Last week I returned to the Puget Sound region with Miss V in tow. She has mixed feelings about coming back here, which is understandable since, for her, it means school is just around the corner. But we thought we might have a little fun before high school madness commenced in earnest, so we went down to Pike Place Market.
The Market is one of those odd and mystical places that, no matter how many times you visit or how thoroughly you think you've explored it, always seems to have something new for you to find. This time we turned a corner and made our way into a wonderful antique shop, filled with precious stone rings and snake necklaces, dining tables and chairs, signs advertising long-vanished products, a small suit of armor, and various other secondhand treasures. It's one of those places that don't look very impressive when you first come in, but then as you begin to explore the twists and turns filled with items, you find they go on, and on, and on...
On one chest of drawers in what I estimate was the middle of the store, I found a shallow white dish. It was full of old keys.
And the funny thing is, the very commonness of this key is what gives it its current cachet of mystery. P&F Corbin mass-produced gobs of keys just like this one. Nobody bothered to track its trajectory once it left the factory in New Britain; it could have gone anywhere, could have been owned by anyone. Maybe its companion lock was destroyed in a hotel fire in 1943; maybe there was a home break-in and the homeowner changed the old locks; maybe there's still a rickety old toolshed behind a farmhouse in Ohio that nobody uses any more because the door's locked, and Grandpa lost the key years ago. This key could have been used by Chicago mobsters or brand-new husbands, by stern teachers or secretive librarians, by a mousy accountant who liked to go out water-skiing on weekends or a modern-day Lucrezia Borgia hiding the remains of her latest poisoning job in the cellar.
You understand, I had to buy it.
There's something else worth noting about this key. It comes from an era, or at least from a mindset, that thought about manufactured items very differently. This key's design is pointlessly artistic. There's no practicality in the graceful foliage climbing up each side of the key, framing the proudly-serifed capitals of the company name. There's no purpose to the semicircular bead decoration above the hole for the keyring. There's no need for this kind of beauty in everyday things -- until you see this key and realize how much of this kind of beauty is missing from modern life, and hunger for it.