiths concentrated on more useful equipment, such as hinges, kitchen articles, farming needs, lighting devices and wagon parts. Even in house construction the latch was last to be considered.
As the country became more settled and property was accumulated in the homes, the need for security became more evident. Padlocks were then needed.
The folks in the towns were the ones with more refined homes therefore possessed more valued articles.
The best locks. Town homes needed quite sturdy locks. The best of that era were made in England. American craftsmen copied the English types and made some improvements.
Early padlocks were made by the German settlers in Pennsylvania. Some even signed their work. True to the trend in business, supply and demand brought many into the locksmith trade.
Most locks were not marked by the maker. The business of making locks was more important than a logo.
Lock-making family. Linus Yale Sr., may not have been the first lock maker to model a lock after the Egyptian pin models, however he did add some modifications. Yale made locks with four sets of pin tumblers.
Around 1850, Linus Yale Jr., excelled more than the his father. He was a lock designer without equal.
Bank locks were one of his greatest achievements. Keys were used in his locks before 1860 when his Yale Monitor Bank Lock was designed, the first to be opened by a turning dial and a combination. Yale’s designs of bank locks achieved international renown.
The Yales were the only American lock makers of eminence. Several Yale family members excelled in the lock-making field.
James Yale developed a magnetic lock in 1866 and a time lock in 1873. Walter Yale developed the modern lock design.
English locksmiths were the first to place their logos on locks.
Collecting. Dating a lock usually requires experience, not only book knowledge, but years of collecting and investigation.
When a key is designated “Roman,” this only indicates it was made somewhere within the Roman occupied areas of the world during that era, also any time of the occupation.
Whether the key is Roman, Egyptian, Coptic or Gothic, once a person with good memory views such keys the styles are recognized. Locksmiths did not usually stop working in one style and begin a new type.
A point of interest to collectors is that many designs were copied in the 1800s for supply and demand reasons.
The dating of locks after 1850 is easier than those of prior eras. These later mechanisms were patented and reference guides with dates can be obtained.