In the 18th and 19th centuries, hinges served two important purposes. First, doors were heavy, so hinges had to be strong enough to support their weight. Strap hinges served this utilitarian purpose very well, but when a door’s design demanded something more, a large rectangular hinge gave metal artisans ample surface for decoration.

Strap hinges were frequently attached to doors with thumb latches, the precursors to door knobs. The length of a strap hinge helped distribute the door’s weight, while its wrought-iron construction gave it plenty of strength. The decoration on strap hinges was usually minimal—hammer marks in the surface, bevels at the edges, a shape such as a circle at the end.

Large rectangular brass, bronze, and iron butt hinges, on the other hand, received more design attention, even though their leaves remained hidden between the inside edge of the door and its jamb. A hinge’s barrel, inside of which was the hinge’s pin, often offered of sample of the hidden decoration on the hinge’s leaves, which would be fully revealed only when the door was opened.

Naturally the decorations on hinges followed those on the door knob itself, as well as on the escutcheon that surrounded the keyhole. On front doors, the designs might also be repeated on the door knocker. These practices were particularly widespread during the Victorian Era, when Gothic, aesthetic, and Greek revival styles were popular. Later in the century and into the 1900s, Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts hinges were paired with their respective door knobs and plates.

In addition to engraving designs on the leaves and barrels of hinges, artisans also had a good deal of fun with the finials that decorated either end of the pin's barrel. There were plenty of plain round ones, of course, but others were shaped like church steeples or chess pieces, their tiny surfaces decorated with everything from geometric patterns and floral motifs to lion heads.

The trouble with most vintage hinges for people living in modern homes is that 19th-century hardware dimensions don’t always match 20th- and 21st-century doors and jambs. The good news, though, is that this relative incompatibility makes hinges fairly affordable, whether you want to put them to use or just admire them for their beauty. If you fall into the former category, consider a vintage screen-door hinge, whose bulky barrel houses a small, strong spring.

As with door knobs, some of the 19th-century American hardware manufacturers to look for include Russell & Erwin, Corbin, Sargent, Clark, and the Metallic Compression Casting Company.


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]

Vintage Machinery

Vintage Machinery

This collective website, which started as an online discussion forum, also includes a large database of manufacture… [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]



Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Antique Trio Of Solid Brass Heavy Ornate Barn Door Hinges Victorian Style4 Pair Antique Victorian Steeple Tip 3 1/2'' X 3 1/2 ' Eight' Door HingesAntique/vintage Door Hinges - Various Sizes -some Ornate - Large Lot - PartsMatching Pair Antique Victorian 3.5" X 3.5" Fancy Cast Iron Door Hinges (c)3 Vintage Unique Barn Door Hinges Loft Rusty Gate Art Farm SteampunkAssorted Vintage & Antique Hardware - Door Knobs, Hinges, Handles, Casters, KnobVintage Antique Victorian Eastlake Door Hinges 1880s Cast Iron 5 Inch4 Small Vintage Barn Door Hinges Usa Made 6 Inches Long L170 Pair Antique Cast Iron Eastlake Victorian 3" X 3" Door HingePair Vintage Stanley 3-1/2" X 3-1/2" Black Steel Ball Finial Door Hinges Vintage Victorian Steeple Top Type Hinges (4) & More Eastlake?Antique Vintage Brass Decorative Residential Door HingeLot Of 10 Vintage Screen Door Spring Hinges Salvage Repurpose 4 Reclaimed Solid Brass 4" Rising HingesSet Of 12 Vintage 1950's Hammered Copper Door Hinges 3/8" OffsetVintage Cannonball Door Hinge Pins Solid BrassAntique, Vintage Hinges For Fence Or Garden Gates, Posts HingesLot Vintage Wrought Iron Door Latch Hinges & Mounting HardwareLot Of (4) Vintage National Mfg Company Ball Tip Cabinet Hinges 2" X 1 5/8"4 Vintage Antique Butterfly Hinges Victorian Old Cabinet HingesAntique Vintage Door Hinge Eastlake5 Reclaimed Solid Brass 4" HingesVintage Stanley Screen Door Spring Hinges Nos Steampunk BarnThree Antique Brass Door Plates W/skeleton Keyhole, 2 Brass Door Hinges, 1930's