Throughout most of history, door knobs (also spelled as one word, “doorknobs”) weren’t knobs at all. If a door needed to be secured, wood or wrought-iron latches or crossbars, the precursor to the deadbolt, did the trick. A wooden peg in a loop of rope was good enough in most cases—if you could afford to get fancy, you might install a metal hook and eye.

By the early 19th century, most people in the newly independent United States opened doors with their thumbs, which is to say, their doors were fitted with wrought-iron thumb latches. Some of the earliest brass door knobs in the U.S. also appeared around the same time—they were fixed to surface-mounted locks.

Mortise locks gained prominence in the mid-1800s. This development appears to have spurred a renaissance in door knobs—from brass and bronze to clear glass and millefiori paperweights—as well as in the escutcheons that surrounded the knob and keyhole. Most knobs were round, of course, but some had angled pavilion tops while others were shaped like drums.

The artistry that was lavished on door knobs, escutcheons, hinges, and other types of home hardware mirrored the prevailing styles of the day. Gothic revival homes and buildings were fitted with Gothic revival doorknobs. The rosewood knobs installed on the doors of Greek revival structures sometimes featured the profile of a helmeted warrior, but more often this style manifested itself on bronze and brass hardware as repeated patterns and designs.

Followers of the Aesthetic Movement, which ran roughly from the Civil War until the end of the century, fitted their doors with knobs and escutcheons that were festooned with floral as well as geometric shapes. Some of these plates were rectangular while others were outlined to follow various patterns. Plates with a second key hole usually came with a pivoting flap that covered the bottommost of the two openings since it was seldom used.

Later, at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, Arts and Crafts hardware seemed to herald a return to the thumb latches of 100 years before, although the hand-hammering was deliberate rather than a function of necessity. Art Nouveau pieces were less self conscious and more comfortable with being beautiful for beauty's sake.

Of particular interest to door knob collectors are those pieces that bear the imprint of governmental and other organizations. Railroad-station hardware is prized by those who al...

Then there are door knobs that are sought simply because their shapes and surfaces are so appealing. The Ercola or bear claw knob, as well as others that resemble scallop shells, are just two examples of these rare, shaped door knobs. Also in demand are porcelain knobs, which were mostly used in passageways and were either printed or painted with flowers and floral patterns.

Manufacturers in 19th-century America to look for include Nashua Lock Company (1834-1889) and Russell & Erwin, which purchased the Metallic Compression Casting Company of Boston in the 1870s. Corbin was a competitor of R&E, but the two firms merged in 1902 to form the American Hardware Corporation.

Finally, one of the founders of Yale & Towne, Linus Yale, Jr., got his start making bank locks. He died in 1868 just two weeks after partnering with Henry Towne, which is probably why the name of their original company, The Yale Lock Manufacturing Company, was eventually changed to include Towne's last name, too.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Alloy Artifacts

Alloy Artifacts

A tool collectors’ dream, this site is a deep repository of photos and info on 20th century hand tools and the co… [read review or visit site]

Old Woodworking Machines

Old Woodworking Machines

This collective website, which started as an online discussion forum, now also includes a large database of manufac… [read review or visit site]

Drainspotting

Drainspotting

Josh and Cam Larios have created this site enabling people to upload and 'tag' photos of historic or artistic manho… [read review or visit site]

A Millers Falls Home Page

A Millers Falls Home Page

Randy Roeder has carved out a niche for himself with his fine website devoted to the history of the Millers Falls C… [read review or visit site]



Most watched eBay auctions    

Four Sets Of Vintage Brass Door Knobs. (8 Knobs);Alice In Wonderland Style Door Knob, Working Movie Prop,life SizeWonderful Large Lot Of Antique Glass And Brass Door KnobsAntique Brass Porcelain Glass Door Knob Lot Of 12 Salvage Repurpose HardwareVery Nice Letter Box12x4 Came Of Bank Door Cira 1900 Solid Cast Brass 1949-60 Chevy Nos Gm Door Lock Chrome Knob Button, Buick,cadillac,olds,pontiacVtg./antq. Cast Brass/bronze Art Deco Style Door Knobs W/yale Backplate/lockset Nos1964 1965 1966 Ford Mustang & Falcon Door Lock Knobs, 7 Original Ford Pkg. 4 Pairs (+1) Antique Solid Brass Art Deco/nouveau Door Handles,levers - BeehiveLot Of 10 Glass Door Knobs Unusual Vintage Spiral Sun Purple Brass Door Knob Amethyst Glass Crystal Star Antique Vintage Purple Amethyst Old Glass Door Knobs 4 Antique Vtg Brass Handles Pulls Window Sash Door Cabinet Drawer Gate Salvage 4 X Vintage Antique Style Glass Clock Face Drawer Cupboard Door Knob Handle PullAuthentic Antique Brass Or Bronze? Metal Door Knobs & Plates,1800'sVintage City Of Chicago Police Door KnobAntique Glass Door Knob, From My Own Little Cottage From The 1930's,so Chic!!Lot Antique Door Knob Rosettes Vintage Lock Cover Plate Hardware Repurpose Art Alice In Wonderland Style Door Knob, Working Movie Prop,life Size18 Rustic Primitive Vintage Industrial Iron Handles Cabinet Door Barn HandlesAntique Brass "w" Door Knob ~ No Reserve ~ Vintage ~ The Initial W3 Vintage/antique Glass Door Knobs Rare Vintage Antique Old Ornate Bronze Door Knob Nice Design On Front & BackAntique Vintage Doorknobs Door Knobs Glass / CrystalNine Brass Drawer Handles (roll Top Type)Antique Skeleton Key Mortise Locksets Large Lot Vintage Door Knob Lock HardwareLot Of 6 Matching Vintage Clear Glass Doorknobs Sets 8 Sided OctagonalBell System Telephone Door Knobs, Lock And Face Plates All OriginalVintage Brass Ny City School Doorknob Historical Memorabilia Antiques HardwareLot Antique Crystal Door Knob Sets Fresh Salvage Matching 8 Doors Hardware Incl.Beautiful Vintage Old Antique Ornate Bronze Door Knob & Matching PlateAntique Brass Door Plates FacesVintage/antique Assorted Door Locks, Glass Door Knobs, 4 SetsAntique Book Cadillac Hotel Brass Door Knob - Detroit, Michigan C1920'sAntique Lot 8 Bin Pulls Handles Cast Iron Door Drawer Furniture Knob Fancy Black13 Vintage Silver Mercury Glass Knobs, Hardware, Pulls Finials Great For Re-use Vtg Set Ornate Flower Door Knob Antique Brass Bronze Victorian Fancy Pair CastLot Of 3 Vintage Eastlake Victorian Door Knobs And 6 Face Plates 3-key Lock Box, Alpha Key Style Key Safe, Door Knob Hanging PadlockVintage Old Antique Yale & Towne Brass Vigo Pattern Door Knob & Back PlateLot Of Antique Vintage/ornate Door Knobs,lock And PlatesAntique Ornate Antique Brass Bronze Door Knobs And PlatesVintage Lot 5 Maple Leaf Drawer Pull Knobs Antique Brass 1-3/16"200 Antique Assorted Lot Of Glass Porcelain & Plastic Drawer/cabinet Knobs2 Antique Brass Public School City Of New York Door Knobs Set A2 Antique Brass Public School City Of New York Door Knobs Set BAntique Strike Plates Vintage Mortise Lock Catch Strikeplate Door Knob HardwareVintage Antique Cobalt Blue Glass Cupboard Door Latch KnobsFancy Victorian Era Brass Door Knob Cover Backplate-hardwarePair Of Clear Perspex / Lucite & Chrome Door Handles Fab Vintage Retro Eames EraAntique Door Hardware Complete With Brass Trim, Plus 4 Extra Glass Door KnobsLot Of 8 Antique Brass Door Knobs Hourglass Plates Lock Small Victorian Hardware3 Sets Of Brass Door Knobs From Fort Brady---sault Ste. Marie,mi.Alice In Wonderland Style Door Knob, Working Movie Prop,life SizeAntique Lot 6 Bin Pulls Handles Cast Iron Door Drawer Furniture Knob P.s&w BrassRare Vintage Old Antique Ornate Bronze Door Knob Splendid Design On Front & BackWrought Iron Door Pull Large Brown Lion's HeadVtg Antique Glass Doorknobs W Chrome Art Deco Door Back Plates & Lock - Set 2Emblematic Bronze Door Knob Plaza Hotel New York Salesman Sample Antique Escutcheon Plate & Door Knob Pf Corbin Amazing Old Bronze Victorian