NICHOLASVILLE — Chicago might have its Museum of Science and Industry, but Nicholasville has the Harry C. Miller Lock Collection. It's impressive and it's free.
The collection fills the lobby and spills over into other parts of Lock masters' headquarters on the south side of town. And those are just the pieces on display.
Described as the world's largest collection of combination and time locks, it's a daunting display of artistry and ingenuity by mostly anonymous craftsmen. It's also a testament to one well-known man's passion for acquiring and preserving specimens related to his life's work.
Miller, who died in 1998, began "horse trading" for locks, as his son Clay puts it, in the 1940s and never let up.
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Probably no one knows more about the collection than Barbara Craycraft. "That's what they tell me," she says. Craycraft, 73, of Nicholasville, started working with Harry Miller in 1974. She still works full-time at Lockmasters, where she's part receptionist, part historian, part docent. And in the past? "Gosh, I've done so many things," she says.
Craycraft has nothing but praise for her late boss, a titan in the safe-and-lock industry: "He was revered all over the world," she says. "You could go to an event and it was like the pope had arrived."
Craycraft helped Miller with his side business, supplying obsolete locks and parts to people in the industry. And she worked with Miller on his collection for years.
"He and I restored many of these," she says. "We would disassemble, bead-blast, repaint and restore the lock."
Miller's love of locks was infectious. Craycraft says she enjoys the history behind each piece and thinking about "the antiquated tools they worked with and the pride they took."
As an example, she points to one time lock made to keep a bank vault secure. It's delicately engraved with a bird and flowers, the kind of craftsmanship anyone would be proud to show the world. Except that it was intended to be hidden — covered by the vault door.
"The only person who saw all that work was the person who installed it," Craycraft says. At least, until it was rescued by Harry C. Miller and company and put on display for the world to see.