This eye-catching nickel-plated steel key from the Lake Erie & Western Railroad offers a $2.00 reward for its return to "Any agent of this company" - a significant amount in those days! We can date it to having been made between 1908 and 1922, see below.
It is stamped on one side across the top of the bow: PATENTED OCT 27, 1908; below that L.E.&W. above the serial number 514. On the other side is stamped: RETURN TO ANY / AGENT OF THIS / COMPANY / $2.00 REWARD
This is an "oiler" type key with a molded flat shaft that is solid leaving the bow and changes to a hollow barrel just below the center.
Length is 3 inches long.
Condition is extremely nice. It is straight and solid with no bends or twists and no metal splits or damage. The metal has darkened to an attractive warm color with great patina. The bit edges and barrel end are nicely rounded from use. The only issues are a tiny spot of rust on the top of the bow on the "Reward" side, and that the top line of reward stamping is significantly worn from "finger polish" by the railroad men who used it. The LE&W side is in superb display condition and it would be a star in any collection.
BACKGROUND: Formed when several smaller railway lines merged, the Lake Erie & Western Railroad operated in the midwestern states of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois from 1879 until 1922. The LE&W extended 350 miles west from the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway at Fremont through Fostoria, Ohio, to Bloomington, Illinois. In 1900, the New York Central Railroad took over the Lake Erie & Western. After operating it as a separate entity for two decades, the New York Central in 1922 sold the Lake Erie & Western to the "Nickel Plate Road," the New York, Chicago & St. Louis.
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Earliest 1900s Lake Erie & Western Railroad Steel "Oiler" Type Reward Key