Everybody has at least one.
They hold the keys to our homes, cars and offices. But who knew the simple keychain could spawn a fun collection full of memories and whimsy?
Linda Penfield knew.
She received her first keychain long before she owned a home or could drive a car.
“We visited my aunt Marie Lightning Koenigs in Benson, Minnesota, when I was in fourth grade,” Penfield recalled.
Her aunt, a member of the Ojibwe (also called Chippewa) tribe, made hand-beaded keychains and let Penfield choose one.
She chose a tiny pair of beaded moccasins.
That keychain is now one of 403 in Penfield’s eclectic collection.
It’s also her favorite.
“I’ve had it more than 50 years,” she said.
Penfield started collecting in earnest in the early 1990s.
“I was a single mom of three at the time,” she explained. “When I took the kids on vacation, I’d buy them T-shirts or other souvenirs, and I’d buy myself a keychain because they were small and inexpensive. The average cost was $5” and she never spent more than $7 or $8.
Many of her keychains feature toys that were popular when her kids were young. Like a miniature red View-Master that really works, ditto a Trouble game and a laser gun that emits the annoying electronic sounds that drove parents crazy. She even has the classic Tupperware shape sorter ball with tiny yellow plastic shapes rattling inside.
Mr. Potato Head and Slinky Dog key rings mingle with more than a dozen Takara Pocket Critters. The egg-shaped toys feature tiny animals that move when you flip open the keychain. Penfield has a swimming penguin, a nursing pig and piglets and more, including a Takara Pocket Soccer game.
An eyeball keychain reminded her of a toy she’d bought her son when he was 5.
“It was an eyeball toy that rolled and the eye always looked up,” Penfield recalled.
That same son gifted her with a “pile o’ poop” keychain. And one of her kids gave her a pooping moose.
However, she’s the one who purchased a small package of “tighty-whities” underwear with a press-me sticker on the top. Those who press the undies are rewarded by the ripping sound of flatulence.
Novelties aside, much of Penfield’s collection marks memorable travels.
A plethora of keychains from Hard Rock Café locations in Las Vegas, Chicago and Italy among others, denotes her fondness for the iconic restaurant.
“I love visiting Hard Rock Cafes when I travel,” she said.
But she’s selective when adding to her stash.
“I never buy them on the internet, and I won’t buy just anything just because I’m visiting. It has to be something unique or interesting.”
For example, replicas of wooden shoes from Amsterdam, a Leaning Tower of Pisa that actually leans, miniature castanets from Spain and a beautifully beaded crab and fish, made in Africa, but purchased in Mexico, commemorate her worldwide travel.
Her profession is also represented in her collection.
“I’m in banking, so I have a lot of money,” said Penfield with a grin, pointing to several “cash” key rings.
Many of her keychains have uses aside from holding keys. She’s got bottle openers, nail clippers, flashlights – even a lighter jutting from a fish’s mouth. And friends and family delight in adding to her collection. Her most recent addition, a leather seahorse from Sperlonga, Italy, was given to her by her son on a pre-pandemic trip.
“I haven’t added any new ones in several years because I haven’t traveled,” she said. “My grandkids love to sit on my bed and go through them. It’s so fun because they bring back memories of the people who gave them to me or the places I visited.”
Her 400-plus key rings still fit in one almost-full box and Penfield said her husband plans to build a display wall for them in her home office.
“He says I have enough keychains,” she said. “But you can’t have too many. Who doesn’t love a good keychain?”