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The Marketplace: Buying and Selling

The main thing to remember is that the value of a lock or key is the price you can sell it for. That price depends on many factors: condition, age, materials, rarity, publicity. Mass market locks, made in the millions, are normally of little interest to collectors, and are priced accordingly. However, remember that it is each collector who determines what is collectible. There are no rules, and you should feel completely free to collect whatever interests you. Eventually you will likely become interested in some specialty, whether of type, manufacturer, country, age, size, material, etc.

To some extent collectors seem to persuade each other what a lock is worth. Locks that have been highlighted in some way, such as by the publication of a book, increase in value. Some locks, such as the "story" locks, have reached the investment level, where the pleasure of ownership is strongly enhanced by the anticipation of value growth. Always keep in mind that all locks are to some extent an investment: unlike "one generation" collectibles, some or all of the money you spend can be recovered, and your decisions might well be influenced by your estimates of future sale prices.
Where do you buy locks? Anywhere that antiques are sold: flea markets, antique shops and shows, even garage sales. To enter lock collector paradise, go to one of the specialized lock shows listed in the show calendar on this site. Personal contacts with other collectors are a traditional and excellent way to buy, sell and trade. Collecting is changing a little, of course: if you have access to online auctions such as eBay, you can have an antique lock show every day, but the downside is that you must compete with every other collector with a keyboard, and some of them have very deep pockets!

Price Guides

The only comprehensive and currently maintained price guide for padlocks is "The Padlock Collector", by Frank Arnall, sixth edition, 1996. All others, although useful for reference, are hopelessly obsolete. It is impossible to keep track of sale prices of thousands of locks in a changing market. A listing of selected sales is published in the quarterly WCLCA newsletter, but most sales cannot be monitored.


Condition: What to Look For

When buying a lock, look for gouges, scratches or indentations around rivets, indicating that that the case has been opened. At the very least give it the shake test. That is, hold the shackle firmly against the case and shake the lock. If it rattles, there are broken internal parts and you should walk away. Rap the side of the case gently against your hand and then pull on the shackle. If it releases, the bolt spring is broken. If a dealer misrepresents a lock, do not correct him: he may already know, and in any case certainly doesn't want to hear it.
Avoid locks with large dents or any evidence of modification. Avoid locks that have been dug. Locks with frozen shackles probably also have heavy internal corrosion, and are a gamble.

In the case of older lever locks, if there is no drop, look for a small hole above the keyhole. If there is one, it was to attach a drop that is now missing. The value is strongly affected, of course.

Try the key, if any. They don't necessarily work. If not, ask the seller to try it. If it still doesn't work, ask for a discount!

But finally, consider the lock as a whole. Most locks have imperfections. Rare and exotic locks of considerable value can be forgiven many flaws. Every collector has some locks with problems, but appreciates them anyway. Every collector has made mistakes, but rarely mentions them!


Fakes & Frauds

Fakes, reproductions, fantasies, etc.: these exist, but this site is not an appropriate place to discuss them. Do not try to collect alone. Join a collector organization. Get books and read them. Many fraudulent locks have been identified, and continue to be exposed as they appear. Newsletters and contacts with other collectors are your best protection against funny locks. It seems that the scale of faking and forging is so small that no legal barriers exist. "The law does not concern itself with trifles". This may seem like cold comfort if you have just paid hundreds of dollars for a piece of attractive junk. Which brings up another rule of thumb: as a starting point, do not believe anything the seller tells you. A dealer's story does not constitute a provenance, and they can be incredibly creative!


Top row: fake Yales / Bottom row: genuine Yales

The fake Yales were patent ripoffs from the 1920's and sold commercially. Their value has increased over the years to collectors. The bottom left Yale logo looks like a fake, but is actually a early Standard Yale from the patent series.