The Key Lady: Baxter collection showcases a century of fascinating keys

“It’s an odd thing,” Baxter resident Katie Badgerow admitted. “I love old things, always have. I’m kind of a gypsy trader, I guess, and I enjoy it. Value doesn’t mean much to me. If it fascinates me, if I like it, if it reminds me of something, I buy it."

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Baxter resident Katie Badgerow gives a tour Monday, Dec. 23, of her extensive collection of keys. Gathered over the course of 60 years -- and displaying items as old as a century or more -- Badgerow's assortment displays a rice variety of keys in terms of size, age, function and make, though it's impossible to pin down many details for many of the collection's most intriguing articles. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch

BAXTER — Roughly 60 years ago, Baxter resident Katie Badgerow took a liking to a box of old keys a relative owned and, thus, sparked something of a love affair with these metal novelties that were to enrapture her through the years.

Now, decades later, Badgerow has largely said goodbye to a career dealing and selling antiques, but her impressive collection of keys remain, pegged up on her walls as a testament to this enduring preoccupation.

“My husband’s grandmother had a bunch of them in a drawer, and I asked if I could have them,” Badgerow said as she gave a tour of the collection Monday, Dec. 23. “She said, ‘Now, what do you want with that old junk?’ But, I took them home and put them in these frames. I just started liking keys. They fascinate me.”

It’s quite a selection of keys in terms of size, age, make and function — whether it’s a very tiny key for a ‘51 Ford, a rusted set of jail keys, a folding key touted around by a schoolhouse teacher (her personal favorite), ornate mailbox keys, jewel box or music box keys, insurance company keys, even a floor key to accurately space out hardwood flooring, as well as numerous keys whose original function has been long lost to time.

Some of them were close to a half-century old when Badgerow first collected them nigh on 60 years ago. Some look like they were hand-molded into ornate works of art. Others appear to be stamped out of a sheet of metal in an industrial plant. And then there’s the whole gambit of corrosion — of which, some older keys still gleam like they’re varnished, while some younger ones have enough rust and corrosion for a hundred years beaten by the elements.


Badgerow said there has to be more than a 100 of them, many of them packed up in drawers or mounted on the walls in an intricate display — though, beyond mostly showcasing them to the occasional insurance salesman or family member, Badgerow said she’s content to keep it a private collection opened to a choice few.

For what it’s worth, Badgerow’s wishlist key is a set of train box car keys and locks. She’s biding her time until she can find a more affordable deal than $89. However, with more and more people collecting keys, it’s more difficult to find worthwhile deals, she said, let alone unique and valuable examples worth the time.

“It’s an odd thing,” Badgerow said as she pointed out the assortment of keys and other door fixtures, such as padlocks and door knockers — the vast majority of them displaying a weathered cast iron look. “Then again, I’m having more and more people getting into keys. There’s so many different designs and you know there has to be repeats, there has to be thousands that are just alike. How do they make sure the wrong people don’t get the wrong keys? They’re just fun.”

A Brainerd lakes area resident for more than 40 years, Badgerow originally hails from Illinois and spent years as an antique dealer with her own shop, which she said served as a logical conclusion to a passion and hobby she’s fostered since she was a teenager.

With a step into her Autumn Glen apartment, one is immediately met with lingering homages to that passion in the form of ceramic figurines and fine china, folding screens for a boudoir decorated with floral designs, or other oddities, such as a nut and bolt cabinet worth hundreds, or a collection of over 300 ballpoint pens with strange and intriguing constructions.

Odd, yes, she admitted, but then Badgerow always had an eye to look at things differently. Dollar signs are a secondary concern, said Badgerow, who appraises items in terms of their sense of history, or mystery if that be the case, and to see them as objects that evolve with the seasons of their lifespans — from functional, to decorative, to invaluable.

In the case of keys, Badgerow said, they can be an endless mystery with few clues to where they came from and where they’ve been, or — perhaps even more intriguing — the big question: what did they open, and what was hidden inside?

“I love old things, always have. I’m kind of a gypsy trader, I guess, and I enjoy it. Value doesn’t mean much to me. If it fascinates me. If I like it, if it reminds me of something, I buy it,” she said. “Such beautiful things. It’s fascinating, what will be. I always knew — I don’t know why — but I always knew, even as a little girl, that these things would become valuable.”


GABRIEL LAGARDE may be reached at or 218-855-5859. Follow at .

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Tucked away in her apartment, Katie Badgerow has over 100 keys in her collection, with notable examples including jail keys and jewel box keys, to a folding key once used by schoolhouse teachers. Coming in numerous sizes, shapes, makes and ages, the keys display a century of human culture that's become increasingly less ornate and crafted, to one that's more manufactured and exacted. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch

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