Young woman wearing a key

What it is:

Cabinet card measuring 4.25 x 6.5 inches.

What I know about it:

Photographer is Heath & Smith of Portland, Maine.  Otherwise undated and unidentified.


I don’t think I’ve seen this before, what looks like a door key being worn as jewelry, but a quick internet search indicates it’s not unheard of.  There’s no single consensus on its meaning (warding off evil was one that amused me), but the most common are that it represents the key to someone’s heart, or that it represents good luck.  Of course, those are contemporary references to the wearing of a key on a chain like a necklace, not the fastening of it to the throat like a brooch.  For all I know it may have had some completely different symbolism a hundred years ago.  In any case, she seems to wear it proudly.

10 comments on “Young woman wearing a key”

  1. That is interesting. I love little touches like the key, and how we tend to interpret things on we think today. And she looks so young to me (as I age 🙂 ). Great pic, and as always, thanks for sharing! 🙂

    • Thanks, Katie! I agree she looks young. I may have been generous in calling her a young woman, rather than a girl, but I sometimes have a hard time guessing people’s ages. It’s just one of the many things about these pictures that’s open to speculation, I guess. 🙂

  2. I just had to post this modern rendition of key jewelry:

    • Those are beautiful, and similar to other modern things I was finding (but fancier, of course, because it’s Tiffany’s). I think it’s interesting that while much of what you find for sale now is jewelry designed to look like keys, hers looks like an actual key fastened to her outfit, though I could be wrong.

  3. It really does look like a real key.

  4. Her brooch does look like a real key, but it probably wasn’t a key that someone decided to make into a brooch by putting a pin on the back; it was probably made and sold to look like that. In looking at mail order catalogs and other photos from the 1880s, which is probably when this photo was taken, brooches were available in all kinds of shapes, including everyday things like keys and horseshoes, and things from the natural world like insects. The ones representing insects and other things from real life look incredibly accurate (but made of gold, silver, enamel, jewels, etc.), and are sometimes life-sized, and sometimes in miniature (like horseshoes). I have seen a photo where a woman is wearing what looks like a real seashell as a brooch, but I can’t tell (because it’s not in color) whether or not it’s a natural shell or one made of enamel or something else more common to jewelry.

    Her hair is also interesting; she’s got bangs (they became stylish in the 1880s — I think when some famous actress started wearing them) but she’s not wearing them combed straight down over her forehead, or curled into ringlets like other women I’ve seen from the same period. They’re wavy and kind of pushed back from her face, but it doesn’t look like the rest of her hair is wavy like that …

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