Locks and keys are one of the more popular sectors of railroad memorabilia collectables. Locks have always been an important part of railroad operations for obvious safety and security reasons. Some collectors specialize in collecting railroad locks, particularly ones that carry a railroad marking. Early locks were often made of brass to resist corrosion and had ornate, sometimes even beautiful, castings of railroad names and logos to identify ownership. These are sometimes called “cast backs” or “fancy back locks.” Some locks feature “stamped” letters on the dust cover or hasp, while others have the railroad initials or name “cast” into the dust cover or back. Later on, railroads switched to locks of plainer design, usually made of steel. These are less sought after than the earlier brass examples but are still of interest to collectors.
In order to use the wide variety of locks that railroads used to secure switches, signals, buildings, and other facilities, employees were issued special keys. Railroad keys were typically made of brass. As with locks, there are different styles of keys, but the majority of railroad keys were of a standard size with the bit customized to fit the particular locks of each railroad. Today, keys from long-gone railroads are much prized by collectors, with rare ones having substantial value. In general, keys which feature a tapered barrel or “rings” are consider older and more valuable; while “straight barrel” keys are newer.