Keyed Up

Keyed Up

Who put the bomp in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp?
Who put the ram in the rama lama ding dong?
Who put the bop in the bop shoo bop shoo bop?
Who put the dip in the dip da dip da dip?

In 1961, those cheeky, eventually Grease-y lyrics helped make Barry Mann’s “Who Put the Bomp” a modest hit.

61 years later, as Mann’s voice floated out from overhead speakers, they underscored part of the appeal of East Haven’s Key to the Past Antique & Design Center (map), where questions about who did what are only natural. Who crafted that enormous harlequin lamp? Who used this pair of 1950 Yale-Columbia football tickets? Who hyperrealistically sculpted Darth Vader’s pasty unmasked head from Return of the Jedi? (And who put those earmuffs on it?) Such questions could go on forever here, prompted by thousands of items—furniture, artwork, dishware, signs, oddities, toys, memorabilia, tchotchkes—ranging from true antiques to nostalgic pieces to contemporary finds.

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I suspect the key to Key to the Past is its business model. Set up like a compact mall, with different vendors stocking some of 20 or 30 bays lining a looping path, Key to the Past is good for sellers, providing the benefits of a storefront while spreading around the risk. But it’s also good for customers, who enjoy the fruits of a cordially competitive environment: increased and diversified inventory, reasonable sticker prices, cash or volume discounts and, in at least one case, a willingness to negotiate. “Let me know what you like and maybe we can make a deal,” one vendor told me, even though the über-’80s Patrick Nagel print I was inspecting was already fairly priced.

Some of the other stuff that caught my eye:

• a green and marigold stained-glass billiard chandelier
• a wall-mounted coffee grinder patented in 1859
• Old Matrons Never Die, a surrealist sculpture melding a formal lady with a formal staircase
• a New Haven Nighthawks pennant
• a pair of tall, gilded porcelain vases painted with classical scenes
• the Twin Peaks soundtrack on cassette
• a small assortment of Nintendo, Game Boy and Super Nintendo games
• marble-topped midcentury nightstands carved and painted French-style
• a basketball signed by 15 UConn women from the ’95-96 squad
• a giant novelty tennis racket
• an ovular oil portrait of Mary Elizabeth Mitchell Williams, described as a descendant of a leader of the Massachusetts Bay Colony
• thick, colorful art glass including a towering, textured tangerine vase
• a pair of contemporary Ralph Lauren table lamps
• an enormous, chalice-like silver serving bowl fit for an enormous guest list

And I haven’t even been to the Clinton location yet.

Key to the Past Antique & Design Center
37 Frontage Rd, East Haven (map)
Mon-Tues, Thurs-Sun 10am-5pm
(203) 859-5948

Written and photographed by Dan Mims.

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