More than 4000 unique key chains, collected over the past 30 years, Ramalingeshwar Rao’s collection is a history in itself

If keys open locks to doors, cupboards and safes, key chains can open doors to facets of popular culture that we often didn’t know existed. Viewing Ramalingeshwar Rao’s collection, consisting of 4300 unique key chains from all over the world, collected over the past 30 years is a study in itself. What makes Rao’s collection all the more special is that not a single of his key chains has been bought – they are all promotionary or have been given to him by friends and well-wishers. This has to do with how Rao began this hobby.

During his time as a manager at the State Bank of Hyderabad, he took up collecting coins and currency as a hobby. His collection includes two Indian coins from the Victorian age, a coin from every state in America, currency from the USSR and also a rare, wrongly printed 20 rupee note but while he managed to get his hands on a rare variety of coins and currency, he felt the need to do something a bit more innovative.

“I was looking for something that would attract and hold my interest when a gentleman from a pharmaceutical company came to visit me at the bank. As he left, he handed me a keychain with his company logo. A stainless steel human skeleton, not more than four inches long, the fineness and attention to detail of the keychain caught my attention and I thought, why not collect key chains?” he recalls. Today, his collection has found a place in the Limca Book of Records for largest key chain collection in India.

As many as 4300 key chains in four years means at least two key chains in a week; how did Rao manage to collect so many? “I started out by exchanging key chains with people who came to see me at the bank. I’d take theirs and give them my bank key chain. They would then inquire about my strange request and I would tell them about my collection. Very often people remembered this and came back to me with more key chains,” explains Rao.

The collection has key chains from all over the globe. Rao has his fellow ‘copoclephilists’ to thank for this. “I am part of a Yahoo! Group called ‘Keychain Collectors International’ so we perform exchanges. That first row over there is entirely from the US. Someone wanted handicrafts so I picked up a few from Lepakshi here and exchanged them with him,” he says, pointing to a colourful row of plastic key chains, assortment included the popular ‘1’ shaped varieties promoting various American brands.

Does Rao think key chains will soon become a thing of the past, now that keys are slowly being replaced by electronic swipe cards or more recently, smart phones? “Keys may become obsolete but key chains will not. People may start putting a key chain or something similar to their cards or their phones,” he says.

The 30-year-old collection, however, is a representation of trends and slogans that have come and gone in that time. Rao’s collection included two main sections – bottle opener key chains and those promoting financial institutions and automobile companies. The rest are an assortment including brands like Uncle Chips and Pepsi. He even had key chains of Tupperware boxes, miniature sports gear, tools and has also managed to get hold of a key chain wedding invitation as well. There were key chains from different countries, brought back by friends who were happy to contribute to the growing collection. “These days whichever country the key chain is from, it’s easy to tell that it is made in China,” he informs.

Is Rao planning to make a public display of his collection? “It is too difficult,” says the former banker who took voluntary retirement so that he can concentrate on his hobbies and interests. Anyone who wants to view the collection is free to walk into his home in Somajiguda. “Children from the apartment complex come and say “Uncle you have so many key chains, can you give us at least one?” so I have a set of duplicate key chains to give away to people,” informs Rao. Collecting key chains is not the only thing that’s keeping him busy! Rao is in the process of completing an MBA and has also just applied for a Post Graduate Diploma in Journalism from a local university.