Lock Museum

Lock Museum, Seoul
Entrance to the Lock Museum

The Lock Museum displays antique locks, keys, and furniture from Korea and all over the world and conserves this disappearing art for future generations. The museum, which features over 4,000 different types of locks, is located in the district of Daehangno (College Street) near Daehak-ro southeast of Hyehwa Station. The Korean name of the museum is “seotdae” which means “a key.”

The museum was opened in a beautiful modern building in November 2003 by Choi Hong-gyu. Before he opened the museum, he ran his own hardware shop and store south of the Han River in Gangnam. It was known as Choi Family Hardware.

Mr. Choi, who is now the museum director, used his entire fortune to open the museum. His goal was to show visitors the beauty behind practical keys, locks, key holders, furniture, and more from his home country of Korea and from around the world.

The history and cultural importance of these locks have been disappearing as the world modernizes. The Lock Museum hopes to preserve this part of history for all to see and enjoy.

Chinese fish shaped lock at Lock Museum, Seoul
Chinese fish shaped lock
Assortment of keys at the Lock Museum in Seoul
Assortment of keys

In everyday life locks are practical and functional in protecting gates and the contents of chests and other furniture. The beauty of the design of these antique Korean locks though is unmatched. The designs features characteristics of traditional art and are an important part of the cultural heritage of Korea.

When most people think about locks, they do not take the time to think about the beauty and science behind their creation and function. It is true the primary function of a lock is for security of valuables, but these locks are also important pieces of art and a key to the past.

Many of these locks have been meticulously designed and wonderfully complement the doors, furniture, or wherever they may be used on. Many of the patterns and engravings on these locks are also a sign of luck, health, and longevity.

Korean ㄷ-shaped locks
Korean ㄷ-shaped locks

During the Joseon dynasty (1392-1897), the most basic shaped lock would have been a “ㄷ-shaped” (deegut) lock. It was not uncommon to find other various shaped locks shaped as animals such as fishes, dragons, butterflies, bats, and tortoises. Fishes are a sign of security as their eyes are open at all times and for the prevention of fire as they live in the water. Tortoises represents health and longevity as the animal usually lives a long time.

Lock and key from Afghanistan
Lock and key from Afghanistan

A dunte is wooden door latch that was often used to lock hinged gates of traditional homes. A wooden bar would be put across the inner side of the gate and latched into a grove on the dunte. This would lock the door into place. These wooden duntes were also often decorated with animals such as fishes, dragons, and tortoises. These designs symbolized good health, luck, longevity, and protection for all of those who passed through the gate.

There is also a type of key ring known as a yeolsoepae. There are two types of yeolsoepae, practical and decorative. Practical yeolsoepae are often made of wood or deer horns and are used for conveniently hanging keys. Decorative yeolsoepae are luxuriously crafted and made of metals such as brass and designed with intricate woven ornaments. These decorative pieces are a sign of good luck and were often given as gifts from the mother to her daughter as a wedding gift on the day of her daughters wedding.

Metal craftworks, Lock Museum, Seoul
Metal craftworks
Workshop of metal craftsman
Workshop of metal craftsman

Exhibition Hall 1 : This is the main exhibition hall of the museum. Items here include Korean locks from as far back as the Unified Silla period (668–935) all the way through the Joseon dynasty. On display here are common ㄷ-shaped (deegut) locks and those more uncommon such as fish, dragon, and tortoise shaped locks.

Exhibition Hall 2 : Items in this exhibition hall include Joseon dynasty furniture, wooden boxes, and cabinets that were locked to protect important contents. This includes key, stamp, and comb boxes and boxes that preserved portraits of the deceased.

Exhibition Hall 3 : Items in this small exhibition hall include a variety of metal and wooden locks, keys, bolts, and hinges from all over the world outside of Korea including China and Tibet, Europe, Africa, India, and the Middle East.

Bamboo boxes, Lock Museum, Seoul
Bamboo boxes