Artifact Detective - March 2012

With the sheer volume of artifacts that have been acquired by the National Law Enforcement Museum—more than 15,000 to date—we can’t always devote as much time to researching individual objects as we would like. We are calling on you to help us uncover some of the stories behind our objects. We will post pictures and any information we have on specific objects in our collection on our website, on our blog, and in our newsletter. We would like you to tell us anything you may know about the item. All information is welcome; sources and citations are requested when possible.

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Equipment:18th century prison cell keys. 2006.296.1 and 2006.296.2. Collection of the National Law Enforcement Museum, Washington, DC.
Click on photo to view larger image.

18th Century Prison Keys

What we know:

  • These keys were used to lock and unlock prison cells in the 1700s.

  • Each key is long (the left key is 7 in. long and the right is 8 1/2 in. long) and heavy compared to most modern-day ones.

    What we want to know:

    • In what parts of the country might these keys have been used?

    • Who might have used them?

    • Were keys like this used in prisons internationally during the 1700s?

    • What might these keys tell us about the nature of 18th century prisons?
    • Why are the keys so large and heavy?

    • Have you ever used a key like this? If so, for what purpose?


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